The July 31 trade deadline came and went last week without the Orioles dealing anyone from their major league roster. It stood in contrast to a year earlier, when former executive vice president Dan Duquette traded a slew of veteran Orioles for prospects in July to officially begin the club’s rebuilding process. All told, the Orioles acquired 15 players in those deals, which sent Manny Machado, Zack Britton, Kevin Gausman, Darren O’Day and Jonathan Schoop to other clubs.
Just over one year later, how have those 15 players fared since joining the Orioles’ organization?
The Machado trade return (from Los Angeles Dodgers, July 18)
OF Yusniel Diaz: The most high-profile youngster involved in last year’s trades, Diaz ranked as the No. 4 prospect (and No. 84 in baseball) by MLB Pipeline when the Orioles acquired him. A year later, his prospect status hasn’t dimmed much; MLB Pipeline and Baseball America rate him as the Orioles’ No. 5 prospect and FanGraphs as their No. 3.
Although Diaz’s Orioles career got off to a sluggish start with Double-A Bowie at the end of 2018 and this April, he’s been on a tear since returning from a hamstring injury June 5. During that span, the 22-year-old Cuba native has posted an .851 OPS, nine home runs and 44 RBIs. That turnaround can be credited to a few key adjustments in Diaz’s batting stance, according to Adam Pohl, Baysox play-by-play man and host of the BaltimoreBaseball.com minor league podcast.
“Diaz has moved closer to the plate,” Pohl said. “Early in the season teams were working him exclusively away and quite often off-speed and away. He was getting out on his front foot and flailing with one-handed cuts often. Now he can reach that part of the plate and in essence is forcing teams to try to bust him hard and in. And if they miss out over the plate, he feasts.”
Diaz’s hot streak, though, will have to be put on hold for at least a week. He returned to the injured list over the weekend after suffering a quadriceps injury on the basepaths July 31.
RHP Dean Kremer: While Diaz was the prospect headliner of the Machado trade, Kremer, 23, is presenting himself as a solid second piece of the return package. The Dodgers’ 14th-round draft choice out of UNLV in 2016, Kremer vaulted his career forward in 2018, leading all of minor league baseball with 178 strikeouts. He notched 53 of those in eight games for Bowie last year.
His 2019 season got off to a late start because of a strained oblique, and he looked rusty in his first few starts for the Baysox in May. Since then, though, he’s found his groove. In his last 11 starts, Kremer is 8-1 with a 2.25 ERA, and he’s had five outings of eight or more strikeouts. Prospect publications have taken notice; MLB Pipeline ranks him as the Orioles’ No. 8 prospect, behind only Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall among pitchers.
“He’s got a really good curveball. He’s a high spin-rate guy, obviously that’s something that’s talked about a lot in today’s era,” Pohl said. “People don’t square up his fastball. Because of that, it seems like he gets into a lot of long counts, and he sometimes has a tough time getting deep into the game, because in essence people don’t hit the ball fair against him. So that’s going to be something for him to continue to work on, is a way to try to minimize the pitch count and get deeper into games.”
IF Rylan Bannon: Scouts have pegged Bannon’s major league ceiling as a utility player, considering his size (generously listed at 5-foot-10). But the 23-year-old been a spark plug for Bowie this season, batting .264 with a .761 OPS, eight homers and 41 RBIs, along with eight stolen bases.
“Rylan Bannon did something I’ve never seen in a pro baseball game before in my entire life, in that he hit a home run and he stole home in the same game,” Pohl said of the feat, which Bannon accomplished July 19 against Altoona. “That is a ballplayer that’s fun to watch.”
Bannon, who came to the Orioles last year with a wide open batting stance and a big leg lift, worked with Bowie hitting coach Keith Bodie and minor league hitting coordinator Jeff Manto to adopt a more traditional stance this season. His .354 on-base percentage ranks second on the club of players with at least 30 games played. He’s also impressed in the field.
“He’s an outstanding defensive third baseman. He’s got a really good arm. He’s so quick side to side,” Pohl said. “So when you put all these things together — his good on-base percentage, he’s a plus defender — I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s able to put together a decent career.”
RHP Zach Pop: The 22-year-old reliever was off to a sizzling start at Bowie (a 0.84 ERA and 11 strikeouts in eight games) before suffering elbow soreness that ultimately led to Tommy John surgery May 14. Assuming the usual recovery period of about 12 months, it’s unlikely Pop will play a significant role in the Orioles’ bullpen until late 2020 at the earliest.
The fifth player the Orioles received in the Machado deal, utility man Breyvic Valera, played 12 games for Baltimore last September before the club traded him for cash in January. He’s the only one of the 15 players acquired in last July’s trades who is no longer in the Orioles’ organization. Valera is currently with the New York Yankees, where he batted .328 with a .933 OPS in 65 games at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes/Barre, earning a call-up to the majors last week.
The Britton trade return (from New York Yankees, July 24)
RHP Dillon Tate: On July 29, Tate became the seventh player acquired in last July’s trades to make an appearance for the Orioles, working two innings and giving up three runs in San Diego in his big league debut. The 25-year-old’s promotion to the majors was fast-tracked by his conversion to relief at Bowie earlier this year, a shift that immediately paid dividends. He posted a 1.67 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 15 relief appearances for the Baysox after giving up eight runs in two starts in April.
“What’s happened, obviously, is that moving him to the bullpen in kind of a two-inning type role has made his stuff play up much more,” Pohl said. “He’s now a consistent mid-90s (mph) fastball guy. He’s got a really good slider. When he’s going well, he gets consistent ground balls.”
Tate was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk after Sunday’s game. His brief taste of the majors didn’t go smoothly; he was scored upon in all three outings, giving up seven earned runs in six innings (10.50 ERA), though he racked up seven strikeouts and showed flashes of his potential.
LHP Josh Rogers: The Orioles acquired Rogers partly because of their dearth of left-handed starting pitching options last year, but this season he’s shown why scouts weren’t sold that he’d be a successful big league hurler. The soft-tossing southpaw was hit hard at Norfolk, going 2-6 with an 8.51 ERA, and fared no better in five big league outings, posting an 8.79 mark while allowing seven home runs in 14 1/3 innings. Rogers is now out for the season, and likely much of 2020, after undergoing his second Tommy John procedure July 3, a week before his 25th birthday.
RHP Cody Carroll: The hard-throwing Carroll struggled in his first taste of big league action last year, giving up 17 earned runs in 17 innings for the Orioles while allowing six homers and 13 walks. This year, the 26-year-old hasn’t pitched since spring training, suffering a lower back injury that has kept him on the shelf. My colleague Rich Dubroff reports that Carroll has just begun throwing off a mound at the Orioles’ Sarasota complex.
The Gausman/O’Day trade return (from Atlanta Braves, July 31)
LHP Bruce Zimmermann: Perhaps no prospect from last year’s trades has taken a bigger step forward this year than Zimmermann, 24, a Baltimore-born Towson alum. He wasn’t a highly touted prospect in the Atlanta system before the Orioles acquired him, and you still won’t find his name on most prospect rankings for the Baltimore organization. But all he’s done is get batters out, going 5-3 with a 2.58 ERA in 18 games (17 starts) for Bowie. He’s also added velocity to his heater, helping transform him from a pitch-to-contact hurler to a swing-and-miss threat, as his 9.0 strikeouts-per-nine rate for Bowie will attest.
“He had a great offseason gaining strength and probably added two ticks on that fastball,” Pohl said. “So instead of being a 90, 91 guy, he’s like a 92, 93 guy from the left side, and that’s a big difference. … His stuff has really improved from just being a guy that’s going to throw the ball over the plate and get Single-A hitters out by getting ground balls, to a guy that’s got a legitimate profile and repertoire to go after (hitters).”
Zimmermann’s Bowie success earned him a promotion to Norfolk on July 28. While he had a rough Tides debut — 10 hits and five runs in four innings — he rebounded in his second outing, tossing a quality six-inning start Aug. 2.
RHP Evan Phillips: A Salisbury native, Phillips has become a frequent passenger on the Norfolk-Baltimore shuttle this year. He’s been promoted and demoted six times each, and only once did he stay with the Orioles longer than a week. Although Phillips, 24, averages better than a strikeout an inning in both the minors and majors, he’s been undone by his lack of control. He’s issued 15 walks in 18 1/3 innings for Baltimore this year after walking five in 5 1/3 innings last season. He has a 7.85 ERA in 17 games for the Orioles and 4.91 in 21 games at Norfolk in 2019.
C Brett Cumberland: Prospect rankings are split in their opinions of the 24-year-old former second-round draft pick. Cumberland rates No. 30 on MLB Pipeline’s Orioles prospect list, while FanGraphs is more bullish, ranking him No. 15. Cumberland is an all-bat prospect who is proficient at getting on base (a .391 OBP in the minors this year) and has some pop. “When he gets into one, it’s the real deal,” Pohl said.
Cumberland’s shaky defense behind the plate, though, has limited his upside, and he’s had trouble getting consistent playing time in 2019. He spent nearly a month on the IL, and when he returned in mid-July, the Orioles assigned him to Single-A Frederick rather than returning him to Bowie. While he could return to the Baysox later this year, his demotion may be a sign that Cumberland isn’t held in high esteem by the Orioles’ front office.
IF Juan Carlos Encarnacion: At the time of the trade, Encarnacion was the highest-ranked Braves prospect (No. 14) in the deal, but also the furthest away from the majors, toiling in Low-A ball. A year later, he remains at that level, batting .239 with a .662 OPS, eight home runs and 45 RBIs for Delmarva. Encarnacion, 21, hasn’t yet shown the same offensive prowess for the Orioles as he did in the Atlanta system, where he had a .764 OPS across four levels. Defensively, he’s committed 19 errors in 72 games at third base.
The Schoop trade return (from Milwaukee Brewers, July 31)
IF Jonathan Villar: The only established veteran acquired in the Orioles’ deadline trades last year, Villar has become a mainstay in the club’s lineup. He’s the only Oriole to appear in all 111 games this season. Villar has flashed his speed with a team-leading 24 steals (no other Oriole has more than seven) as well as his versatility, starting 64 games at second base and 42 at shortstop. He’s batting .260 with a .745 OPS, 14 homers and 49 RBIs.
The most surprising aspect of Villar’s season might be the fact that he’s still an Oriole. With just one year of club control remaining after this one, the 28-year-old was considered one of the likeliest Orioles to be traded at this year’s July 31 deadline. Ultimately, Mike Elias didn’t find a trade offer to his liking, and Villar stayed put. Now the question is whether the Orioles will offer arbitration to Villar after the 2019 season, when he’ll likely see a significant raise over his current $4.83 million salary.
RHP Luis Ortiz: While a few of the prospects on this list have made steady progress in 2019, Ortiz has gone backwards. In 14 starts for Norfolk, he’s 3-7 with a 6.38 ERA. His walk rate is a career-worst 4.2 and he’s striking out a mediocre 6.4 batters per nine innings. He made one emergency start for the Orioles on June 14 and gave up four runs in 3 1/3 innings, issuing five walks. He hasn’t pitched since July 2, going on the IL with an undisclosed injury.
It’s a disappointing showing for a former first-round draft pick who ranked as the No. 64 prospect in baseball as recently as 2016. Ortiz was the Brewers’ No. 7 prospect at the time of the trade last July 31, and was considered by some scouts to be the best young pitcher the Orioles acquired in any of last year’s deals. So far, the Orioles haven’t seen that upside from the 23-year-old. He’s fallen out of the club’s top 30 prospects list on MLB.com.
IF Jean Carmona: A raw 19-year-old from the Dominican Republic, Carmona was a lottery-ticket inclusion in the Schoop trade, a youngster with plenty of potential but nowhere near the majors. So far, the 2019 season hasn’t brought much development for Carmona, who missed much of the season with an injury and is batting just .213 with a .511 OPS, no homers and two RBIs in 14 games for short-season Aberdeen.
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