Inbox: Which O's have set themselves apart?

September 9th, 2019

With three weeks to play, we’ve reached the final Orioles Inbox of the 2019 regular season. Before we dig in, I’d like to thank all of you for your participation, enthusiasm and passion, and for welcoming me the way you have during my first year on the beat.

These mailbags aren’t going anywhere; they will continue in the offseason and beyond. But I felt I’d be remiss in not acknowledging you now as the schedule draws to a close. So, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Now let’s get to your questions.

The word “audition” has been something of an organizational slogan all year, especially with regard to the bullpen, where few have separated themselves outside of . has opened some eyes lately, been fairly dependable and has shown flashes, especially with his increased ability to miss bats. But the real strides have been made elsewhere on the roster.

In the outfield, looks like a fixture. John Means will enter 2020 atop the rotation. and proved their drastically different skill sets both play at this level. If you were looking for guys who’ve really seized their opportunity, I’d focus on those four.

Oh, this is a fun one. There are lots to choose from, especially on the pitching side. But here are my picks:

Triple-A Norfolk: Ryan Mountcastle, 1B
Do concerns persist about his plate discipline and defensive home? Yes, but they are minor. The big takeaway from 2019 for Mountcastle is that his bat is real, and about as close to big league-ready as possible. You don’t win the International League MVP Award at age 22 if it isn’t.

Double-A Bowie: Michael Baumann, RHP
The 23-year-old Baumann was one of several arms to take a step forward at Bowie this summer, largely dominating alongside Alex Wells, Zac Lowther and Bruce Zimmerman. But he gets the nod here because his numbers were the best, and his ceiling is likely highest of anyone in that group.

Class A Advanced Frederick: DL Hall, LHP
The left lat strain that ended his season prematurely isn’t expected to haunt Hall, who missed a ton of bats in his first crack at Class A Advanced. Walks continue to be a concern, but the soon-to-be-21-year-old former first-round pick still has ample time to improve in that area.

Class A Delmarva: Grayson Rodriguez, RHP
There wasn’t much to nitpick in 2019 for Rodriguez, who simply dominated in his first full professional season. The 19-year-old looks every bit the talent the Orioles snatched up at No. 11 overall in the 2018 Draft.

Short-Season Aberdeen: Adley Rutschman, C
Because of the record bonus, because of the outsize expectations, because of the late start, and because Rutschman handled it all with aplomb in his first taste of pro ball. Just 20 games in, Rutschman was done with Aberdeen, likely never to return.

You will not. The overwhelming majority of those examples, like the one you mentioned, are on the pitching side, and many are of uber-prospects promoted late in-season to aid playoff runs. The O's are in a completely different situation with Rutschman. My guess is he begins the year in Fredrick, finishes it in Bowie -- if all goes well, perhaps Norfolk -- and makes an MLB debut sometime in 2021.

is absolutely a trade candidate come the offseason, perhaps Baltimore's top chip. The bigger question is: is he a non-tender candidate?

That may sound implausible, but consider these facts: Villar is third-year arbitration-eligible, finishing up his best season in years and due for a sizable raise on his $4.825 million contract. The Orioles were underwhelmed by his market at the Trade Deadline, and they don’t consider him an extension candidate.

At the very least, it’s an option the O's will consider, though I think the more likely scenario is the club tendering him a contract that it’s then motivated to move on the trade market.

Can DJ Stewart be made into a credible MLB outfielder? If not, can he hit well enough and consistently enough to be a DH?
-- Rob Daniels

As with so many of these young players, the Orioles are in the process of figuring all that out. The early defensive returns aren’t great, either statistically (-3 Outs Above Average, per Statcast) or anecdotally. But the truth is the O's are more interested in seeing how the advanced hitting approach and plate discipline Stewart showed in the Minors translate to the bigs.