Believe it or not, the Orioles are once again in the playoff hunt in September.
It remains to be seen if the club will make the postseason for the fourth time since 2012.
Sure, the potential “one and done” wild-card game doesn’t feel like the playoffs – especially when you suffer a heartbreaking loss like they did last year. But, technically, it counts.
After Monday, the Orioles are 1 ½ games out of the second wild-card spot in the American League. And they’re 4 ½ games behind the New York Yankees with 24 to play.
Regardless of whether the Orioles make the playoffs, we’ll see postseason baseball in the organization. Double-A Bowie and High-A Frederick will start the playoffs Wednesday.
The Baysox host Altoona for the first two games of the best-of-five Eastern League Western Division Championship Series on Wednesday and Thursday. The third game will be played in Altoona on Friday, with the final two games Saturday and Sunday in Altoona, if needed.
The Keys face Lynchburg in the best-of-five Carolina League Northern Division Championship Series. The two teams will play the first two games in Frederick on Wednesday and Thursday. The last three games will be in Lynchburg from Friday to Sunday.
Plus, Short-A Aberdeen still isn’t officially eliminated in the New York-Penn League. The IronBirds (40-33) trail Hudson Valley by three games for the wild-card spot with three to play. Essentially, they need to win out and hope the Renegades lose out.
Season awards are starting to roll in, and the Orioles announced a big one Tuesday: Delmarva lefty Alex Wells received the Jim Palmer Prize for the organization’s best minor league pitcher. Wells, who is 12th on my prospect list but will make a jump in my offseason rankings, was 11-5 with a 2.38 ERA, 113 strikeouts and only 10 walks in 140 innings. His selection was no surprise, as he was consistent all season.
The Orioles will announce their other organizational winners during the last homestand of the season. Outfielder Austin Hays is the best guess as the Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year Award. He is reportedly headed to Camden Yards on Tuesday and could be added to the Orioles’ 40-man roster soon, as MASNsports.com first reported.
I’ll continue the “Dean Jones Report” through the minor-league postseason. You can expect weekly updates until all the Orioles’ minor-league affiliates are eliminated. After that, you can look forward to BaltimoreBaseball.com’s second minor-league All-Star squad. And, finally, I’ll update the “Dean’s Dozen” collection of Top 12 players in the organization.
If you’re new to BaltimoreBaseball.com, let me explain the “Dean Jones Report” updates. Every Tuesday, I offer a glimpse into what’s going on in the Orioles’ minor-league system.
First, I discuss the Top 12 players in the organization (according to my “Dean’s Dozen”). Then, I mention a handful of players who are either “surging” or “falling” recently. And finally, I wrap things up with the remaining schedule for the Orioles’ highest affiliates.
No. 1: Chance Sisco, C, Orioles
Statistics: .267, 7 HRs, 47 RBIs, 23 2Bs, 99 Ks in 97 games
The 2013 second-round pick made his long-awaited major-league debut Saturday in the Orioles’ 7-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. Of course, it didn’t happen as most fans envisioned. Sisco, 22, entered as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning. Before his promotion when rosters expanded Friday, Sisco walked four times in his final two games with the Tides. He finished the Triple-A season with a .340 on-base percentage. That’s 63 percentage points below where he finished last season and 50 points below his career average. Of course, it’s still nice to see Sisco learning things at the major-league level.
No. 2: Austin Hays, OF, Bowie
Statistics: .330, 16 HRs, 54 RBIs, 17 2Bs in 64 games at Bowie; .328, 16 HRs, 41 RBIs, 15 2Bs in 64 games at Frederick
Coincidentally, the 2016 third-round selection played in 64 games at both Frederick and Bowie this season. Hays, 22, finished the regular season with a bang as the Baysox fell, 4-3, to Richmond on Monday. He hit a two-run home run – his 32nd of the year – and drove in all three of Bowie’s runs in the loss. Hays also went 2-for-3 with a double and two RBIs in the first game of a doubleheader against the Flying Squirrels on Sunday. In his final 10 games, Hays batted .359 (14-for-39) with one home run, three doubles and five RBIs. He was supposed to get his first taste of postseason action this week, but now it looks like his career may get a bigger boost. He is reportedly headed to the Orioles Tuesday and could be added to the 40-man roster soon. Hays also was named a finalist for Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year Award on Tuesday.
No. 3: Ryan Mountcastle, 3B/SS, Bowie
Statistics: .222, 3 HRs, 15 RBIs, 13 2Bs in 39 games at Bowie; .314, 15 HRs, 47 RBIs, 35 2Bs, 63 runs in 88 games
The 2015 first-round pick (36th overall) is getting hot at the perfect time for the Baysox. Mountcastle, 20, has hit safely in 11 of his past 12 games. In that span, he hit .300 (15-for-50) with two home runs, four doubles, five RBIs and eight runs. Mountcastle went 2-for-5 with a double and a run scored in the regular-season finale at Richmond on Monday. With his recent surge, Mountcastle finished the season with a .287 average, 18 home runs, 62 RBIs and 48 doubles between Frederick and Bowie. Not bad for someone who doesn’t turn 21 until February. One thing to watch: He struck out 14 times in his final 13 games. That’s not terribly concerning as long as he’s hitting well. But if he slumps, people will jump on it.
No. 4: Keegan Akin, LHP, Frederick
Statistics: 7-8, 4.14 ERA, 111 Ks, 46 BBs in 100 innings
Akin, 22, didn’t pitch over the final month of the regular season due to a right oblique injury. Looking back at the 2016 second-round selection’s statistics this year, you’ll see that left-handed hitters batted .269 against him and righties hit only .230. Overall, that works out to a .240 opponents’ batting average. Although that’s much worse than the .161 that he posted last summer at Aberdeen, it’s still solid – especially considering his inconsistency with the Keys. Even though Akin didn’t pitch after Aug. 4, he finished in the Top 12 in the Carolina League with 111 strikeouts. Take the small victories when you can.
No. 5: Cody Sedlock, RHP, Frederick
Statistics: 4-5, 5.90 ERA, 69 Ks, 36 BBs in 90 innings
Unlike Akin, the 2016 first-round pick (27th overall) didn’t miss many bats as he battled injuries this season. Left-handed batters hit .287 against Sedlock, 22, while right-handers batted an incredible .339. Overall, that’s a .313 average from opponents. Last summer, Sedlock held opposing hitters to a .158 average in nine starts at Aberdeen. Plain and simple, Orioles fans need to chalk this up as a lost season and hope he rebounds.
No. 6: Cedric Mullins, OF, Bowie
Statistics: .265, 13 HRs, 37 RBIs, 19 2Bs, 53 runs in 76 games
Mullins, 22, is limping into the playoffs for the Baysox. In the last 28 games of the season, the 2015 13th-round selection only batted .162 (19-for-117). He had one hit in 14 at-bats in September. Mullins went 0-for-3 with two walks and a run scored in the regular-season finale Monday at Richmond. Although he missed a lot of time with hamstring injuries and only played in 76 games, Mullins finished one home run short of his career high. Because of those limitations, though, he only had nine stolen bases (compared to 30 with Delmarva in 2016). Still, I’m excited for what Mullins will bring to the Orioles at some point in the future.
No. 7: Tanner Scott, LHP, Bowie
Statistics: 0-2, 2.22 ERA, 87 Ks, 46 BBs in 69 innings
In his final start of the regular season, the 2014 sixth-round pick tossed two scoreless innings Sunday in the second game of a doubleheader as the Baysox edged Richmond, 1-0. Scott, 23, walked two batters and allowed one hit. He struck out four. Scott wasn’t as dominant in the second half. He had a 3.15 ERA in seven starts, compared with a 1.84 ERA in 17 starts before the All-Star break. However, opponents still only batted .188 against him this season. Scott doesn’t give up a lot of home runs. He has only surrendered three in 198 2/3 innings. That’s something that will play in the majors if he can harness his control.
No. 8: Chris Lee, LHP, Norfolk
Statistics: 5-6, 5.11 ERA, 83 Ks, 54 BBs in 116 1/3 innings
Lee, 25, started Saturday for the Tides after making seven consecutive relief appearances. Coming out of the bullpen, he went 1-1 with a 1.48 ERA in 24 1/3 innings. In his final start of the year, Lee allowed two runs and five hits. He also had seven strikeouts. That’s the most for Lee since May 16, 2014, when he pitched in the Houston Astros’ minor-league system. I’m keeping him as “bearish” because of the full picture in 2017, but the way he finished should definitely produce a confidence boost heading into next season.
No. 9: Jesus Liranzo, RHP, Bowie
Statistics: 3-4, 4.85 ERA, 75 Ks, 43 BBs in 65 innings
The Dominican Republic native ended the regular season with a little bit of momentum. Liranzo, 22, went 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA in 13 innings over his final four appearances. In that span, he gave up 11 hits. More important, Liranzo pitched with much better control. He struck out 12 batters and only issued three walks. In the second game of a doubleheader at Richmond on Sunday, Liranzo pitched a season-high four scoreless innings. He scattered three hits to pick up his third win of the year. The Baysox will need Liranzo to keep things going in the first round of the Eastern League playoffs, which start Wednesday night.
No. 10: DJ Stewart, OF, Bowie
Statistics: .278, 21 HRs, 79 RBIs, 26 2Bs, 80 runs, 20 SBs in 126 games
As I’ve mentioned before, the 2015 first-round pick (25th overall) is trending in the opposite direction from Mullins over the past couple of months. Stewart, 23, earned the Orioles’ Minor League Player of the Month award for August. He became the first player in Baysox history to finish a season with at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases. In 47 games after the Eastern League All-Star break, Stewart batted .292 (49-for-168) with 10 home runs, 35 RBIs and 12 doubles. Most important, in my opinion, he hit .291 (41-for-141) against left-handed pitchers this season. That’s something to watch as he climbs up the ladder.
No. 11: Ofelky Peralta, RHP, Frederick
Statistics: 2-10, 5.42 ERA, 95 Ks, 86 BBs in 104 2/3 innings
I’m wrapping up the regular season with a “bearish” ranking for the Dominican Republic native. However, it’s worth noting that Peralta, 20, pitched with much better control in his final two starts heading into the Carolina League playoffs. Last Thursday, he gave up three runs and seven hits in 3 2/3 innings against Salem. But he only walked one batter. And in the Keys’ regular-season finale Monday, Peralta also issued only one walk in three scoreless innings against Potomac. To put that into perspective, Peralta had only walked one hitter (or none) in two of his previous 24 starts this year. We’ll see if he can build on that in 2018.
No. 12: Alex Wells, LHP, Delmarva
Statistics: 11-5, 2.38 ERA, 113 Ks, 10 BBs in 140 innings
Wells, 20, didn’t pitch after throwing four scoreless innings Aug. 27 in the Shorebirds’ 3-1 loss to Charleston. The Australia native and 2017 Jim Palmer Prize winner ended the season with a streak of 11 straight starts – and 68 consecutive innings – without allowing a walk. He finished first in the South Atlantic League in ERA (2.38) and WHIP (0.91), as well as tied for second in wins (11) and tied for ninth in strikeouts (113). He was 7-0 and walked three batters in 11 home starts this year. Yet, somehow, Wells wasn’t picked for the league’s Postseason All-Star team. In 202 2/3 career innings, Wells has only walked 19 batters.
Michael Baumann, RHP, Aberdeen: The Orioles named the 2017 third-round selection as their Minor League Pitcher of the Month for August. Baumann, 21, went 4-0 with a 0.70 ERA in five starts during the month. Last Wednesday, Baumann had five strikeouts and scattered three hits in 6 2/3 scoreless innings as the IronBirds edged Connecticut, 2-0.
Hunter Harvey, RHP, Delmarva: In his last inning during the Shorebirds’ season finale Monday, the 2013 first-round pick (22nd overall) finally gave up a run. In fact, he allowed two. That snapped the streak of 17 2/3 scoreless innings in 2017. Harvey, 22, finishes the year with a 0.96 ERA in eight starts across three levels. Most important, he’s healthy.
Max Hogan, 2B-OF, GCL Orioles: Hogan, 23, earned a spot on the Gulf Coast League’s Postseason All-Star team after hitting .310 (40-for-129) with 11 doubles and 28 RBIs in 40 games this summer. The 2017 32nd-round selection hit primarily in the second spot in the lineup for the Rookie-level affiliate. He batted .328 (21-for-64) in August.
Jake Ring, OF, Frederick: The Orioles rewarded the 2016 31st-round pick for his solid season at Delmarva with a promotion to the Keys for the final weekend and the playoffs. Although Ring, 23, only has one hit in eight at-bats for Frederick, it was a two-run shot during the Keys’ 10-4 rout over Potomac in the first game of a doubleheader Sunday.
Will Robertson, OF, Aberdeen: Like Ring, the 2017 30th-round selection also received a promotion for the final week of the season. Robertson, 22, moved from the GCL Orioles to the IronBirds on Sunday after hitting .303 (64-for-211) with 19 doubles and 40 RBIs in 53 games at the Rookie level. He is 0-for-3 with two strikeouts so far for Aberdeen.
Jay Gonzalez, OF, Frederick: Shortly after the Orioles promoted Hays to Bowie in June, they sent the 2014 10th-round pick back to the Keys even though he was hitting .284 with 13 stolen bases. Gonzalez, 25, batted .265 with 18 stolen bases in 51 games for Frederick, but he suffered a broken hamate bone and hasn’t played since Aug. 31.
Chris Johnson, 3B, Norfolk: The eight-year major-league veteran wasn’t among the Orioles’ September call-ups even though he hit .301 (75-for-249) with 10 home runs, 17 doubles and 36 RBIs in 62 games for the Tides. Johnson, 32, could still join the Orioles at some point, but the club would need to make a move to get him on the 40-man roster.
Logan Verrett, RHP, Norfolk: Speaking of former major leaguers who are going the wrong way, the Orioles designated the right-hander for assignment Friday to open up a spot on the 40-man roster. Verrett, 27, went 2-6 with a 5.10 ERA in 40 appearances (two starts) with the Tides this season. He was also 2-0 with a 4.22 ERA in four games with the Orioles. He cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday.
Tyler Wilson, RHP, Norfolk: Wilson, 27, was also designated for assignment Friday to clear room on the 40-man roster. In 20 starts for the Tides, the 2011 10th-round pick went 7-8 with a 4.74 ERA. He was 2-2 with a 7.04 ERA in nine appearances in the majors this season. Wilson showed some promise with the Orioles in 2015 and 2016, but hasn’t thrived in any role. Like Verrett, he cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Eastern League Western Division Championship Series
Game 1: Wednesday – vs. Altoona, 7:05 p.m.
Game 2: Thursday – vs. Altoona, 7:05 p.m.
Game 3: Friday – at Altoona, TBA
Game 4 (if necessary): Saturday – at Altoona, TBA
Game 5 (if necessary): Sunday – at Altoona, TBA
Carolina League Northern Division Championship Series
Game 1: Wednesday – vs. Lynchburg, 7 p.m.
Game 2: Thursday – vs. Lynchburg, 7 p.m.
Game 3: Friday – at Lynchburg, 6:30 p.m.
Game 4 (if necessary): Saturday – at Lynchburg, TBA
Game 5 (if necessary): Sunday – at Lynchburg, TBA
Tuesday – vs. Staten Island, 7:05 p.m.
Wednesday – at Hudson Valley, 6:35 p.m.
Thursday – at Hudson Valley, 6:35 p.m.