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.