He’s not going to save the Orioles’ season, but closer Zach Britton is on his way back.
Britton, who ruptured his right Achilles tendon before Christmas, returned to the mound Wednesday night in an injury-rehabilitation appearance for High-A Frederick at Wilmington, Del. The 30-year-old left-hander pitched the fifth inning in relief of left-handed prospect Zac Lowther, who made his Keys debut after being promoted from Low-A Delmarva this week.
Britton struck out the first two Blue Rocks batters he faced before giving up a broken-bat single. After allowing a stolen base, Britton got a third strikeout to end the inning. Overall, he threw 11 of his 17 pitches for strikes and was credited with the victory for the Keys.
Now that Britton got the first appearance out of the way, he’s expected to pitch again Saturday. As of Thursday night, the Orioles hadn’t decided where that’ll happen. Weather will be the biggest factor in that decision.
With one of the worst records in the majors for most of the year, the Orioles haven’t had much need for an All-Star closer like Britton. But it’s still nice to see him on the mend.
Plus, we’ll all be watching his return closely. If he can pitch well heading into the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Orioles will obviously receive better trade offers for him.
Speaking of returns, Triple-A Norfolk infielder Steve Wilkerson came back from his 50-game suspension Wednesday night. The 2014 eighth-round pick, who was suspended in December after testing positive for amphetamines, went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts in his first game. Wilkerson followed that performance with one hit in four at-bats with a run and a strikeout Thursday.
We’ll see how Wilkerson plays with the Tides in the coming weeks. He had a breakthrough season in 2017, batting .305 with 31 extra-base hits (23 doubles, eight homers) and 45 RBIs in 112 games between Frederick and Double-A Bowie. Then, Wilkerson earned a spot on the Arizona Fall League’s Top Prospects team after hitting .317 in 23 games.
Before we get into this week’s “Dean Jones Report,” I wanted to remind everyone that Major League Baseball’s first-year-player draft will take place Monday through Wednesday.
The Orioles will pick 11th overall in the first round. They’ll also pick at No. 37, which is the second selection in the competitive balance round A. (What a name, by the way.)
We’ll have full coverage of the Orioles’ selections throughout the three-day draft here on BaltimoreBaseball.com. And in the coming weeks, I’ll post my annual breakdown of every selection. If you’ve read it in the past, you know it’s a combination of useful and useless information about all of the players. I’m looking forward to compiling it once again this year.
Let’s dive into our eighth “Dean Jones Report” of the season.
No. 1: Austin Hays, OF, Bowie
Statistics: .224, 6 HRs, 18 RBIs, 22 runs in 43 games
Things keep getting worse for the 2016 third-round selection. Hays, 22, went on the seven-day disabled list Tuesday, retroactive to Saturday, with a right ankle injury. He’s eligible to return this weekend, so we’ll see if that happens. In the meantime, Hays finished May with a .227 average, three homers and 10 RBIs in 22 games. That’s slightly better than April, when he batted .221 with three homers and eight RBIs in 21 games. But Hays (pictured above) hasn’t lived up to the expectations that his breakthrough 2017 season set. Of course, a rough two months isn’t going to make or break him. The Orioles need Hays to get back on track as soon as possible, but he still has plenty of time to improve in the months ahead.
No. 2: Ryan Mountcastle, 3B, Bowie
Statistics: .278, 3 HRs, 17 RBIs, 10 runs in 20 games
To be “bullish” or “bearish” on Mountcastle, 21, is a tough call this week. The 2015 first-round pick (36th overall) only batted .200 (4-for-20) with seven strikeouts in six games since last week’s update. But he also hit two homers and had six RBIs in that span. Mountcastle came into Thursday’s game at Richmond as a pinch hitter in the top of the ninth. He was hit by a pitch in his only plate appearance. Although Mountcastle’s average has dropped steadily from .356 on May 22 to its current level at .278, you can see that I’m staying positive for another week. He’s still only 20 games into the season after dealing with a hairline fracture in his right hand for almost two months. It’s impressive that he has managed to knock in almost one run per game across that small sample size.
No. 3: Hunter Harvey, RHP, Bowie
Statistics: 1-1, 4.15 ERA, 30 Ks, 8 BBs in 30 1/3 innings
In his most recent start, the 2013 first-round selection struck out a season-high seven betters Saturday in Bowie’s 3-1 loss at Binghamton. Harvey, 23, held the Rumble Ponies to one run and five hits in five innings. He didn’t factor in the decision, though, because the Baysox didn’t give him any run support. Harvey was initially expected to take the mound last night, but the weather has once again wreaked havoc on the minor-league schedule. So he’ll now take the mound tonight in the series opener against Trenton at Prince George’s Stadium. Thanks to his solid outing last weekend, I’m back to “bullish.”
No. 4: Cedric Mullins, OF, Bowie
Statistics: .313, 6 HRs, 12 2Bs, 5 3Bs, 28 RBIs, 36 runs, 8 SBs in 49 games
We’re about to be one step closer to seeing the 2015 13th-round pick in the majors. Mullins, 23, appears to be heading from the Baysox to Norfolk sometime soon. It will be a well-deserved promotion. On Monday, the Eastern League named Mullins as its Player of the Week for May 21-27. During that span, he batted .560 (14-for-25) with a double, a triple, five RBIs, nine runs and three stolen bases. That’s impressive. He also had two hits, including a triple, in Bowie’s 7-5 victory over Richmond on Tuesday. If Mullins hits like this with the Tides, it shouldn’t be long before we get to see what he can do at the highest level.
No. 5: Tanner Scott, LHP, Orioles
Statistics: 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 12 Ks, 6 BBs in 10 innings (Norfolk); 0-0, 4.40 ERA, 18 Ks, 6 BBs in 14 1/3 innings (Orioles)
Scott, 23, continues to build major-league experience in big situations. Last Saturday in the Orioles’ 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, the 2014 sixth-round selection entered with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the sixth. He escaped without giving up any runs by striking out the side on 15 pitches – an impressive feat for someone who has dealt with control issues in the past. He also pitched around a leadoff single and a one-out walk in the series finale at Tampa Bay on Sunday. Then, in the Orioles’ 3-2 loss to the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, Scott recorded a scoreless inning for the third time in four days. He retired the top of the Nationals’ lineup – Trea Turner, Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon – in order. I’m back to “bullish” on Scott’s performance this week.
No. 6: DL Hall, LHP, Delmarva
Statistics: 0-3, 3.38 ERA, 26 Ks, 16 BBs in 29 1/3 innings
I have good news and bad news this week. The good news: Hall, 19, pitched a career-high 5 2/3 innings in the Shorebirds’ 3-2 loss to Lakewood in the first game of a doubleheader Sunday. He also threw a career-high 86 pitches (53 strikes). And the 2017 first-round pick (21st overall) didn’t pitch badly, either. He allowed three runs and four hits in the game – including a solo homer to lead off the third. Hall struck out three batters and issued two walks. The bad news: He suffered a defeat for the second straight outing. Of course, we’re not worried about wins and losses in the minor leagues. It’s nice to see Hall making strides in his first full season. All systems point to “bullish” again. For now, he’s scheduled to pitch again at Charleston on Saturday. The weather could affect that, though, because the Shorebirds had a doubleheader postponed Thursday night at Kannapolis.
No. 7: DJ Stewart, OF, Norfolk
Statistics: .271, 6 HRs, 26 RBIs, 23 runs in 41 games
Hays wasn’t the only Orioles’ outfield prospect to land on the seven-day disabled list since last week’s update. The Tides placed Stewart, 24, on the DL before Tuesday’s game, retroactive to Sunday, because of an injured right hamstring. Like Hays, the 2015 first-round selection (25th overall) is eligible to return to Norfolk’s roster this weekend. Before the injury, Stewart emerged as one of the Tides’ offensive leaders. He homered in back-to-back games on May 24 and last Saturday. He also has seven RBIs in his past four games. It doesn’t sound like the injury will keep Stewart out of the lineup for long, so we’ll see if he can continue the momentum when he returns. But for now, I’m “bearish” due to the injury.
No. 8: Keegan Akin, LHP, Bowie
Statistics: 5-4, 2.97 ERA, 63 Ks, 21 BBs in 57 2/3 innings
With 10 strikeouts in his most recent start, the 2016 second-round pick took over the Eastern League lead in the category (63). Akin, 23, tossed seven shutout innings Sunday as the Baysox cruised to a 7-0 win at Binghamton. He only gave up two hits in the game. It provided the perfect closing to May for Akin, who kicked off the month with 12 strikeouts in Bowie’s 7-3 victory at Erie. He also ranks among the league leaders in ERA (2.97) and WHIP (1.13). It’s nice to see Akin continue to bounce back from an inconsistent 2017 season. We’ll get to see him pitch again Saturday against Trenton – weather permitting, of course.
No. 9: Alex Wells, LHP, Frederick
Statistics: 3-3, 3.69 ERA, 39 Ks, 14 BBs in 53 2/3 innings
Make that three straight victories for the Australia native. Wells, 21, appears to be finding a rhythm with the Keys. After some early-season inconsistency, he is 3-0 with a 2.93 ERA in his past five starts. Wells pitched a season-high 6 1/3 innings in Frederick’s 2-1 win at Wilmington on Tuesday. He allowed one run and scattered seven hits. More important, he didn’t walk anyone for the second time in three starts. We’ll see if the 2017 Jim Palmer Pitcher of the Year can continue his momentum into June. The weather forecast doesn’t look good in the Mid-Atlantic region this weekend, so it’s not entirely clear when he’ll pitch next.
No. 10: Michael Baumann, RHP, Frederick
Statistics: 5-0, 1.42 ERA, 47 Ks, 13 BBs in 38 innings (Delmarva); 2-0, 1.45 ERA, 10 Ks, 8 BBs in 18 2/3 innings (Frederick)
Baumann, 22, has given up one earned run or less in eight of his 10 starts between Delmarva and Frederick this year. In the Keys’ 5-2 win at Wilmington on Thursday, the 2017 third-round pick held the Blue Rocks to one run and four hits in six innings. If you’re looking to nitpick Baumann’s performance, he issued four walks in the game. Still, the move up to High-A hasn’t slowed him down. It’s refreshing to see young players like Baumann dominating during a tough season at the major-league level. But as my colleague Paul Folkemer pointed out yesterday, it’s a little concerning that most of the club’s top prospects still need more time in the minor leagues before they’re ready to contribute.
No. 11: Zac Lowther, LHP, Frederick
Statistics: 3-1, 1.16 ERA, 51 Ks, 9 BBs in 31 innings (Delmarva); 0-0, 2.25 ERA, 2 Ks, 3 BBs in 4 innings (Frederick)
As I mentioned in the introduction, Lowther, the 2017 competitive balance round B selection, followed Baumann to Frederick earlier this week. It’s great to see the Orioles continuing to push Lowther, 22, after his dominant performance at Delmarva. His Carolina League debut came Wednesday in the Keys’ 5-3 win at Wilmington. Lowther turned in one of his worst starts of the year, but he still only allowed one run and two hits in four innings. One thing to watch: Since Lowther returned to the mound after dealing with an oblique injury, he has issued three walks in each of his past three starts after allowing three total walks in his first four starts of the year. I’m not sure if that’s due to any lingering effects or just a coincidence. But it’s something to keep an eye on. In the meantime, I’m still “bullish” on Lowther – especially since he earned the move up. We’ll see how he pitches next week.
No. 12: Cody Sedlock, RHP, Frederick
Statistics: 0-2, 13.50 ERA, 6 Ks, 9 BBs in 9 1/3 innings
The 2016 first-round pick is still on the disabled list with a strained right shoulder. Sedlock, 22, recently started a throwing program in Sarasota, Fla. Still, it’s likely to be a while before he returns to the mound for the Keys. For now, all we can do is wait for that to happen.
Seamus Curran, 1B-DH, Delmarva: The 2015 eighth-round pick emerged from a recent mini slump in a big way during the Shorebirds’ 9-8 loss to Lakewood in 10 innings Monday. Curran, 20, went 5-for-5 with a homer, four RBIs, two doubles and three runs. He also hit a solo shot and scored three times in Delmarva’s 9-8 loss at Kannapolis on Wednesday.
Andrew Faulkner, LHP, Norfolk: Left-handers have struggled mightily against the southpaw through the first two months. Faulkner, 25, has only allowed three hits in 42 at-bats (.071) in lefty-lefty matchups this year. Don’t get carried away about demanding that the club promote him, though. Right-handers are hitting .317 (13-for-41) against Faulkner.
Ryan McKenna, OF, Frederick: The 2015 fourth-round selection just keeps getting on base. McKenna, 21, completed May with 15 multi-hit games (out of 28), including two four-hit performances. He’s dominating the race for the Carolina League batting title with a .366 average. That’s 50 percentage points higher than the second-place hitter.
Anthony Santander, OF, Bowie: By the end of the Venezuelan’s Rule 5 stint in the majors, it was clear that he needed to work on some things in the minors. And Santander, 23, has performed well in his first three weeks with the Baysox. He has hit safely in 12 of the 13 games in which he has played. Santander also has at least one RBI in eight games.
Tim Melville, RHP, Norfolk: After five straight wins from April 20 to May 11, the Kansas City Royals’ 2008 fourth-round pick – who signed a minor-league deal with the Orioles in December – has struggled lately. Melville, 28, is 0-2 with a 7.43 ERA in 13 1/3 innings over his past three games. He gave up five runs in three innings Tuesday against Pawtucket.
Ofelky Peralta, RHP, Frederick: The Dominican Republic native went 1-2 with a 3.63 ERA in four starts in April. But Peralta, 21, posted an 0-3 record and 7.89 ERA in five starts last month. He’s tied for the most walks in the Carolina League with 33 in 39 innings. In May, Peralta had a 2.03 WHIP. He’s scheduled to pitch Saturday against Lynchburg.
Aderlin Rodriguez, 1B, Bowie: It’s easy to forget that the Dominican Republic native had 48 homers, 48 doubles and 169 RBIs for the Keys and Baysox over the past two seasons. Rodriguez, 26, hasn’t been anywhere near as successful in 46 games with Bowie this year. Despite getting two hits Thursday, he’s batting .223 with just eight extra-base hits.
THE WEEK AHEAD
June 1 – vs. Rochester, 7:05 p.m.
June 2 – vs. Rochester, 7:05 p.m.
June 3 – vs. Rochester, 1:05 p.m.
June 4 – OFF
June 5 – at Columbus, 7:05 p.m.
June 6 – at Columbus, 7:05 p.m.
June 7 – at Columbus, 12:05 p.m.
June 1 – vs. Trenton, 7:05 p.m.
June 2 – vs. Trenton, 6:35 p.m.
June 3 – vs. Trenton, 1:35 p.m.
June 4 – OFF
June 5 – at Portland, 7 p.m.
June 6 – at Portland, 7 p.m.
June 7 – at Portland, 11 a.m.
June 1 – vs. Lynchburg, 7 p.m.
June 2 – vs. Lynchburg, 6 p.m.
June 3 – vs. Lynchburg, 2 p.m.
June 4 – OFF
June 5 – at Potomac, 7:05 p.m.
June 6 – at Potomac, 7:05 p.m.
June 7 – at Potomac, 7:05 p.m.
June 1 – at Charleston, 7:05 p.m.
June 2 – at Charleston, 6:05 p.m.
June 3 – at Charleston, 5:05 p.m.
June 4 – OFF
June 5 – vs. Greensboro, 7:05 p.m.
June 6 – vs. Greensboro, 7:05 p.m.
June 7 – vs. Greensboro, 7:05 p.m.