The 2019 Orioles (54-108) were bad. They knew they were going to be bad no matter what, and they were understandably fine with that considering the early stages of the rebuild.
Besides the losing and higher draft picks angle, a team like the Orioles can provide more opportunities to fringe players. They can give extended chances to players like infielder Hanser Alberto and catcher Pedro Severino and let things play out. That type of player discovery won’t be the driving factor in eventually getting the O’s back on track and competing, but it is a nice benefit and fun to see when unexpected players produce.
These Orioles took steps forward and should stick around for 2020 and possibly beyond:
Means’ story is pretty well known by now. He surprised everyone by not just sticking around, but by being one of the team’s few reliable pitching options. He worked hard in the offseason, received an All-Star nod, made adjustments and will be the team’s presumed ace heading into 2020. After finishing with a 3.60 ERA and a 4.41 FIP along with a hard-hit rate (30.5%) in the 90th percentile — and an expected wOBA (.304) that nearly matched his actual wOBA (.303) — he deserves it.
It’s been quite the rise for Means in such a short period of time, and it should be fascinating to see what he’s able to do in his second full season.
With a 52 wRC+ in September, Alberto unfortunately limped to the finish line. But his first season getting an extended look — .305/.329/.422, 96 wRC+, 2.0 fWAR — was a success. Alberto’s done his damage in an unusual way: by avoiding walks and strikeouts, posting a high batting average but not-so-high on-base percentage and dominating left-handed pitching (151 wRC+ vs. LHP vs. 57 wRC+ vs. RHP).
Not much about Alberto’s 2019 jumps off the page as extremely sustainable, but he’s a competent infield option on a team that doesn’t have much depth in or near the majors. Jonathan Villar’s presence is also not guaranteed in 2020.
Like Alberto, Santander also seemed to wear down by the end of the season. After surprisingly strong showings in July (124 wRC+) and August (118 wRC+), Santander posted a 23 wRC+ in September. Not only did he finish the season with a slump, but he didn’t appear in the O’s last five games, with manager Brandon Hyde mentioning “physically [Santander’s] just not quite right” and that he “needed a little bit of a break physically.”
The September slump dimmed Santander’s minor breakout. Overall, he finished with a .261/.297/.476 batting line and a wRC+ of 97 in 405 plate appearances. Not much of his Statcast profile jumps off the page either, as he rates about average in a number of categories. For a while, the switch-hitter was performing about the same from both sides of the plate, but he did finish with better numbers from the left side (108 wRC+ vs. 92 wRC+).
Is Santander more like the July/August version or the September version? It’s going to take another season to find out.
You don’t really need words to describe Hays’ brief but intriguing 2019 showing. You just need this:
But, you know, the words are fun, too. Hays was bypassed for a September call-up and was ticketed for the Arizona Fall League before a rule change allowing 40-man roster players to join the league in the middle of its season changed the Orioles’ minds.
Despite the past couple seasons filled with injuries, missed time and not much approaching the promise of 2017, Hays was tremendous for the O’s in September. He played in almost every game (21) after being added to the active roster and batted an unexpected .309/.373/.574 (146 wRC+) in 75 plate appearances. He walked a good amount, didn’t strike out a ton, stole a couple of bases, wasn’t caught stealing and flashed tremendous speed and instincts on a number of superb defensive plays in center field. And he stayed healthy!
Frankly, Hays’ unplanned action couldn’t have gone better. It’s no surprise that he won’t be going to the AFL after he got in plenty of work and was seriously impressive. Regardless of whether his offensive numbers were inflated due to him feasting on expanded rosters, the speed and defense sure seem legit, and they’re qualities the Orioles desperately need. Barring injury, he should be a shoo-in for an opening day start in center field.
Similar to Hays, it didn’t take long for Harvey to show his promise. Showcasing a high-90s fastball, devastating curveball and a splitter that he was allowed to start throwing again this year, he allowed one run in 6.1 innings while striking out 11. He did allow one home run and four walks, so his cameo wasn’t flawless, but it was very good.
Harvey’s success after switching to a relief role in June made his eventual promotion inevitable, and he joined the Orioles in mid-August. Still, the primary goal for Harvey in 2019 was to avoid injury and get through the season unscathed. He mostly did. After looking dominant but still not appearing on back-to-back nights, he stopped being used as often and was shut down in late September after dealing with some biceps soreness and an innings limit.
Assuming a clean bill of health next season, if that’s even possible, Harvey possesses the highest ceiling of any of the O’s relievers.
Before the Orioles claimed Severino off waivers in the spring, he had appeared in parts of four seasons with the Washington Nationals. In that time, he posted a 47 wRC+ in 282 plate appearances. He also hit just four home runs. In 2019, Severino stepped to the plate 341 times, slugged 13 home runs and put up a wRC+ of 94. That type of production isn’t amazing, but it is above the MLB average for a catcher (85 wRC+).
That’s not bad for someone considered to be a defense-first backup catcher. Interestingly, Severino’s offense was more impressive than his defense. His caught stealing percentage (24 percent) was below league average (27 percent). His pop time ranked in the top 30 and his arm strength in the top 15, but he also rated as a below average pitch framer by both Baseball Savant and Baseball Prospectus along with being poor at blocking pitches.
Regardless, Severino is the O’s best option at catcher now. Chance Sisco’s star has faded as his defense and bat are both major question marks, and Austin Wynns could be a 40-man roster casualty. Still, anyone who appears behind the plate in 2020 or 2021 is only keeping the seat warm for Adley Rutschman. But the O’s could do far worse than Severino, who isn’t arbitration eligible until after next season.
Others of note:
Renato Nunez: The 31 home runs are nice, but they aren’t quite as nice in this juiced ball era. The .311 on-base percentage and lack of a true position don’t help either, especially with Chris Davis’ 2020 return a possibility and Ryan Mountcastle’s debut on the way.
Rio Ruiz: Ruiz’s glove was impressive at third base; the rest, not so much. But his second half improvement (97 wRC+ vs. 69 in the first half) plus a lack of options at third base mean he could get another chance.
DJ Stewart/Dwight Smith Jr.: These two might end up fighting for the fourth outfielder role next season. They’re both below average outfielders and didn’t hit as much as they needed to, and neither could stay healthy. It didn’t take long for Santander to pass them on the depth chart.
Asher Wojciechowski: Assuming Dylan Bundy sticks around and Alex Cobb is healthy, the Orioles will need a couple of starters to pitch alongside those two and Means. With a 4.92 ERA and 5.30 FIP in 82.1 innings, Wojciechowski probably did enough to stick around for now. It helps that the O’s first wave of young starting pitchers isn’t ready yet.
Richie Martin: With a wRC+ of just 51 and shortstop defense that looked good at times but didn’t rate well by either Defensive Runs Saved (-8) or Ultimate Zone Rating (-4), Martin had a rough year. He should be ticketed for Triple-A and lots of regular work after fulfilling his Rule 5 requirements.
Tanner Scott/Dillon Tate/Branden Kline/Evan Phillips: I’m lumping these guys together because none were very good in 2019 but at least had some positive moments (brief ones, mostly). The O’s bullpen figures to be a revolving door once again, so if these relievers don’t produce, they’ll find themselves stuck on the Norfolk shuttle.
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