Means a finalist for AL Rookie of the Year

November 5th, 2019

BALTIMORE -- ’ ascendant rookie season propelled him from the fringes of the Orioles’ roster to the top of their rotation, with a pit stop at All-Star week in between. Now it has him in line to potentially earn some hardware.

Means on Monday was named one of three finalists for the 2019 American League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award, as voted on by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Astros designated hitter and Rays second baseman are the other contenders. The winner will be announced Nov. 11 on MLB Network.

Though Alvarez is the favorite to claim the honor, Means could upset and become the first Orioles player to win the award since Gregg Olson in 1989. Means would also be the first full-time pitcher to earn AL Rookie of the Year accolades since Michael Fulmer of the Tigers in 2016.

“I’ve had to battle my whole career. I’ve had to get to the point where I get a chance and take advantage of it,” Means said last month. “I knew if I struggled at the beginning of this year, I’d be sent down. I knew I’d be sent down until I did well again. But there is no learning in the big leagues. You either have success or you’re going back down. That’s my mentality. I’ve always pitched like my back’s against the wall. I’ve always pitched like I’m not a prospect, so I have to do well or I’m not going to stick here.”

To his own admitted surprise, Means made the Orioles out of Spring Training and never left. A former ninth-round pick in the MLB Draft who spent three seasons at Double-A, Means emerged in 2019 as the anchor of an Orioles staff plagued by turnover and inconsistency. He went 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA in 31 games (27 starts), leading the team in wins, ERA, WHIP (1.14), quality starts (11), and Wins Above Replacement. Among AL rookie starters, Means ranked first in fWAR (3.0), wins and walks per nine innings (2.21). He finished second among AL Rookie starters in innings (155), ERA and WHIP and third in strikeouts (121).

“He gave us a chance to win every five or six days and just really impressed with everything in his game,” O’s manager Brandon Hyde said. "He came into the season with a no-fear attitude and attacked guys and threw a ton of strikes. I think we’ve had a bunch of good stories, to be honest with you. John was just the story on the pitching side.”

By doing so, Means outshone large factions of an extremely deep class of talented AL rookies, much of which was concentrated in the AL East. He beat out other standout first-year players such as Home Run Derby champion , Guerrero's Blue Jays teammates and , White Sox slugger , Indians outfielder , Twins utility man and others.

The next challenge for Means is topping Alvarez, who burst onto the scene like few hitters in baseball history. A powerful left-handed slugger, Alvarez set all kinds of rookie records over the torrid four months he spent in Houston, including the franchise’s rookie mark for homers with 27 over just 87 games. Alvarez hit .313 with 53 extra-base hits and a 1.067 OPS in essentially half a season, pacing AL rookies in OBP, SLG, WAR and several other offensive categories.

An All-Star alongside Means, Lowe hit .270 with 17 home runs and an .850 OPS. His season was limited to 82 games due to injuries to both legs.

Of the six Orioles to previously win the award, only Olson was a pitcher. The others were shortstop Ron Hansen (1960), outfielder Curt Blefary ('65), outfielder Al Bumbry ('73), first baseman Eddie Murray ('77) and shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. ('82).

Roster moves

The Orioles continued reshaping their 40-man roster with another set of transactions on Monday, the deadline for clubs to reinstate players from the 60-day injured list. The Orioles had one such player, Alex Cobb, who essentially takes the spot of departed free agent Mark Trumbo on the 40-man roster. Cobb missed all but three starts in 2019 due to back and knee issues; he is expected to be recovered from hip surgery in time for Spring Training.

The club also parted ways with right-hander Gabriel Ynoa, who became a free agent after he cleared waivers and rejected an outright assignment to Triple-A Norfolk. Ynoa went 1-10 with a 5.61 ERA in 36 games (13 starts) in 2019, his first full season in the Majors. He logged a career-high 110 2/3 innings -- the third most on the Orioles’ staff.

Their 40-man roster now consists of 36 players.