During the Orioles’ latest debacle of a series — a three-game sweep by the Tampa Bay Rays, who outscored them by 22 runs — rookie right-hander Luis Ortiz made his major league debut Friday, giving up three hits, three runs and two walks in 2/3 of an inning.
Ortiz was the 13th player to make his MLB debut for the Orioles this year, one shy of the club record of 14 in 1955. The youth movement, it seems, is in full force in Baltimore.
Not all prospects are created equal, though. Those 13 players are likely to take very different paths with the Orioles from here on out. They range from those who have no future in Baltimore (including one who’s long gone) to those who could be key contributors on the next successful Orioles club. Let’s take a stab at predicting the future of each.
Already jettisoned: Nestor Cortes Jr.
It seems like a million years ago by now, but yes, Cortes played for the Orioles this season as one of three Rule 5 picks to crack the club’s Opening Day roster. A crafty southpaw ,Cortes had been successful in the New York Yankees’ system, relying on his command and a variety of deliveries to overcome his lack of velocity.
The major leagues, though, are a different beast, and Cortes’ style translated poorly. In just four games for the Orioles, Cortes allowed 14 baserunners — 10 hits, four walks — in 4 2/3 innings. He even coughed up two grand slams in that brief span. The Orioles cut the cord on the Cortes experiment in April, sending him back to the Yankees. At Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this year, Cortes went 6-6 with a 4.03 ERA in 23 games (18 starts).
All but gone: Engelb Vielma
Don’t feel bad if you don’t remember Vielma. The light-hitting utility infielder had only eight plate appearances with the Orioles this year, coming up for a pair of three-game stints in April and May while Jonathan Schoop was on the DL. Vielma went 1-for-7. On May 9, in his first game for Triple-A Norfolk after being optioned back down by the Orioles, Vielma fractured his patella while chasing a foul ball, requiring knee surgery that has kept him out all season since. Vielma, who has a career .255 average and .617 OPS in the minors, may well be a 40-man roster casualty at the end of the season to make room for prospects the Orioles need to protect.
Up and down relievers: Pedro Araujo, Ryan Meisinger, Yefry Ramirez
Araujo, another Rule 5 pick, was one of the biggest surprise inclusions on the Opening Day roster. The right-hander had had made only one appearance above Single-A in the Chicago Cubs’ organization, but he flashed excellent stuff in spring training and convinced the Orioles to take a shot on him. Although Araujo lasted longer than fellow Rule 5 reliever Cortes, pitching 20 games, he finished the season with exactly the same ERA (7.71). Araujo went on the DL with a right elbow sprain on June 11 and hasn’t pitched since. He’ll need to spend the first 17 days of the 2019 season on the active roster to finish fulfilling his Rule 5 requirements.
The Maryland-born Meisinger has steadily worked his way through the Orioles’ minor league system after being drafted in the 11th round in 2015. Meisinger posted impressive numbers at every stop, averaging better than a strikeout per inning while posting a 2.91 ERA in his minor league career. Still, it’s been a rude introduction to the majors for the 24-year-old, who has been scored upon in six of his 11 appearances and coughed up six homers in 12 1/3 innings. Meisinger’s ceiling might be a middle reliever in the bigs.
The Orioles have been testing Ramirez, 24, as a starter, but it hasn’t gone well. The righty, acquired from the Yankees for international bonus slot money in 2017, failed to go more than five innings in any of his nine starts this year and was tagged for a cumulative 7.34 ERA. In a small sample size, he’s pitched much better in relief, allowing just two runs in 10 innings, including two scoreless outings of three innings or longer. Although Ramirez, now in his third organization, has been almost exclusively a starter in the minors, his major league future might lie in the bullpen.
Bench depth: Steve Wilkerson, Austin Wynns
The fact that Wilkerson made his major league debut is one of the few bits of good news to come out of his 2018 season. Otherwise, it’s been a year to forget. The 26-year-old Wilkerson was expected to compete for an Orioles’ utility job this spring after a stellar 2017 performance in the minors, but he was handed a 50-game suspension for testing positive for an amphetamine. In July, he suffered a left oblique strain that continues to keep him out of the Orioles’ lineup, even though he’s been added back to the club’s roster this September. As a result, Wilkerson has played only seven big league games this year, going 4-for-17 while playing third base and second base. The Orioles may need to wait until next year to really get a read on his future.
Wynns has been the most effective of the Orioles’ uninspiring cavalcade of catchers this season. While rookie Chance Sisco was overmatched in the bigs and Caleb Joseph is batting .212, Wynns has quietly posted a .259 average, .681 OPS and three homers in 30 games. He’s also thrown out 37 percent of attempted base stealers, besting the league average of 28 percent. The 27-year-old Wynns doesn’t profile as an everyday catcher in the majors, but he could stick around as a backup for a few years.
Intriguing trade acquisitions: Cody Carroll, Luis Ortiz, Josh Rogers
Three players who have made their major league debuts with the Orioles weren’t in the organization when the season began. The club’s flurry of sell-off trades in July netted the club 15 new prospects. The first to debut was Carroll, the 25-year-old righty acquired in the Zach Britton trade with the Yankees. Carroll was rated the Yankees’ 15th-best prospect by MLB.com at the time of the deal and now ranks No. 17 with the Orioles. The flamethrower is considered a possible future closer, although he had a rocky first stint in the bigs, giving up seven runs and walking nine batters in nine innings.
Ortiz, meanwhile, was one of the three players picked up from the Milwaukee Brewers in the Jonathan Schoop deal. Don’t be fooled by his forgettable big league debut; Ortiz is a legitimate prospect, perhaps the most promising pitcher the Orioles acquired in any of their July deals. Ranked the Orioles’ seventh-best prospect, Ortiz, 22, has the upside of a middle-of-the-rotation starter, but the 230-pound righty will need to stay on top of his conditioning.
Rogers’ debut stint in the majors appears to be over after three starts with the Orioles. The lefty likely reached his innings limit for the season after Sunday’s outing against Tampa Bay, in which he was torched for six runs and six hits while recording just four outs. The outing proved why Rogers wasn’t the most highly touted prospect the Orioles acquired in the Britton trade; the 24-year-old gets by mainly on his smarts and his strike-throwing ability rather than pure stuff. When he’s on, he keeps his team in the game; when he’s off, he gets pounded. Time will tell if he can hang on as a fifth starter in the bigs.
Already contributing: Paul Fry, David Hess
Fry, despite not making his debut until the end of June, has emerged as one of Buck Showalter’s most trusted relievers in the Orioles’ revamped bullpen. Since the Orioles dealt Britton, Brad Brach and Darren O’Day, it’s Fry who has handled much of the seventh- and eighth-inning duties in front of closer Mychal Givens. The 26-year-old southpaw, acquired last year from the Seattle Mariners for international slot money, has a 4.00 ERA in 27 games. Lately, though, he’s been showing signs of fading. He’s allowed five runs in his last two outings after carrying a 2.84 ERA up to that point. Still, he figures to have a place in the Orioles’ bullpen for the foreseeable future.
Hess, 25, has earned the most extended audition of any Orioles’ rookie pitchers this year. He made a favorable first impression with four quality starts in his first five outings, only to cough up five or more runs in each of his next four, getting demoted to the bullpen and then the minors. His second go-round in the rotation has gone a bit better. The right-hander has a 4.14 ERA in seven starts since the start of August. He’ll be a candidate for a rotation spot in 2019.
In it for the long haul: Cedric Mullins
Of the 13 Orioles to make their big league debuts this year, Mullins is the biggest name — and the most likely to be a cornerstone for the club moving forward. His arrival in the majors Aug. 10 prompted the Orioles to shift Adam Jones, their center fielder for the last decade, to right. Mullins’ speed and range have provided an immediate defensive improvement in center, and he’s more than held his own at the plate, batting .258 with a .767 OPS. Mullins, who turns 24 in October, provides an element of speed that the Orioles have been missing for the last few seasons. Barring a severe drop-off, expect Mullins to man center field for the Orioles for the next several years.