The Orioles don’t have as many top-shelf outfield prospects as they have infield prospects. However, they already have three established outfielders and a number of players who could push them.
Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander each have at least three seasons of major league experience, and are arbitration-eligible this fall. It will be the first time through the arbitration process for Hays and Mullins. Santander has already been through it twice, and still has two more years before he’s eligible for free agency.
Santander played a career-high 152 games this season and set personal bests for home runs (33) and runs batted in (89). Although he batted only .241, he walked 55 times and he had a .318 on-base percentage.
Two years ago, when Santander was voted Most Valuable Oriole despite playing in just 37 of 60 games because of an oblique injury during the pandemic-shortened season, he was a Gold Glove finalist in right field.
This year, his Defensive WAR (Wins Above Replacement) fell to -1.4, and he was often removed in late innings for Ryan McKenna. His Offensive WAR was a career-best 2.7.
Santander earned $3.15 million this year, and MLBTradeRumors.com predicts he could earn $7.5 million in his third year of arbitration eligibility.
Although there’s been speculation that the Orioles might seek a big bat during free agency or in a trade, Santander’s power numbers in 2022 might deter them from trying to move him.
Mullins led the team with 156 games played. Most of his offensive numbers fell from 2021 when he became the first Oriole to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season, but they were still solid. His batting average fell from .291 to .258, and his home runs dropped from 30 to 16, but he stole four more bases (34), trailing only teammate Jorge Mateo. His OPS was down, though, from .878 to .721, and his overall WAR fell from 5.7 to 3.8.
While Mullins offense slipped, his defense was outstanding, and he was a finalist for the Gold Glove in center field. Mullins lost to Cleveland’s Myles Straw, but he didn’t commit an error and had nine assists. He could earn $4.4 million in arbitration.
This year was a disappointment for Hays, whose second-half numbers fell dramatically. At the All-Star break, Hays was hitting .270 with 12 home runs and 46 RBIs. In the second half, he hit only .220 with four home runs with 14 RBIs. Hays, who generally played left field at home and right field on the road, made only one error and had a career-high eight assists.
His arbitration number could be $3.1 million.
The Orioles will decide if they’re going to trade any of their three regulars, each of whom had already played in the majors by the time executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde arrived four years ago.
They might want to give Kyle Stowers more playing time. Stowers, who was drafted behind catcher Adley Rutschman and infielder Gunnar Henderson in 2019, played 34 games and, as a left-handed hitter, had only four plate appearances against left-handed pitching. He hit .253 with three home runs and 11 RBIs.
McKenna started just 43 games and was often used as a defensive replacement or pinch-runner. He ended up appearing in 104 games, but had just 172 plate appearances. He hit .237 with two home runs and 11 RBIs and was an ideal fourth outfielder.
Last month, the Orioles added another extra outfielder to their 40-man roster when they claimed Jake Cave off waivers from Minnesota. Cave could be a left-handed version of McKenna, a defensive replacement or pinch-runner, if he remains with the Orioles. He hit .213 with five home runs and 20 RBIs in 54 games for the Twins.
For the moment, Yusniel Diaz, a onetime top prospect who was the most well-known player acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers from Manny Machado in July 2018, remains on the 40-marn roster. Diaz, whose Orioles’ career has been marked by injuries and poor minor league numbers, received his only major league at-bat on August 1st after Trey Mancini was traded to Houston.
Formerly a top prospect, Diaz has fallen off MLB Pipeline’s list of top 30 prospects.
Colton Cowser, the Orioles’ top pick in 2021, and the fifth overall, is their fourth highest-rated prospect. In his first full year in professional ball mirrored Stowers’ 2021 season.
Last year, Stowers began his season at High-A Aberdeen, moved up to Double-A Bowie and finished at Triple-A Norfolk. Cowser did the same. He hit .278 with an .874 OPS with 19 home runs and 66 RBIs and stole 18 bases in 21 attempts. Cowser played just 27 games at Norfolk and is likely to return to the Tides to begin 2023, but he could be pressing for a major league opportunity soon.
Heston Kjerstad, the overall No. 2 pick in 2020, began his pro career in June after myocarditis, an infection of the heart muscle, kept him out in 2021, and a hamstring injury delayed the start of this season. Kjerstad, who is the ninth-rated prospect, got out to a brilliant start at Single-A Delmarva when he hit .463 with a 1.201 OPS in 27 games. His time at Aberdeen didn’t go as well. Kjerstad hit just .233 with three home runs and 20 RBIs.
Interestingly, Cowser and Henderson each had disappointing numbers with the IronBirds but had much better stats with the Baysox.
To make up for lost playing time, the Orioles sent Kjerstad to the Arizona Fall League, and he’s hitting .353 with a 1.009 OPS with five home runs and 19 RBIs for the Scottsdale Scorpions. Kjerstad probably will begin 2023 with Bowie.
Dylan Beavers, who is the eighth-rated prospect, was drafted 33rd overall by the Orioles in July, and he hit .359 with 13 RBIs in 15 games for Delmarva, and played four games for Aberdeen.
The Orioles have three recent draft picks rated 20th, 21st and 22nd: John Rhodes, who was drafted in the third round in 2021; Hudson Haskin, a second-round pick in 2020; and Jud Fabian, who was drafted with the 67th overall selection in July.
Rhodes hit .237 in 83 games for Bowie and Aberdeen, and Haskin hit .264 with 15 home runs and 56 RBIs with the Baysox. Fabian was drafted with a competitive balance round selection the Orioles received from Miami in the trade for relievers Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser. He has played only 22 professional games.
International prospect Braylin Tavera is rated 27th. Signed for a reported $1.7 million, the 17-year-old made his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2022.
While the Orioles appear to have more infield prospects than they do in the outfield, Stowers and Cowser could force some decisions in the near future.
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB