By most calculations, the Orioles’ very visible and equally painful “rebuild” is rapidly approaching the midway point. Some will argue that the calendar isn’t always the best gauge for these “makeovers,” especially when a pandemic is involved, but five years is the generally accepted time frame.
So, like it or not, it’s time for the first report grade, which is as meaningful as it is incomplete. It says the good news and bad news are the same — that these are the worst of times. Which means the project is about on schedule — with the “teardown” most likely over and “rebuild” showing signs of progress.
The standings, along with a look at the immediate schedule facing the Orioles, provide the bad news. The development of high-end prospects, and equally important the success of the lower-level minor-league teams, provides some encouragement that there could be some light at the end of what has been a very dark tunnel.
In the four weeks between now and the All-Star Break, the O’s will be tested with the most grueling part of the schedule, a stretch that promises to test even the most patient. Having already endured a 14-game losing streak in addition to a road skid that reached 16 against Cleveland June 14, there is little hope for imminent improvement.
After the four-game series in Cleveland wraps up the current road trip, the Orioles have 13 straight games against the Astros and Blue Jays. They have three more games against the Blue Jays sandwiched between matchups with the Angels and White Sox that conclude a brutal stretch of 34 straight games against teams that rank as contenders as this is written.
This might be the most opportune time for general manager Mike Elias to assess and reaffirm the organization’s commitment to the process. It probably would also be a good time to remove any speculation about manager Brandon Hyde’s immediate future.
The O’s haven’t been specific about the length of contracts Elias and Hyde signed when they came on board. Speculation has it that Elias’ deal was for five years, while the manager got something less than that. It is believed that Hyde got at most a three-year deal with an option for a fourth.
All things considered, especially the pandemic-type disasters of the last two years, Hyde has done whatever could have been expected. Especially with a former major-league manager, Fredi Gonzalez, on his staff, there wouldn’t appear to be a reason for Hyde’s status to remain a mystery much longer.
Given the fact he’s never left Florida with what could be considered the best possible team available, Hyde at least deserves to have that opportunity.
* * *
Count me among those suffering from a high spin rate when it comes to gauging pitch velocity. I understand how a sticky substance would help with breaking pitches, but I’m somewhat baffled that what effectively is backspin makes the ball go faster.
And I have to admit wondering how low-velocity pitchers can be more effective pitching up in the strike zone. Not many guys transition from two-seamers to four-seamers. This much I’m fairly certain of, though: When the tacky stuff goes the way of the cicadas, the hardest throwers will still be the hardest throwers and the best pitchers will be the best pitchers.
* * *
You can also count me among those who believe baseball is being overwhelmed with numbers — written and spoken. The breakdown of percentages of pitch types thrown, when and where, has become mind-boggling to the average fan.
Without a doubt, most of these numbers/percentages are driven by analytics. They are available at the click of a keyboard, thus contributing to information overload, or TMI in most cases.
I can’t make up my mind whether it’s more boring to read an overload of numbers — or listen to them. I don’t blame the announcers because for the most part they are just using the overload of useless information. But enough is … too much.
* * *
Quick thought: Raise your hand if you had the Yankees being one of the lightweights on the O’s schedule for the first half of this season.
* * *
I don’t have the numbers to prove it, but I’m fairly certain the Orioles have more bonafide prospects playing on the three minor-league teams within the state than at any time in the club’s history.
There are a lot of players who are headed for OPACY, most likely not this year, but certainly ready to make an impact by late 2022 and the years immediately following. The Bowie (Double-A), Aberdeen (High-A) and Delmarva (Low-A) rosters are all loaded with blue-chippers, among them Adley Rutschman, D.L. Hall, Grayson Rodriguez, Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg.
And there are a few others, like Cody Sedlock, Blaine Knight and Mike Baumann who could make it to Norfolk (Triple-A), which has been hampered by injuries, before the year is out, and be ready to knock on the big-league door next season.
On another note, it will be interesting to see if the vastly decreased attendance at Camden Yards will translate to improved numbers at the minor-league level. The “rebuild” is still in a very painful stage, but the combined record of the three lower minor-league teams is better than any other organization by far and should make for an interesting baseball summer around the state.
The only downside is that all three of the minor-league teams in Maryland have been beating up on the farm teams of the Nationals, whose minor-league system ranks among the worst in baseball.
* * *
File this under the “Just In Case You Missed It” category:
Within the span of seven days, two batters, at different levels of professional play, managed to make the most elementary of mistakes — failure to touch a base.
Incredibly both came on what would have been home runs. The first was by the Pirates’ Ke’Bryan Hayes, who suffered the ultimate indignity by missing first base, denying himself a hit and proving that three out of four can indeed be bad.
The other, if possible, may have been even more embarrassing. Bobby Witt Jr., the second player selected in the 2019 draft who is tearing it up in Double-A as much or more than Rutschman, hit a home run that won’t last as long as his highly anticipated career. On the way to the dugout, the pride of the Royals’ minor-league system managed to skip his way past home plate, although some suspected the umpire on base patrol might’ve overextended his authority. Nevertheless, it’s doubtful young Witt will skip any bases in the future.
And all this time you thought umpires following runners around the bases were just escorts? Now you know why baseball is talking about making the bases bigger (18×18 inches instead of 15×15), with a trial run now under way in Triple-A.
* * *
With all the potential rule changes baseball has been experimenting with, how come nobody has suggested getting rid of that silly “balk move” toward second base?
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles