Hess impresses, but don't expect many more O's youngsters on horizon soon - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Paul Folkemer

Hess impresses, but don’t expect many more O’s youngsters on horizon soon

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

I’ve got bad news and good news for you, folks. And then more bad news.

The bad news is that the Orioles once again found a unique way to lose a ballgame Wednesday night. After being dominated for eight innings by three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, the Orioles had a possible rally going in the ninth — two on, none out — only for Craig Gentry to inexplicably get thrown out trying to steal third when he didn’t represent the tying run.

The latest in a long line of Orioles fundamental breakdowns this year, Gentry’s baserunning blunder doomed the club to a 2-0 defeat and a three-game sweep at the hands of the Washington Nationals.

But I’m going to put that to the side for now and focus on the Orioles’ biggest highlight of the day, a six-inning gem tossed by rookie right-hander David Hess in the losing effort.

Hess retired 18 of the 23 Nationals he faced. He surrendered just one run, courtesy of Bryce Harper’s opposite-field solo homer in the third.

“I feel like we did a good job mixing up pitches well tonight,” Hess said. “Chance (Sisco) did a great job and called a great game. We were on the same page the whole time. Just one full-count changeup (to Harper), that’s a good hitter, and he got it.”

Hess has now delivered quality starts in three of his first four starts in the majors, posting a 3.47 ERA since replacing Chris Tillman in the rotation.

“Each one, it seems like he’s settled in, but he hasn’t lost his aggressiveness and confidence,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I think he’s going to be one of those guys who, regardless of what his results are in one game, he’s not going to let that kind of carry over. He’s taking advantage of every opportunity he gets.”

The 24-year-old Hess is already pitching like a seasoned veteran.

“I think that the confidence is definitely growing,” Hess said. “I think that with every start, I get a little bit smarter about what I need to do to have success and how to go about business on an everyday basis. I think there’s definitely progression with that, and I’m excited that that progression’s coming to where it’s at now.”

Hess’ early success is a rare ray of hope amidst this dreary Orioles season. For a team that desperately needs to look toward the future, it’s promising to see a youngster come to the majors and provide a spark for an often listless veteran club.

Now, back to the bad news. Orioles fans shouldn’t expect a wave of David Hesses to come walking through the clubhouse door this season. Because the Orioles’ minor league cupboard is startlingly bare right now, at least in terms of major league-ready youngsters.

Down in Triple-A Norfolk, the Tides’ pitching staff is lacking in blue-chip prospects. Their rotation includes a pair of journeyman right-handers, 28-year-old Tim Melville and 29-year-old Asher Wojciechowski, who have both struggled in previous, brief stints in the major leagues.

The best ERA among Norfolk starters belongs to Jimmy Yacabonis (3.21 in nine starts), but he has a history of control problems and isn’t widely considered starter material in the majors.

Perhaps the closest thing to a Triple-A prospect is righty Yefry Ramirez, 24, who has a live arm and has struck out 52 batters in 49 1/3 innings at Norfolk this season. With his 4.93 ERA, though, he’s not exactly busting down the door for a promotion.

On the hitting side, the picture is equally bleak at Norfolk. The most promising big league-ready hitter, outfielder and 2015 first-round draft pick D.J. Stewart, just landed on the minor league DL on Tuesday with a hamstring injury. The team’s top hitter among regulars is third baseman Drew Dosch, 25, who’s batting .290 with an .805 OPS in 33 games. But Dosch, a former seventh-rounder, isn’t considered a great fielder and may ultimately be more of an up-and-down guy than a big league regular.

That’s not to say the Orioles shouldn’t call up any of these players. With the club in a complete freefall and carrying plenty of jetsam on the roster, it certainly couldn’t hurt to throw a few young players into the mix and see who sticks. They have nothing to lose. But the Orioles’ system doesn’t have a Ronald Acuna or Vladimir Guerrero Jr., or anyone close to that caliber who’s going to come up and get this team on the winning track.

The Orioles’ more promising prospects are below Norfolk, including in Double-A Bowie, where lefty Keegan Akin has had a breakout season for the Baysox. The 23-year-old second-rounder in 2016 is 5-4 with a 2.97 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 10 starts, and there must be some temptation to jump him straight to the majors. But Akin hadn’t pitched above High-A before this season. Is it worth fast-tracking him to the Orioles, and starting his major league service clock, when it could be harmful to his development?

The same question can be asked of the Orioles’ position prospects at Bowie, most notably, outfielder Cedric Mullins, 23. The 13th-round pick from 2015 is laying waste to Double-A pitching, hitting .315 with an .879 OPS, six homers and 28 RBIs in 48 games. He’s considered a quality defensive outfielder, too, something the Orioles could certainly use.

For now, though, the Orioles seem committed to keeping Mullins on a steady progression to the majors, perhaps with a promotion to Norfolk soon. They’ll also likely play it conservative with infield prospect Ryan Mountcastle, who carries a thunderous bat at Bowie but has faced questions about his defense.

So, for those who believe the Orioles should jettison their many veteran underachievers from the roster and call up prospects to replace them, well, it’s not that easy. Those high-impact prospects are few and far between, and of the few legitimate ones the Orioles have, they might be better served continuing their progress in the minors rather than being rushed to the bigs.

It’s probably not what Orioles fans want to hear. But unless the club makes some canny trades to restock the farm system, don’t expect an infusion of youth anytime soon.

At least they’ve got David Hess.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Mau

    May 31, 2018 at 7:06 am

    Hey, the Caps won a Stanley Cup game!

  2. Ben1

    May 31, 2018 at 8:29 am

    DD will leave quite a legacy for many years to cone!

  3. Creatively09

    May 31, 2018 at 8:41 am

    I get your article, but I’d still rather see some young guys on the team and see what they can do. Hopefully when we start trading from the Major League roster we’ll actually get some guys back in return who are ready to play at this level. Sadly, I don’t exactly trust the Orioles to be the greatest evaluators of talent, so my expectations on what we’ll actually end up with are tampered from the start.

    • Paul Folkemer

      May 31, 2018 at 9:29 am

      Yeah, I’d be fine with seeing some of the young guys, but I’d take it on a case by case basis. I’m ready to give D.J. Stewart regular at-bats in the majors as soon as he’s back from injury, and someone like Drew Dosch is worth a look just to see what the Orioles have. But I wouldn’t advocate rushing Keegan Akin or Hunter Harvey to the majors yet. Let them continue to develop in the minors.

  4. Eldersburg Enigma

    May 31, 2018 at 8:54 am

    Their best defensive outfielder is the team’s Vice President of Baseball Operations, and the guy at least partially responsible for this roster construction.

  5. Stacey

    May 31, 2018 at 8:54 am

    Talk about a bucket of cold water!

  6. TxBirdFan

    May 31, 2018 at 9:13 am

    As they say, we can lose with them or without them, so bring them up to continue their progression in the majors. There plenty of room on the roster when you get rid of those who don’t belong there.

    On a bright note – Davis had one of the O’s 4 hits last night. Maybe the start of a comeback??

  7. Orial

    May 31, 2018 at 9:13 am

    I just want to know–how has this farm system continuously underachieved? Is it a poor eye for talent? Bad eye for hiring?super conservative decision making? I,know,I know–all of the above. When/if they tear it down start with DD/Buck/Brady. Everybody gone. Fresh blood,new direction. Thanks I needed that.

    • Paul Folkemer

      May 31, 2018 at 9:27 am

      As you said, it’s all of the above, and don’t forget the Orioles’ ridiculous refusal to participate in the international amateur free agent market. Those two superstar prospects I mentioned, Acuna and Vlad Jr., were both amateur free agent signings, as were many other of the game’s best young players and prospects.

      The Orioles have really put themselves at a competitive disadvantage by not taking part in that market, and we’ve seen the ugly results.

  8. Grand Strand Bird Fan

    May 31, 2018 at 9:30 am

    Once Stewart is healthy the Orioles should create a roster spot for him. He has an excellent on base percentage, can steal bases, and has shown power. Keagan Akin is someone who could be given a chance at starting. He has pitched great for Bowie. Again a roster spot needs to be created.

  9. Dblack2508

    May 31, 2018 at 10:06 am

    They have to change fundamentally the way they do business from top to bottom. After the sell off, they should be in much better shape in the minor leagues. That’is if it is executed well. I see a problem with having too many players that are 4A at Norfolk. The international signing slots are a no brainer.

  10. Zoey Dog Says Throw Strikes

    May 31, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    They’ve broken many a player by rushing them to the majors. Leave Akin there. Leave Harvey there.

    I would be ok with Dosch, only because I don’t see him as a regular anyway. Defense is way too sporadic. Fine, bring him up, see what he’s about. If he can’t handle it, no biggie.

    Mullins — I’m hot and cold on this guy. I see him as a spare outfielder, more than an every day starter. If he struggles up here because he needed more seasoning, what does that ultimately mean? I don’t know.

  11. Bancells Moustache

    May 31, 2018 at 4:02 pm

    Folkemer, tossing that cold water.

    Oh, who am I kidding, at this point there is no cold water to toss. But in the interest of fairness, while the organization is bereft of sexy, blue-chip prospects everyone knows is going to be a future All-Star like Lucas Giolito and Yoan Moncada, no one knew who the hell Hess was until about 3 weeks ago, and it’s not like Trey Mancini was being trumpeted to the heavens by scouting websites prior to his ascendance.

    • Disco Stupid

      June 1, 2018 at 1:14 pm

      I echo the moustache. No blue chippers but this farm has thickened each year despite trading away guys for the mlb roster. Guys like Austin Hays and Mullins were not first round picks. We have some depth and a middle of the pack farm system. If we can handle the trades of Manny and company well then we’ll look fairly flush.

  12. John in Cincy

    June 1, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    Tanner Scott deserves a mention for what he’s doing out of the bullpen for the Orioles.

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