With nothing on the line in terms of results, the Orioles are looking firmly to the future. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for the club to simply bring up a wave of prospects in September.
GM Mike Elias explains to Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun that the team is indeed planning to start bringing in fresh faces. “We will start to see a lot of players from our quote-unquote ’prospect list’ on the big league team here in the next month, and early next season,” he says.
But that doesn’t mean the roster situation is straightforward. Even for “the guys that are on the roster already,” says Elias, “it would be inaccurate to say that doesn’t matter, because when you add somebody to the roster, you typically have to take somebody off. That’s a big decision.” While September’s expanded active roster will help, there’ll still be tough 40-man calls to be made.
Beyond the question of maintaining control rights, the club simply needs to fill innings. While some of the players currently holding down active roster spots may well end up being cut loose in the offseason, they’re needed now to avoid over-taxing or otherwise harming the development of young hurlers.
Plus, there are developmental and health considerations to account for. Take Austin Hays, whose own late-2017 promotion serves as something of a cautionary tale. As Meoli further explores, the club has seen some signs of a rebound from the 24-year-old, though it’s still not clear that he’d benefit from an extension of his season after working through health problems.
Elias opened the door in particular to calling up players who are due to occupy 40-man spots in the offseason to come, noting that the organization has “several guys who are amongst our top prospects who will need to be protected from the Rule 5 draft this year.” Such players can be added now in order to get a taste of the majors, though that means giving them service time and perhaps forcing some early decisions on other players.
One such player is intriguing first base/outfield prospect Ryan Mountcastle. As Meoli notes, Mountcastle has shown well this year but also still has some areas to work on at Triple-A. The 22-year-old’s .308/.340/.528 slash line is outwardly impressive, but it’s just 16% above league average (116 wRC+) in the hitter-friendly International League. With a meager 4.2% walk rate, Mountcastle has been dependent upon an unsustainable .363 batting average on balls in play for his productivity. He’s also still working to land on a defensive home.
That’s certainly not to say that there isn’t any promise. The former first-rounder has long been viewed as a talented player and there’s every reason for the O’s to give him a full shot at the big leagues in the near future. Much the same holds for Hays. Trouble is, the club is already giving showcases to Anthony Santander and DJ Stewart. And it could stand to give further opportunities to Cedric Mullins and Dwight Smith Jr. Ultimately, there are only so many plate appearances to go around.
The bottom line is that the roster finagling is more complicated for the rebuilding Baltimore organization than might be anticipated at first glance. The club can and will continue to provide chances to interesting players, but it’ll already be forced to make some committing choices in the coming weeks.