Despite a modest, three-game winning streak, the Orioles most obvious path this month is to remain sellers at the non-waiver trade deadline.
To that end, Joe McIlvaine, the Orioles’ senior advisor of player personnel and one of the top special assistants to executive vice president Dan Duquette, has been watching the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers for the past several days.
The Dodgers are one of the many teams that have contacted the Orioles about the club’s top relievers, specifically lefty Zach Britton and right-hander Brad Brach.
However, the Dodgers are particularly intriguing trade partners because they have a deep farm system, which includes several intriguing young arms. The Orioles desperately need to re-stock their system, especially with high-ceiling, near-ready starters.
The Triple-A Oklahoma City team has three players on Baseball America’s Midseason Top 100 Prospect list: RHP Walker Buehler (17th), outfielder Alex Verdugo (35th) and second baseman Willie Calhoun (74th). The Dodgers also have right-hander Yadier Alvarez (60th) on the list. He’s pitching in the High-A California League.
Buehler, a 22-year-old who was selected with the 24th overall pick in the 2015 draft out of Vanderbilt University, is making his Triple-A debut Thursday. He had Tommy John surgery in 2015, and pitched only three minor league games in 2016. This year, he had a 2.89 ERA in 16 starts between High-A and Double-A before his promotion this week.
He is obviously highly coveted, and the Dodgers, who are running away with the National League West, may not want to deal him, especially considering they have one of baseball’s best closers in Kenley Jansen. Britton or Brach would likely pitch in a set-up role – or multi-inning situations – if acquired by Los Angeles.
I’m not saying that will happen. Or that the Dodgers are the primary trade target for the Orioles. But there obviously is enough interest for McIlvaine to spend some time watching Oklahoma City.
Harvey makes season debut
Much of the hand-wringing about this disappointing season has revolved around the Orioles’ lack of starting pitching, and, specifically, an inability to develop quality starters. And for good reason.
Well, one of the organization’s most intriguing pitching prospects took a small step in the right direction Wednesday.
Right-hander Hunter Harvey, 22, pitched a scoreless inning (two hits, one strikeout) for the Gulf Coast League Orioles, his first outing for an affiliated team since having elbow surgery last July. It’s just the sixth affiliated outing in the last three seasons for Harvey, the club’s first-round pick (22nd overall) in 2013.
“Hunter Harvey had a good day today, 27 pitches, one inning, felt great. Velocity was really good. I saw the schedule, they’ve got him mapped out all the way through the end of August, which is good,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s got a couple more outings in the Gulf Coast League, then he goes to Aberdeen, then to Delmarva. That was real encouraging today, that was a big day in his baseball ladder climbing.”
Harvey will pitch in a game once a week through August – health willing – and throw side sessions in between. Because Harvey began his rehab from surgery in November, he’ll be throwing for 10 months straight when he reaches August. So, Showalter said the Orioles won’t send him to the Arizona Fall League or have him pitch at all during the winter. The goal is to have Harvey ready for spring training, where he’d likely begin at Double-A.
After that? Well, Showalter’s not going there yet.
“I’ll leave that up to (player development director) Brian Graham and them, they’re the experts in player development. But we all have an opinion. I think that’s what’s gonna end up (happening). I’m hoping. That’s a long way off, but he’s not going to be a candidate to make our club (to start) next year. But I know he has the potential to make a lot of people ask that question.”
Suddenly, an explosive offense
We all know the Orioles can score in bunches, especially when they aren’t facing top-shelf pitching.
They drove that point home – along with plenty of baserunners – in the past two days. The Orioles beat the Rangers 12-1 Tuesday and 10-2 on Wednesday, marking the first time this season they’ve scored 10 or more runs in consecutive games.
In pure enigmatic, 2017 fashion, the Orioles had scored just six runs in their previous three games before the offensive explosion.
So, what gives?
Part of it is a Rangers’ staff that isn’t particularly formidable – it entered Wednesday with a 4.30 ERA, smack in the middle of the American League (yet far better than the Orioles’ 5.10 staff ERA).
Part of it, though, is that some of these Orioles are really starting to hit. Jonathan Schoop is at .300, Trey Mancini at .309 and last year’s whipping boy Caleb Joseph, at .299. Adam Jones had three hits Wednesday – all of the opposite field variety, and that’s always a good sign.
Maybe a lot of this starts with Jones, who is in the leadoff spot again.
“It’s been like eight or nine years of that with me trying to be like a catalyst for things. I just try and play this game as hard as I can and the guys feed off of that,” he said. “I’m on base, somehow, some way, the guys feed off of that. I’m not anything special. I just put my head down and play this game really hard. When you do that, good things tend to happen. The team just feeds off me. Manny (Machado) feeds of it. Schoop feeds off of it and it just trickles down the rest of the lineup.”
Jones says trade rumors should quiet some
Killing my lead of this piece, Jones said Wednesday night that he thinks the Orioles’ three straight wins should quiet trade rumors for now. And, if they keep winning, maybe the tune completely changes, from sellers to buyers.
“Shuts up all the trade rumors. I know that. We feel that we’re still in this race, a long way to go, so we’re not just going to give up,” Jones said. “I don’t take offense to that stuff. It’ll die down when you win. You’ll become buyers and not sellers when you win.”