Watching baseball isn’t too much fun for you right now.
I get it.
It looked like the Orioles might get some momentum going after they won three out of four games against the New York Yankees two weeks ago. But then they lost two out of three to the Toronto Blue Jays in a quick trip to Camden Yards before hitting the road again.
And since then it has been an absolute disaster.
First, the Orioles were swept out of Fenway Park by the Boston Red Sox – being outscored 20-7 in the rain-shortened, three-game series. While there, they lost All-Star second baseman Jonathan Schoop for at least a couple of weeks because of an oblique injury.
Then, they headed to Detroit for a three-game series in mostly miserable weather against the Tigers – a team that lost 98 games in 2017 and isn’t expected to improve much this year. In their “easiest” matchups of the first month, the Orioles were swept again.
We still have more than a week to go in April and the Orioles already trail the Red Sox by double digits. Normally, I’d give some pep talk right here about it being a long season.
But that’s a huge gap for the Orioles to have to overcome no matter how many games remain. Plus, we haven’t even factored in what the Blue Jays and Yankees will do from here.
I can see why Orioles fans aren’t too excited today. It has been a brutal first month in what appears to be quickly spiraling toward an extremely long season in Birdland. And with uncertainty looming after this year, who knows what we can expect going forward.
But I have at least some good news for you: Exciting baseball is being played on the farm.
That’s why I write this weekly recap. I want to try to make baseball fun again for BaltimoreBaseball.com readers. Now, I need to be clear: It’s not all fun in the Orioles’ minor-league system right now, either. But as you’ll see, some bright spots do exist.
Low-A Delmarva leads the South Atlantic League Northern Division after one of its best starts ever. Triple-A Norfolk sits atop the International League South Division, too.
Sure, it’s not really about wins and losses in the minor leagues. But each of the Orioles’ four full-season affiliates feature some intriguing prospects that are worth following this year.
My point is: No matter what happens with the Orioles, we can still have fun together.
Now, let’s get into the second “Dean Jones Report” of the season. Remember, each Friday throughout the year, I’ll update readers about what’s happening in the minor leagues.
I’ll categorize each player in my “Dean’s Dozen” – the collection of 12 top Orioles prospects, in my opinion, at this point – as either a rising stock (“bullish”) or a falling stock (“bearish”).
I’ll also highlight some other players as either surging or falling, based on recent play. These players will change from week to week, depending on who’s hot and who’s not.
Finally, I’ll give you the upcoming schedule for all the affiliates. Remember, I want to hear your thoughts on these players, too. So, be sure to comment at the bottom of the post.
With all that said, let’s get to it.
No. 1: Austin Hays, OF, Bowie
Statistics: .222, 3 HRs, 7 RBIs, 5 runs in 13 games
Through the first two weeks of the season, the 2016 third-round pick hasn’t been consistent. Hays, 22, had three straight multi-hit performances from April 11 through last Saturday. As a result, his average climbed to a season-high .263. But then he went hitless in eight at-bats over the next two games to drop to .217. In the ninth inning of Bowie’s 6-1 win at Richmond on Thursday morning, Hays connected for a two-run homer – his third of the year. He also had a sacrifice fly that scored Cedric Mullins in the first. Overall, Hays has yet to dominate at the plate. But he’s doing just enough to keep me “bullish” once again.
No. 2: Ryan Mountcastle, 3B, Bowie
We’re still waiting for Mountcastle, 21, to make his 2018 debut with the Baysox. You’ll recall that the 2015 first-round selection (36th overall) suffered a hairline fracture in his right hand back in spring training. He continues to work his way back to full strength.
No. 3: Hunter Harvey, RHP, Bowie
Statistics: 0-0, 4.50 ERA, 1 K, 0 BBs in 2 innings
After a brief trip to Camden Yards and back to the minors, the 2013 first-round pick (22nd overall) finally pitched for the Baysox on Saturday evening at Harrisburg. Harvey, 23, gave up one run and two hits in two innings during Bowie’s 15-6 rout over the Senators. The Baysox scored nine runs in the top of the 10th to get the win. Harvey walked one batter, and he threw 23 of his 34 pitches for strikes. Not a dominant outing, but an important first step. Remember, this was Harvey’s first professional game above the Low-A level – and incredibly, just his 39th career start. Although the injuries have been frustrating, they’ve helped to limit Harvey’s workload. Finally, fully healthy, he’ll look to build on this first outing when he takes the mound for Bowie on Friday night at home against Akron.
No. 4: Cedric Mullins, OF, Bowie
Statistics: .264, 3 HRs, 11 RBIs, 3 2Bs, 1 3B, 11 runs in 13 games
The 2015 13th-round selection put together two notable performances for the Baysox over the past week. Mullins, 23, went 2-for-5 with a solo homer, a two-run double and four runs scored in the game that Harvey started Saturday night. Then, on Thursday morning, he picked up his first three-hit game of the year in the series finale at Richmond. Mullins (pictured above) scored twice in the game, bringing his season runs total to 11 (tied for second in the Eastern League). But, most important, he stole his first base of the season. Mullins’ combination of power and speed is critical to his success, so we’ll see if he can get it going.
No. 5: Tanner Scott, LHP, Norfolk
Statistics: 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 8 Ks, 3 BBs in 6 innings (at Norfolk); 0-0, 5.40 ERA, 1 K, 1 BB in 1 2/3 innings (with Orioles)
You’d be deceived if you just looked at the immaculate ERA for Scott, 23, in his six innings with the Tides. In reality, the 2014 sixth-round pick has allowed a base runner in each of those innings. And he has let inherited runners score. In Norfolk’s 6-1 loss to Syracuse on Saturday, Scott entered with no outs and a man on second base in the bottom of the sixth. He allowed an RBI double, issued two walks and threw a wild pitch in the inning. Then, on Wednesday, Scott gave up a two-run double after entering the Tides’ 7-4 win at Lehigh Valley in the sixth. He also surrendered a leadoff double in the seventh. So, while Scott hasn’t officially been charged with any runs, he’s not dominating at the Triple-A level yet.
No. 6: DL Hall, LHP, Delmarva
Statistics: 0-0, 1.80 ERA, 4 Ks, 5 BBs in 5 innings
Hall, 19, struggled with his control in his second start of the year. In the second game of a doubleheader at Hagerstown on Tuesday night, the 2017 first-round selection (21st overall) walked a career-high four batters in two innings. He only threw 23 of his 48 pitches for strikes. Hall loaded the bases in the bottom of the third on a single and two walks before leaving the game. Overall, he was charged with three hits and two runs (one earned). As a result, I’m temporarily flipping to “bearish” today. But in the long run, I’m not worried yet. Hall is scheduled to pitch again for the Shorebirds on Monday night against Kannapolis.
No. 7: DJ Stewart, OF, Norfolk
Statistics: .237, 1 HR, 4 RBIs, 7 runs in 10 games
As I told you last week, the 2015 first-round pick (25th overall) vaulted his average from .143 to .316 with four singles in one game. Such is life early in the season. Stewart, 24, has hit safely in three of the Tides’ five games since then, but he’s only batting .158 (3-for-19) in that stretch. As a result, his average has dropped to .237. It’s not all bad news, though. He leads the team with seven runs scored – and is tied with a bunch of players for third in the International League in that category. For what it’s worth, he’s hitting .292 (7-for-24) on the road and just .143 (2-for-14) at Harbor Park. But again, it’s a long season. It’s still early. We’ll see how the notoriously streaky Stewart performs from here.
No. 8: Keegan Akin, LHP, Bowie
Statistics: 1-2, 4.80 ERA, 14 Ks, 7 BBs in 15 innings
Akin, 23, picked up his first quality start in Bowie’s 6-1 win over Richmond on Thursday. The 2016 second-round selection held the Flying Squirrels to one run and four hits in six innings. He had seven strikeouts and didn’t walk anyone. That last part stands out to me. In his first two starts – both against Harrisburg – Akin issued a total of seven walks. So, it’s good to see an improvement – even if it’s just for one start. We’ll see if he can keep the momentum going in his next turn through the rotation. For now, I’ll flip to “bullish” on Akin.
No. 9: Alex Wells, LHP, Frederick
Statistics: 0-1, 2.40 ERA, 13 Ks, 4 BBs in 15 innings
Maybe the Carolina League hitters are more patient than the South Atlantic League hitters were in 2017. Wells, 21, allowed two free passes in the Keys’ 4-1 defeat at Lynchburg on Tuesday night. That was the first time the Australian native has walked two batters in a game since last May. But it’s no reason to panic. Wells has only issued three walks one time in 41 professional starts. And he’s only walked two in a game six other times. I’m willing to bet that this trend won’t last. Wells took the loss in the game against the Hillcats after being charged with two runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. Still, he has a 2.40 ERA after three starts for the Keys. So, I’m staying “bullish” for now. Wells is in line to pitch Tuesday at Salem, which opens a six-game road trip for the Keys.
No. 10: Michael Baumann, RHP, Delmarva
Statistics: 2-0, 1.69 ERA, 24 Ks, 7 BBs in 16 innings
Baumann, 22, put together his least-dominant outing of the young season on Wednesday morning in the Shorebirds’ 8-4 win over Hagerstown. The 2017 third-round selection walked four hitters and allowed two runs – twice as many as he had given up in his first 11 innings this year. Although Baumann only had five strikeouts in the no-decision, he continued to lead the South Atlantic League in the category heading into Thursday night. Through three starts, he has been almost unhittable against right-handers. They’re batting .130 against Baumann (3-for-23) with 13 strikeouts. He’ll make his next start sometime next week.
No. 11: Zac Lowther, LHP, Delmarva
Statistics: 2-0, 0.00 ERA, 20 Ks, 1 BB in 11 innings
As we discussed last week, the 2017, competitive-balance-round B pick dominated Hickory on April 9 with 13 strikeouts in six no-hit innings in his full-season debut. Lowther, 21, wasn’t as dominant in the Shorebirds’ 7-2 win at Hagerstown in the first game of a doubleheader Tuesday. But he still pitched five shutout innings in the victory. Lowther scattered three hits – all doubles – and had seven strikeouts. I joked last week about Lowther’s performance making me look good for adding him to the “Dean’s Dozen” just before the start of the season. But if he keeps it up, he’ll soon climb much higher on the list. Lowther will take the mound for the Shorebirds on Sunday afternoon against Lakewood.
No. 12: Cody Sedlock, RHP, Frederick
Statistics: 0-2, 13.50 ERA, 6 Ks, 9 BBs in 9 1/3 innings
Yikes. That’s the only word I can come up with to describe the performance of the 2016 first-round selection (27th overall) in the Keys’ 15-4 lopsided loss to Wilmington on Thursday. Sedlock, 22, issued three walks and then threw a grand slam in the first inning to the Blue Rocks’ Chase Vallot. In the second, he got the first out before allowing two singles. Then, he hit a batter and walked in a run before being replaced by Mike Burke. Sedlock threw 27 of his 60 pitches for strikes in the game. Sedlock is now 0-2 with a 13.50 ERA through three starts. He has walked nine batters and hit three others.
Zach Jarrett, OF, Delmarva: Jarrett, 23, ranks among the South Atlantic League leaders in home runs (four) and runs (11) through two weeks. The 2017 28th-round pick – and son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett – went 3-for-4 with two homers and five RBIs in the nightcap of a doubleheader Tuesday. On Thursday, he had another three-hit game, raising his average to .349 on the season.
Corban Joseph, UTIL, Bowie: Despite going 0-for-4 in the series finale against Richmond, the younger brother of Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph remains hot. The Yankees’ 2008 fourth-round pick leads the Eastern League with 18 hits. He’s hitting .383 with four doubles and nine RBIs. Joseph, 29, went 5-for-6 with a homer and five RBIs last Saturday at Harrisburg.
T.J. Nichting, OF, Delmarva: Like Jarrett – his teammate at UNC-Charlotte – the 2017 ninth-round pick has been a big part of the Shorebirds’ fast start. Nichting, 23, had four multi-hit performances in a five-game stretch ending Wednesday. He went 10-for-19 with four doubles, a triple and five RBIs in that span. He had a hit and one RBI on Thursday, and his batting average is currently .354.
Andrew Susac, C, Norfolk: Susac, 28, has hit safely in all seven games in which he has played. He’s batting .385 (10-for-26) with one homer, four doubles and seven RBIs. In Norfolk’s 7-4 win over Lehigh Valley on Wednesday, Susac – who failed to earn the Orioles’ backup catcher job this spring – went 3-for-3 with a double, two walks and three RBIs.
Ben Breazeale, C, Delmarva: The 2017 seventh-round pick shined for Short-A Aberdeen in the first half of last season, earning an All-Star nod in the New York-Penn League. But Breazeale, 23, only hit .172 in August and hasn’t been the same since then. In 10 games with the Shorebirds, he is batting .189 (7-for-37) with 10 strikeouts.
Jaycob Brugman, OF, Norfolk: Brugman, 26, was expected to compete for a spot on the Opening Day roster when the Orioles acquired him from Oakland Athletics in November. But after being reassigned to minor-league camp in early March, he started the year with the Tides. Through seven games, Brugman is only batting .100 (3-for-30) with 13 strikeouts.
Joely Rodriguez, LHP, Norfolk: This spring, the 26-year-old Dominican Republic native fought for a bullpen role before coming up short. Rodriguez only allowed one run in 10 1/3 innings with the Orioles in spring training, but he has struggled with the Tides. Rodriguez is 0-1 with a 9.95 ERA in 6 1/3 innings. He has walked six batters and given up 10 hits.
Michael Saunders, OF/DH, Norfolk: The Orioles signed Saunders, 31, to a minor league deal earlier this month. The nine-year, major-league veteran, who hit a career-high 24 home runs with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2016, was assigned to the Tides on April 2. He’s off to a slow start. Through 10 games, Saunders is only hitting .139 (5-for-36) with 11 strikeouts.
THE WEEK AHEAD
April 20 – vs. Buffalo, 7:05 p.m.
April 21 – vs. Buffalo, 7:05 p.m.
April 22 – vs. Buffalo, 1:05 p.m.
April 23 – vs. Lehigh Valley, 6:35 p.m.
April 24 – vs. Lehigh Valley, 6:35 p.m.
April 25 – vs. Lehigh Valley, 12:05 p.m.
April 26 – OFF
April 20 – vs. Akron, 7:05 p.m.
April 21 – vs. Akron, 6:35 p.m.
April 22 – vs. Akron, 1:35 p.m.
April 23 – vs. Richmond, 6:35 p.m.
April 24 – vs. Richmond, 6:35 p.m.
April 25 – vs. Richmond, 11:05 a.m.
April 26 – OFF
April 20 – vs. Wilmington, 7 p.m.
April 21 – vs. Wilmington, 2 p.m.
April 22 – vs. Wilmington, 2 p.m.
April 23 – OFF
April 24 – at Salem, 7:05 p.m.
April 25 – at Salem, 7:05 p.m.
April 26 – at Salem, 7:05 p.m.
April 20 – vs. Lakewood, 7:05 p.m.
April 21 – vs. Lakewood, 7:05 p.m.
April 22 – vs. Lakewood, 2:05 p.m.
April 23 – vs. Kannapolis, 7:05 p.m.
April 24 – vs. Kannapolis, 7:05 p.m.
April 25 – vs. Kannapolis, 7:05 p.m.
April 26 – vs. Kannapolis, 10:35 a.m.