- Orioles outfield prospect Heston Kjerstad has been medically cleared to report to the team’s alternate training site, per Jim Callis of MLB.com. Kjerstad, the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft, has been away from the club while recovering from myocarditis. The 22-year-old will need “a months-long buildup” before he’s ready for game action, Callis tweets.
11:21am: The team has now announced that Santander is on the 10-day injured list. McKenna has indeed been recalled to take his spot on the 26-man roster.
10:50am: Orioles slugger Anthony Santander will miss the next two to four weeks of action after sustaining a sprained ankle, manager Brandon Hyde announced to reporters this morning (Twitter link via Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com). X-rays and an MRI both confirmed that there is no fracture in Santander’s ankle. A corresponding roster move is in the works, per Hyde. Santander injured the ankle last night when lunging back to first base on a pickoff attempt (video link).
Santander, 26, emerged as one of the Orioles’ best hitters from 2019-20 and was the subject of some trade inquiries over the winter. However, the O’s control him all the way through 2024 and clearly weren’t motivated to make a move based on any of those talks.
The switch-hitting Santander is out to a slow start in 2021, hitting just .196/.230/.321 in 62 plate appearances after missing some time late in Spring Training with an oblique issue. But from 2019-20, Santander delivered a .261/.302/.505 batting line with 31 dingers, 33 doubles and a pair of triples in 570 trips to the plate. A middling 5.1 percent walk rate in that time limits his on-base upside, but Santander also struck out in just 15.6 percent of his plate appearances last season.
Baltimore just welcomed outfielder Austin Hays back from the injured list yesterday, so he’ll effectively be replacing Santander in the everyday lineup moving forward. Hays and hot-hitting Cedric Mullins are both options at any of the three outfield spots, while Ryan Mountcastle and DJ Stewart can work in the corners and also mix in some at-bats as the designated hitter. Ryan McKenna, who was optioned yesterday after Hays was activated, could also quickly be brought back and added into the equation if the Orioles want to replenish some outfield depth.
- Orioles outfielder Austin Hays looks likely to be activated from the injured list on Tuesday, writes Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. The 25-year-old was placed on the IL a little less than two weeks ago due to a hamstring strain, but it seems he’ll make a return in short order. Hays has played in exhibition games at the alternate training site in each of the past two days without issue, Kubatko notes. The Orioles also optioned right-hander Dean Kremer to the alternate site after his start last night in Texas, per Kubatko. A pair of scheduled off days obviate the need for a fifth starter, so Baltimore recalled Cole Sulser to add to the relief corps for now.
An abnormal number of picks from the 2020 Rule 5 Draft survived Spring Training and made the Opening Day rosters with their new clubs. The Orioles and Marlins both broke camp with a pair of Rule 5 picks on the active roster, while the Pirates opened the season with one Rule 5 pick on the roster and one on the injured list. Most clubs that are carrying a Rule 5 pick, unsurprisingly, have little in the way of postseason aspirations. There are a few October hopefuls among those still clinging to Rule 5 picks, however, and it’ll take some uncharacteristically strong Rule 5 showings for those players to survive the season.
We’ll take a look at how the surviving Rule 5 draftees are faring periodically throughout the year. Here’s the first glance…
Currently in the Majors
- Brett de Geus, RHP, Rangers (via Dodgers): Injuries throughout the Rangers’ bullpen might have helped the 23-year-old de Geus crack the Opening Day roster in Texas. He’s out to a shaky start, having walked three batters and hit another three against just two strikeouts through his first 5 2/3 innings. On the plus side, 13 of the 15 balls put into play against him have been grounders.
- Akil Baddoo, OF, Tigers (via Twins): Baddoo is one of the best stories (maybe the best) of the young 2021 season. The 22-year-old homered on his first swing in the big leagues as his family rejoiced in the stands, and in less than two weeks’ time he’s added a grand slam, a walk-off single (against his former organization) a 450-foot dinger off Zack Greinke and a fourth homer. Baddoo has a ludicrous 1.342 OPS through his first 29 plate appearances in the Majors, and while he obviously won’t sustain that, he’s forcing a legitimate audition in the Detroit outfield. Baddoo missed nearly all of 2019 due to Tommy John surgery and didn’t play in 2020. Despite that layoff and the fact that he’d never played above A-ball, the Tigers called his name in December. It may have seemed like a stretch at the time, but it doesn’t look that way now.
- Garrett Whitlock, RHP, Red Sox (via Yankees): The Sox would surely love for Whitlock to stick, having plucked him from their archrivals in New York. So far, so good. Better than good, in fact. Through 6 1/3 scoreless innings, Whitlock has yielded three hits and punched out nine batters without issuing a walk. He’s sitting 95.6 mph with his heater and has posted a hefty 16.9 percent swinging-strike rate. Whitlock also had Tommy John surgery in 2019, so even though he’s previously been a starter, it makes sense to monitor his workload ease him into the mix as the Sox hope to get through the year with him in the ’pen.
- Tyler Wells, RHP, Orioles (via Twins): Wells has allowed a pair of homers and surrendered three total runs on four hits and two walks with five strikeouts in 5 2/3 frames. The O’s aren’t trying to win in 2021, but their bullpen also has four arms that can’t be optioned (Cesar Valdez, Shawn Armstrong, Adam Plutko, Wade LeBlanc). Keeping both Wells and Mac Sceroler (currently on the IL) brings them to six and will hamper their flexibility.
- Zach Pop and Paul Campbell, RHPs, Marlins (via Orioles and Rays): Pop was technically the D-backs’ pick in the Rule 5, but Arizona immediately flipped him to the Marlins for a PTBNL. The 24-year-old didn’t allow an earned run in five spring frames but as I was finishing this post, he served up a three-run homer, bringing his season line to seven runs on three hits, three walks and two hit batters in 3 1/3 innings. Campbell has struggled to a similar extent. He’s surrendered five runs (three earned) and given up four hits and three walks in just 2 2/3 innings. With the Marlins out of tank mode, it’ll be tough to carry both all year.
- Jordan Sheffield, RHP, Rockies (via Dodgers): Sheffield was the No. 36 overall pick in the 2016 Draft, but control issues prevented him from being protected on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen gives Sheffield three plus pitches in his scouting report (fastball, curveball, changeup) but also pegs his command at a 30 on the 20-80 scale. Sheffield has walked or plunked 15 percent of the hitters he faced in the minors. He’s yet to walk anyone 13 batters he’s faced with the Rockies, but he did hit one and has also tossed a pair of wild pitches. That said, he’s also sitting 95.5 mph with his heater and is unscored upon in 3 2/3 frames.
- Luis Oviedo, RHP, Pirates (via Indians): Oviedo was the Mets’ pick at No. 10, but they had a deal worked out to flip him to the Pirates in exchange for cash. Oviedo has been hammered for six runs on six hits (two homers) and two walks with five strikeouts through 4 2/3 innings so far. Even pitching for a tanking club, Oviedo will need to show some improvement in order to stick on the roster all season.
- Will Vest, RHP, Mariners (via Tigers): The Mariners kept last year’s Rule 5 pick Yohan Ramirez for the whole season, but it’ll be tougher to do with a full schedule in 2021. The Mariners’ young core is also beginning to rise to the big leagues, and Vest will need to fend off some intriguing young arms. He’s done a decent job so far, allowing a pair of runs (one unearned) on five hits and four walks with five strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings.
- Trevor Stephan, RHP, Indians (via Yankees): Stephan whiffed 16 of 44 hitters this spring to earn a spot on the Indians’ Opening Day roster, but he’s allowed four runs in his first four MLB frames. The 25-year-old has surrendered five hits (including a homer), walked a pair and hit a batter so far while facing a total of 21 hitters.
- Ka’ai Tom, OF, Athletics (via Indians): Tom, 26, raked at a .310/.412/.552 pace with a homer, two doubles and a triple in 34 spring plate appearances. After that strong audition, however, he’s just 1-for-16 with six strikeouts through his first 16 trips to the plate with the A’s.
On the Major League injured list
- Jose Soriano, RHP, Pirates (via Angels): It wasn’t a surprise to see Soriano open the year on the injured list. He’s still recovering from Tommy John surgery performed in Feb. 2020 and didn’t pitch in a game with the Pirates this spring. He’ll be sidelined for at least the first two months, as the Bucs put him on the 60-day IL to open a 40-man roster spot when they signed Tyler Anderson. Soriano hasn’t pitched above A-ball, but the Pirates aren’t exactly a win-now club, so they can afford to stash him as a seldom-used bullpen piece in order to secure his rights beyond the 2021 season.
- Mac Sceroler, RHP, Orioles (via Reds): Sceroler fanned six hitters in 3 2/3 innings early in the season but also yielded three runs on five hits (two homers), three walks and a hit batter. The Orioles recently placed him on the 10-day injured list due to tendinitis in his right shoulder, although it’s not expected to be too lengthy an absence.
- Dedniel Nunez, RHP, Giants (via Mets): Nunez was hit hard in the Cactus League, surrendering four runs in 3 1/3 innings. He’ll now miss the entire 2021 season after sustaining a UCL tear that required Tommy John surgery this spring. Nunez will spend the season on San Francisco’s 60-day injured list and receive a year of MLB service, but he’ll still be subject to Rule 5 restrictions in 2022 once he’s healthy. He’ll need to spend at least 90 days on the MLB roster before he can be sent to the minors; if he doesn’t last that long, he’ll have to pass through waivers and, if he clears, be offered back to the Mets.
Returned to their original club
- Jose Alberto Rivera, RHP, Angels (via Astros): The Angels didn’t take much of a look at Rivera, returning him to Houston on March 24 after just one inning of official work in Cactus League play.
- Kyle Holder, SS, Reds (via Yankees): The Reds weren’t sure who their shortstop was going to be heading into Spring Training, but they ultimately settled on moving Eugenio Suarez back to that spot, sliding Mike Moustakas back to third base and giving prospect Jonathan India the nod at second base. A strong spring from Holder might have at least given him a bench spot behind that trio, but he hit just .219/.359/.250 in 39 plate appearances. The Reds returned him to the Yankees on March 30.
- Gray Fenter, RHP, Cubs (via Orioles): The Cubs returned Fenter to the Orioles on March 12 after just one spring appearance. He hasn’t pitched above A-ball yet.
- Dany Jimenez, RHP, Athletics (via Blue Jays): The 27-year-old Jimenez was a Rule 5 pick in consecutive offseasons — once by each Bay Area club. The A’s returned him to the Jays on March 15, however, after he yielded four runs (two earned) in three innings of work this spring.
- The Orioles reinstated DJ Stewart from the 10-day IL, and Stewart is set for his season debut tonight, scheduled to hit fifth in Baltimore’s lineup. Due to a left hamstring strain, the outfielder hasn’t seen any game action since a Spring Training outing on March 5. While strikeouts continue to be a troublingly large part of Stewart’s offensive game, he has hit .224/.334/433 with 14 homers at the MLB level, good for an above-average 107 OPS+/108 wRC+ over 301 career plate appearances.
- Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge wasn’t in their lineup against the Orioles on Wednesday because of soreness in his left side, Bryan Hoch of MLB.com writes. Manager Aaron Boone doesn’t seem all that concerned, as he said, “With the off day tomorrow I don’t want to take any chances.” Still, it’s notable in light of Judge’s extensive injury history. He missed a large amount of time in 2018 after suffering a fractured wrist on a hit by pitch, which was obviously just a bad break, but then sat out a combined 92 games from 2019-20 because of oblique, rib and calf problems. Judge has been excellent when healthy, though, and has begun this season with an eye-popping .364/.391/.636 line with two home runs in 23 plate appearances.
- Orioles outfielder DJ Stewart might be back in their lineup this weekend, according to manager Brandon Hyde (via Joe Trezza of MLB.com). Stewart hasn’t played yet this year on account of a hamstring issue that has shelved him for a little over a month. The 27-year-old lined up in the corner outfield in all 31 of his appearances in 2020, and he put up an unusual .193/.355/.455 batting line with seven home runs 112 trips to the plate. Despite a low batting average and a 33.9 percent strikeout rate, Stewart’s ability to draw walks (17.9 percent) and hit for power (.261 ISO) carried him to an impressive wRC+ of 124.
8:52pm: Hays has a mild strain, according to manager Brandon Hyde, who’s optimistic he won’t miss much time (via Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com).
4:48pm: The Orioles have placed outfielder Austin Hays on the 10-day injured list with a right hamstring strain, per a team announcement. In other moves, the Orioles activated right-hander Shawn Armstrong from the IL, recalled outfielder Ryan McKenna and optioned righty Cole Sulser.
The 25-year-old Hays is a promising piece for the rebuilding Orioles, but injuries – including to his ribs, ankle, wrist – have dogged him during his professional career. He only appeared in 33 of 60 games last year, owing in part to a rib fracture, but bounced back from an awful start to finish with a roughly league-average .279/.328/.393 line with four home runs in 134 plate appearances. He began this season with two hits in 10 PA during the Orioles’ three-game sweep of the Red Sox.
McKenna, 24, will give the O’s more outfield depth as they await Hays’ return. He hasn’t yet played above Double-A ball, where he hit .232/.321/.365 with nine HRs and 25 steals in 567 PA in 2019, though FanGraphs does rank McKenna as the organization’s seventh-best prospect. Eric Longenhagen wrote last month that “McKenna can fly and he has all-fields, doubles power, peppering the right-center gap with inside-out swings,” adding he could mix average offense with quality defense in the bigs. The 24-year-old will join Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Ryan Mountcastle and Pat Valaika as outfield options on Baltimore’s roster.
TODAY: Sanchez has cleared waivers and been granted a release, the Orioles announced.
MARCH 27: The Orioles have acquired right-hander Adam Plutko in a trade with the Indians, The Baltimore Sun’s Jon Meoli reports (Twitter link). The O’s have officially announced the deal, noting that Plutko was acquired for cash considerations. Infielder Yolmer Sanchez has been designated for assignment in a corresponding move to open a spot on Baltimore’s 40-man roster.
Plutko is out of minor league options, so the trade allows Cleveland to receive at least a modest return for a player who wasn’t likely to make their Opening Day roster, rather than lose Plutko for nothing on the waiver wire. Plutko’s 40-man roster space can now be filled by Bryan Shaw, who was in camp on a minor league contract and had already been told that he will make the team.
Originally an 11th-round pick for the Tribe in the 2013 draft, Plutko has a 5.05 ERA/5.71 SIERA over 217 1/3 big league innings, starting 36 of his 50 career games. Plutko doesn’t miss many bats (only a 16.9% career strikeout rate) and he’s had a lot of trouble keeping the ball in the park, with a 2.03 HR/9 over his four MLB seasons. On the plus side, he doesn’t issue many walks, and he has displayed some elite spin on his curveball.
Plutko is already 29 years old but still controllable through the 2024 season, which is undoubtedly of interest to the Orioles. Plutko wasn’t consistent enough to lock down a regular starting job with the pitching-rich Indians, but he’ll immediately become a candidate for the fifth spot in a Baltimore rotation that includes John Means, Matt Harvey, Dean Kremer, and Wade LeBlanc. Alternatively, Plutko could also be deployed out of the bullpen as a long reliever or swingman.
The Plutko trade is a logical pickup for the Orioles, but the follow-up transaction is unusual, as Sanchez was projected to be the team’s starting second baseman. The O’s claimed Sanchez off waivers from the White Sox in October, and while Baltimore could simply be taking a calculated risk that another team won’t claim the former Gold Glover, the DFA would seem to indicate that Sanchez isn’t seen as a big factor in the Orioles’ plans.
Sanchez avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $1MM deal for the 2021 season, but since arb contracts are only guaranteed once the player makes the Opening Day roster, the Orioles will only owe Sanchez 45 days of termination pay (roughly $250K) for being cut in the last half of Spring Training. While not a huge savings, the financial aspect of the Sanchez DFA can’t be overlooked as a notable factor, considering how the Orioles have been looking to save money whenever possible this offseason.
If Sanchez ends up elsewhere, Pat Valaika, Ramon Urias, Jahmai Jones, and non-roster invite Stevie Wilkerson are on hand as second base options. The Orioles could juggle playing time between multiple members of this group rather than stick with a true everyday second baseman.
1:19pm: The Orioles announced that Hernandez has requested and been granted his release. He’s not expected to re-sign a new deal with the O’s, tweets Joe Trezza of MLB.com.
For awhile this spring, it looked like King Felix would indeed win an opportunity to begin the season in the Orioles rotation, but an elbow injury knocked him out of action in mid-March and undermined his efforts. Had he made the roster, he would have been in line for a $1MM salary.
Prior to the injury, Hernandez made three starts, threw 5 2/3 innings, and allowed five earned runs, six hits, two walks, and a hit batsman. He also struck out five. But there simply wasn’t enough evidence that Hernandez would even be healthy enough to take a turn every five days.
Hernandez last pitched in the Majors in 2019. He has a 169-136 record in 2,729 2/3 innings over 418 career starts – all with the Mariners. The soon-to-be 35-year-old put up 50.3 bWAR/54.1 fWAR over 15 seasons in Seattle.
Anthony Santander isn’t in the Orioles lineup today, and it seems as if the outfielder will miss his fifth consecutive spring game. Manager Brandon Hyde told MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko and other reporters that Santander has been bothered by a sore oblique, though Santander has still been working out and could potentially get back on the field as early as Monday.