With the season on pause, let’s answer some question from readers.
Question: What new pitchers do the Orioles have? -David Welden from Facebook
Answer: Had the season started on time, the Orioles likely would have had two new starters, Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone, both of whom came to spring training on minor league contracts.
Kohl Stewart, who was signed as a free agent just before the New Year, should get a shot, too, assuming the season does get started.
In the bullpen, there are a number of new pitchers who have a chance to make the team.
One is Hector Velázquez, whom the Orioles acquired on waivers just before spring training came to an abrupt end on March 12. He could be a long man.
Others who made a strong impression is Eric Hanhold, another non-roster pitcher. Cody Carroll, who missed nearly all of last season after back surgery, also looked good, although he isn’t new.
Travis Lakins and Cole Sulser, two relievers with major league experience, are also worth considering.
Q: Who do you think the Orioles will draft in the first round?-Timothy Stahm from Facebook
A: Last month, BaltimoreBaseball.com took a look at potential first-round draft picks for the Orioles, who will choose second behind the Detroit Tigers.
Those mentioned were Reid Detmers, a left-handed pitcher from Louisville; Nick Gonzales, a second baseman from New Mexico State; Emerson Hancock, a right-hander from Georgia; Austin Hendrick, a Pennsylvania high school outfielder; Asa Lacy, a left-hander from Texas A&M,; Austin Martin, an infielder from Vanderbilt; Garrett Mitchell, an outfielder from UCLA; Spencer Torkelson, a first baseman from Arizona State; and Zac Veen, a high school outfielder from Florida.
Hancock and Torkelson have gotten the most buzz around baseball and, especially if there’s no baseball, you’ll be hearing more about them in the coming weeks.
Q: I guess the question from 50,000 feet would be: What are the Orioles looking for with that No. 2 pick — pitching or an everyday player? If it’s a pitcher, whom do they prefer — Asa Lacy or Emerson Hancock?
Or is Mike Elias just operating on the best Available player mantra with the choice?
Is Baltimore going to address particular positions? If so, as the farm system doesn’t appear to have any good prospects at second base, that would give me hope that Baltimore would select New Mexico State Nick Gonzales with their first pick.
Will the Orioles try and draft an easier-to-sign player for less money at No. 2, so that they can spend more for players taken at (I think) numbers 30 and 37?-Patrick Tracey by email
A: I think Elias will select the player he believes has the most potential, regardless of position. It’s not as if the Orioles are overloaded with prospects at any position.
The Orioles need infielders, but if they think a pitcher is better, they’ll select him.
Last year, the Orioles selected three shortstops among their first six picks — Gunnar Henderson, Joey Ortiz and Darrell Haraiz. Shortstop is the hardest infield position to master, and it’s possible that one or more of those players could move to second or third later on.
They didn’t pick any pitcher until their ninth pick, the first time they ever went that long without selecting one. Last year’s draft was considered light on pitchers and, in the previous three drafts, the Orioles had selected a number of pitchers who’ve made progress in the organization.
There was also some chatter last year about the Orioles drafting what you call an easier-to-sign player for less money in the top spot, but they chose promising catcher Adley Rutschman. We’ll have to wait to see how Elias works this year’s draft.
Q: I haven’t really seen anything on how the minors would work. MLB teams will still have to deal with injuries, slumps, etc., so won’t this require players on the farm be ready to be called up?
What about those in the minors who have to get MLB playing time this year per contact? I’ve not seen much on how arbitration will work with a short season, either.
Has there been any news on what the owners, players union, MLB, etc. will agree to? Anyone else see this being a litigation nightmare?-Eastern Sho Joe from BaltimoreBaseball.com
A: Joe, there’s been no clarity on how the major league season, assuming there is one, would work, so there’s been no talk on the minors.
Assuming the major league season starts in June or early July in stadiums with no fans, it would make no sense economically for minor league teams to play in their home ballparks without fans.
While major league teams would take a major hit from no gate or concession revenues, their games would still be televised regionally and nationally.
Minor league teams don’t have television contracts and could play games with other teams’ minor league affiliates in their spring training locales, enabling players to stay ready.
When you refer to players on minor league contracts that have to get major league time, I think you’re referring to players who can opt out of their minor league contracts if not with a major league team by a certain time.
Because spring training was halted before opt-out dates were reached, those clauses are on hold until there are decisions on how and if the season will proceed.
Owners and players have agreed on salaries to be paid in a shortened season and payment in the event there’s no season.
Q -Will the minor league affiliates be able to survive this shutdown monetarily?-5Brooks5 by email
A: The major leagues will be hurt enormously by a fanless season or no season at all. The minor leagues’ pain may be greater in some ways.
MLB and MiLB were engaged in contentious talks about the future of the minor leagues before the coronavirus pandemic hit. The majors wanted a reduction in minor league teams because they don’t think it’s a good investment to have as many affiliated teams.
They’d like to draft fewer players because relatively few drafted in lower rounds make it to the majors. John Means is an exception. He was drafted in the 11th round, but it’s rare for a player drafted in the 30th round or lower to make it.
Because of the economic squeeze on the majors, the minor leagues are likely to look far different next year with fewer affiliated teams. It’s way too early to guess what the effect might be on the Orioles.
Once the direction of the 2020 season is clear, then negotiations will resume. The agreement between MLB and MiLB expires at the end of the minor league season in September.