The Orioles are playing well, but they are underperforming in the outfield -
Rich Dubroff

The Orioles are playing well, but they are underperforming in the outfield

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports


When the season began, it was assumed that Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander would continue their fine play of recent years, and that the Orioles would fit Colton Cowser into the outfield mix.

It didn’t seem to matter that none of the three Oriole veteran outfielders performed well in spring training.

Hays was slowed by illness and hit just .138 in 12 games. Mullins, who had a hamstring injury that cost him nine days in the middle of Grapefruit League games, hit only .111 (3-for-27) in 11 games. Santander hit .200, though he did have five home runs and 11 RBIs.

In the past, the trio combined for two Most Valuable Oriole awards, two starts in All-Star Games, and Mullins had the only 30 home run, 30 steal season in franchise history in 2021.



Cowser, who had an excellent spring training with a .304 average, six homers and 13 RBIs and a 1.135 OPS, had only a .115 average (7-for-61) in 26 games last season.

The Orioles are off to an excellent start with a 27-14 record, but manager Brandon Hyde knows that even though the record is a good, things could be better.

“This is professional sports and a major league baseball team, and there’s going to be things that aren’t go smoothly for six months,” Hyde said this week. “Things are going to happen. You’re going to have adversity. You’re going to have guys have ups and downs. You’re going to have periods of struggle. You’re going to have periods of success. There’s going to be 4 1/2  more months of it.”

Oriole pitching has been excellent with a 3.26 earned-run average, but the biggest disappointment has been the play of the outfielders.

Hays played in his first game on Wednesday since April 20th. He was restricted to pinch-hitting because the strained left calf that sent him to the injured list wasn’t quite healed. Hays doubled and was replaced by pinch-runner Kyle Stowers. His .130 average (6-for-46) is a concern. Last year at this time, Hays was hitting .299 with an .810 OPS on the way to All-Star start.

Mullins, who hit .233 after two stints on the injured list with right groin/adductor strains in 2023, has had an awful stretch. His 5-for-59 slide took his average down to .183, and he was removed for Hays in the eighth inning on Wednesday, a move that would have been unthinkable not long ago.

Santander is hitting better by comparison — .220 with seven home runs and 25 RBI and a .744 OPS. Last season, Santander had two strong months, May (.337, 7 homers, 22 RBIs, 1.056 OPS) and August (.276, 8 homers, 21 RBIs, 931 OPS).

Cowser was the American League Rookie of the Month in April, though he’s just 8-for-59 since April 22nd and his average has fallen from .364 to .252.

This week, the Orioles swapped out left-handed hitting outfielders, sending Heston Kjerstad, who was just 2-for-14 (.143) in seven games, to Triple-A Norfolk and bringing up Stowers. They said they wanted Kjerstad to get regular at-bats and thought Stowers could better handle the irregular play.

They also designated Ryan McKenna for assignment when Hays returned.

As Peter Schmuck astutely pointed out this week, Hyde is using some of his competitive capital on Cowser and Mullins because he can. He also doesn’t have much choice.

Cowser and Mullins are the team’s most accomplished centerfielders, though Hays can play there as well. Jorge Mateo has played center on occasion, but he’s really a second baseman or shortstop. Stowers hasn’t played there in the majors.

There aren’t many appealing alternatives at Norfolk. Daniel Johnson, who played creditably during spring training, has hit well for the Tides (.267, 8 homers, 22 RBIs with an .897 OPS) but hit only .202 in 35 games for Cleveland in 2020 and 2021, his only major league experience.

Dylan Beavers and Jud Fabian, two high 2022 draft choices, are playing well enough at Double-A Bowie, but Beavers has played only five games in center for the Baysox this season.

The Orioles could always bring back Aaron Hicks, a favorite of fans and some media members, but he was hitting just .140 when the Los Angeles Angels released him on May 1st.

The guess here is that the Orioles will stick with their veterans for now and hope they don’t have to sacrifice some of their promising young prospects (Coby Mayo or Connor Norby) for a veteran outfielder. Mayo left Norfolk’s game at Lehigh Valley on Thursday when he collided with the third base dugout.

While there’s been some chatter about switching Mayo to the outfield, he’s playing first and third base for now. Norby has plenty of experience in left and right field besides second base, his natural position, but he hasn’t played center. Kjerstad, whom the Orioles think is improving in the outfield, has played just left and right.

Santander can be a free agent after this season. Hays and Mullins are eligible after the 2025 season.

The Orioles are likely to need the young outfielders in the system, plus Cowser and Stowers, to play key roles in the next year or two, and it would be difficult for executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias to part with multiple prospects if he thinks the team needs outfield and bullpen help as we get closer to the July 30th trade deadline.

The Orioles’ young infield and catching core are performing well and should be strong for several years to come, but they may have only one year of Corbin Burnes anchoring the rotation. The team’s best opportunity for a deep postseason run could be in 2024. They hope Hays, Mullins and Santander can play key roles in that chase.

To Top