Finally. A little bit of light. Mike Elias was brought in by John Angelos to run the baseball operation of the Orioles because he was a smart guy and he was well-credentialed through his work with the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros.
Elias was brought in to once and for all try to reset the club’s baseball operations and avoid the small windows of opportunity to be contenders that existed under John’s father, managing partner Peter Angelos.
While I am not privy to their private conversations before Elias was brought on board, there has been significant progress made in several key areas since his hiring, some of which is tangible and some of which the average baseball fan doesn’t understand.
Let’s start with the most tangible part of the Elias era. There are now real prospects percolating in the minor leagues, though some were signed by Dan Duquette. I went out to Aberdeen a couple weeks ago to see catcher Adley Rutschman play the second game of his rehab. The lineup was full of Elias draft picks, including Rutschman, Connor Norby, Coby Mayo and Colton Cowser.
Norby is a solid contact hitter who may very well play second base at the big league level in the not-too-distant future. Rutschman we know about. The club wants to see him get his bat going a little at Norfolk before they bring him up, which figures to be in the next 7-10 days. The third batter was third baseman Mayo, who had hit two homers the night before. The first thing that hits you about Mayo is how big he is (6-foot-5, 215 pounds). He reminds me a bit of Dale Murphy, a two-time NL MVP with the Atlanta Braves.
I saw Mayo strike out and hit a fly ball in his first two at-bats. Then, Mayo hit a home run that was reminiscent of a Mark McGwire shot back in the early ’90s:
Another homer the next night made it four long balls in three days for Mayo, who figures to head to Double-A Bowie whenever Gunnar Henderson makes the jump up to Triple-A Norfolk.
All Cowser did that night was hit a triple, double and single and drive in a run.
It struck me that in all my years making trips to Frederick, Bowie and Aberdeen, I don’t think I had ever seen four consecutive hitters as talented as Norby, Rutschman, Mayo and Cowser.
That’s not to mention pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and D.L. Hall, both of whom figure to appear in the big leagues at some point this season. Then there is Kyle Bradish, the impressive right-hander who is turning heads every fifth day in the O’s rotation. He is the most exciting pitching prospect to debut for the O’s in some time. Bradish was one of four pitchers Elias received in exchange for Dylan Bundy after the 2019 season.
And don’t forget that right-hander Garrett Stallings threw six innings of no-hit ball as part of a combined no-hitter for the Baysox on Mother’s Day. Stallings, who could possibly be at Triple-A in the second half of the year, was acquired as part of the return for veteran shortstop Jose Iglesias after the 2020 season.
Go ahead and waste your time bashing Elias if you want, but just in terms of the level of prospects playing in the farm system, you may have to go back to the ’70s to see this much talent in the Orioles’ system. And this doesn’t begin to include any of the international signings the club has made the last few years.
I know all MLB teams had to deal with the trials and tribulations brought on by the pandemic, but imagine what Elias has had to endure with a bunch of prospects being held up a year because there were no minor league games in 2020.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. I know because I have seen several examples that give me a great deal of optimism that the Orioles are close to turning the corner back to baseball relevance.
Now, time for my power rankings:
1. New York Yankees (25-9, No. 1 last week): The Yankees are 20-4 during the past four weeks. They are on a roll. And fingers crossed by their fans, it seems like it’s been five years since they have had some luck on injuries.
2. Houston Astros (23-12, No. 4): The Astros are 17-4 in their past 21 games. Sometimes you just have to trust your development people. It was a risk letting star shortstop Carlos Correa walk, but inside the Astros’ war room they had confidence that Jeremy Pena could be a very capable player — not better than Correa, but solid enough. He hit .350 with two homers and nine RBIs during spring training. He is batting .276 with five doubles and six homers and 20 RBIs on the season. His OPS is .853. Trust is a beautiful thing, when it works out.
3. New York Mets (23-13, No. 2): The Mets are just 11-8 in their past 17 games, including losses in the last two starts by Max Scherzer. The bar was pretty low in asking and expecting better play out of shortstop Francisco Lindor after his lackluster 2021 season. In the season’s first 10-12 days, Lindor looked like the old Lindor. But the past four weeks, he just looks like an old Lindor. Last season, he batted .230 with 20 homers and 63 RBIs. To date this season, he is hitting .232 with six homers and 22 RBIs. He actually is slugging lower than last season and his OPS is down, too. This is not what owner Steve Cohen was expecting from his star when he extended him with a 10-year, $340 million deal.
4. Milwaukee Brewers (22-13, No. 5): The Brewers’ 12-7 mark from the past three weeks has them squeaking past the Dodgers. Did anyone notice that Christian Yelich hit for the cycle again this past week? It was his 3rd career cycle. It’s not like he is all the way back, but he is showing glimpses.
5. Los Angeles Dodgers (21-12, No. 3): The Dodgers are just 10-8 in the past three weeks and now Clayton Kershaw is on the injured list with SI inflammation, which is a scare because it involves his balky back. Some way shape or other, the Dodgers will have ample pitching, but two key everyday players are of concern. Mookie Betts, considered one of the best players in baseball, is batting just .254 with seven homers and 17 RBIs. But more concerning is Max Muncy, who suffered a torn UCL in his non-throwing elbow late last season and opted to rehab the injury this past offseason instead of undergoing Tommy John surgery. He is batting just .150 with three homers and 13 RBIs.
6. Los Angeles Angels (24-13, No. 12): Happy for Mike Trout that he has what appears is a contending baseball team with which to play. Still wouldn’t it be nice if the big dollars owner Arte Moreno threw at big-name free agents paid off? He got five good years out of Albert Pujols in a 10-year deal. He got maybe one decent season out of Josh Hamilton on a five-year deal. Now he is getting pennies on the dollar out of third baseman Anthony Rendon.
7. San Diego Padres (22-13, No. 7): No question this club misses star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., but the team is batting just .228 and pitching to an ERA of 3.75. I guess we can give the pitching a bit of a pass because NL teams face a DH every day now and anything under 4.00 is deemed remarkable. But, the point is that after being on this job for nearly eight seasons and sinking all that money into payroll, the results should look a little better for GM A.J. Preller.
8. San Francisco Giants (20-14, No. 8): After 9-10 three-week run, the Giants won five straight against Colorado (three) and St. Louis (two) before Carlos Rodon got roughed up pretty good. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi is tinkering quite a bit with the roster because he knows he is a peg or two shy of a whole deck. Not sure it’ll work this year.
9. Tampa Bay Rays (21-14, No. 9): Wonder how the Rays stay a serious contender in baseball’s toughest division? Exhibit A is starting pitcher Drew Rasmussen, acquired along with solid reliever J.P. Feyereisen in exchange for shortstop Willy Adames. In 10 starts in 2021 and seven starts this year, Rasmussen has allowed a total of 21 earned runs in his 75.2 innings. That translates to a 2.49 ERA, which kind of makes him an elite starter. OK, he doesn’t throw a big innings load, but who does? Adames has nine homers this year, but he is batting just .208 with an OPS in the mid-.700s. Oh, and they had to trade him, because they had Wonderful Wander Franco ready and waiting for his star turn.
10. St. Louis Cardinals (19-15, No. 11): The Cardinals finally make the top-10 talk, as much to do with others fading. But, The Cardinals are an interesting mix of youth, middle age and older players. Veteran catcher Yadier Molina is rounding third and heading for home. He doesn’t hit much, but nobody handles a pitching staff like Molina. Albert Pujols makes contributions on the field and in the locker room, while 40-year-old Adam Wainwright still is an imposing presence on the mound. Those three star figures have to help rookie manager Oliver Marmol.
11. Minnesota Twins (20-15, No. 10)
12. Toronto Blue Jays (18-17, No. 6)
13. Chicago White Sox (16-17, No. 13)
14. Atlanta Braves (16-19, No. 14)
15. Arizona Diamondbacks (18-17, No. 18)
16. Cleveland Guardians (16-17, No. 15)
17. Philadelphia Phillies (17-18, No. 21)
18. Seattle Mariners (16-19, No. 19)
19. Miami Marlins (15-19, No. 17)
20. Colorado Rockies (17-17, No. 16)
21. Boston Red Sox (13-21, No. 20)
22. Oakland Athletics (15-22, No. 26)
23. Pittsburgh Pirates (15-19, No. 23)
24. Detroit Tigers (12-23, No. 28)
25. Chicago Cubs (13-20, No. 27)
26. Baltimore Orioles (14-21, No. 25)
27. Kansas City Royals (12-20, No. 24)
28. Washington Nationals (12-24, No. 29)
29. Texas Rangers (14-19, No. 22)
30. Cincinnati Reds (9-26, No. 30)