Archive for Orioles

Scouting the Mesa Brothers

On Monday, the Marlins officially signed Cuban OFs Victor Victor Mesa and Victor Mesa Jr. for approximately $5 million and $1 million, respectively, according to MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez. Below is a post published earlier this month featuring scouting information on each of them — plus pitcher Sandy Gaston — sourced from clubs who attended their lone stateside workout.

Marlins Park hosted three Cuban prospects — CF Victor Victor Mesa (our No. 1 international free agent on THE BOARD), RHP Sandy Gaston (No. 20), and OF Victor Mesa, Jr. (not ranked) — for a workout on Friday. The media was not allowed at this scouts-only event, but we’ve collected thoughts from some evaluators who attended the showcase, which featured a standard array of activities for a baseball workout, including a 60-yard dash, outfield drills, and some reps against live, Marlins instructional league pitching. We’ve compiled some thoughts from people who attended the workout below, as well as some of our own thoughts on what kind of bonuses talents like this typically command on the pool-capped, international-free-agent market.

Cuban prospects have sometimes undergone drastic physical transformations between the point at which they’ve last been observed in Cuba and their workouts for teams. Sometimes these changes are positive (as with Luis Robert, who looked like an Ancient Greek sculpture when he worked out for teams in the Dominican Republic in 2017) and sometimes they are not (Yasiel Puig’s living conditions made it impossible for him to remain in baseball shape for his eventual workout in Mexico), but this was not the case on Friday. Victor Victor Mesa, 22, looks to have retained the sort of physicality he possessed the last several years in Cuba. He ran his 60-yard dash in about 6.5 seconds (give or take a few hundredths of a second, depending on the stopwatch), which is in the 65-70 range on the 20-80 scale, and he’s a 60 runner in games as he was in the past, while his arm remains above average.

Mesa hit some balls out to his pull side during batting practice, showing 50-grade raw power, but he has a linear, contact-oriented swing that we think will lead to below-average power output in games. There’s no question he can hit, defend, and add value on the bases, but there’s real doubt about the game application of his power. In aggregate, it looks like an average to slightly below-average offensive profile on an above-average defender at a premium position. Scouts think Mesa is a low-risk, moderate impact prospect who should be ready for the big leagues relatively soon. He garners frequent comparisons to Cubs CF Albert Almora. There’s a chance Mesa has a three-win season or two at peak, but expectations are more of a solid 1.5- to 2.0-win type player. He’s a 45+ FV on our July 2nd version of THE BOARD, which would be somewhere in the 130 to 175 range overall in the minors.

Mesa’s talent would typically be valued between $5 million and $10 million (depending on market conditions when he became a free agent) in the prior, non-pooled international environment, and that would come with a matching tax for exceeding pool limitations, so call it about $15 million in a total outlay. That kind of money isn’t available on the July 2 market anymore. The lack of comparable talents still available at this point, however, could help Mesa earn a larger bonus than Shohei Ohtani ($2.3 mil) did last year, even though Mesa isn’t nearly as talented, because everyone with money left wants to land him. We consider the Marlins the favorites to do so.

Cuban righty Sandy Gaston, just 16, ranked 20th on our July 2nd board as the lowest 40 FV, and he was the clear second-most interesting prospect at the event. Kiley saw him in February when he topped out at 97 mph and flashed an average curve and change, but Gaston also sent four balls to the backstop in a one-inning showcase against other 16-year-olds. Last Friday, Gaston worked 94-97 with similar secondary stuff, but with better feel, particularly in his first inning. There’s still a reliever look to him due to his delivery and mature physicality, but at age 16, so much will change that you can’t project that with certainty at this point, and Gaston has one of the most talented pure arms in the world at his age.

There generally is not a market for $2-plus million bonuses for 16-year-old pitchers, as teams tend to spend more on hitters. The track record of flame-throwing teenagers is not good. We consider Gaston to be a seven-figure talent but think many teams probably have him valued a bit lower than that because of the risk associated with his demographic. New Phillies RHP Starlyn Castillo is pretty similar to Gaston (we ranked Castillo 18th in the most recent July 2nd class) and he got $1.5 million, which is close to where we think Gaston’s bonus will be if teams engage in a bidding war for him after Mesa signs. Gaston was rumored to have a deal for that much or more with the Marlins around July 2nd, but it never materialized.

Victor Mesa, Jr. ran his 60-yard dash in the 6.9 second, which is average. He also showed a 55 arm and a linear swing geared more for contact. He’s 17, so there’s still room to project improvement based on maturing physicality, but he’s currently a tweener with hit and throw being his only above-average tools — and some scouts lower than that on the hit tool. On talent, we think he fits in the low, six-figure range.

Reading the Market

So what teams are best positioned to sign these guys? A glance at the market reveals that the Orioles have the biggest hard-capped pool amount remaining at about $6.7 million. That’s the most anyone can offer a single player, making any price that a team pays for Victor Victor a bargain compared to what he’d get in an open market. The Orioles ($6.7 mil) and Marlins — who just traded fringe pitching prospect Ryan Lillie to Cincinnati and reliever Kyle Barraclough to Washington in exchange for pool money — can offer the most at this point.

For reference, Jon Jay is a past-his-prime version of Mesa, and he garnered $4.4 million in 2018 ($3 mil plus what he earned in attained incentives) for his age-33 season. Victor Victor will likely get close to that amount, but represents six years of similar production instead of one and, at age 22, also possesses the possibility of turning into a better player than we’re projecting, He’d also be very marketable in Miami.

The Marlins, as noted, have made some moves to increase their pool size, and buzz among scouts and executives is that they’re looking to add all three players (the Mesa’s are likely to sign with the same team), which would cost at least $5 million, possibly over $6 million. The Orioles are obviously already in position to offer something like that, but that organization is currently in a state of flux due to the recent departures of the manager and GM, and you’d understand if the three Cubans would prefer a comparable offer from the Marlins. Thus, it seems reasonable that they’ll wait and see how much the Marlins can add to their pool.

As for what will be left over for the clubs that don’t land these Cubans, there’s some chatter among scouts that some clubs have deals with Mexican prospects who aren’t eligible to sign at the moment, as MLB has shut down the country to clubs for an unspecified period. If it doesn’t open before next July 2nd, then those clubs would have to find somewhere else to spend their pool money. We think they’d try to spread it around across several six-figure talents and that prospects in Asia may be targets.

There’s more intrigue surrounding this process due to the recent Sports Illustrated report regarding the U.S. Department of Justice investigation of MLB affairs in foreign countries. All three of these Cuban players are represented by Scott Shapiro and Barry Praver of Magnus Sports Agency. Praver and Shapiro once employed Bart Hernandez who in 2017 was convicted of illegally smuggling Cuban ballplayers to the U.S. via other countries.


Seth Lugo, Collin McHugh, and Ryan Meisinger on Developing Their Sliders

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Seth Lugo, Collin McHugh, and Ryan Meisinger — on how they learned and developed their sliders.

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Seth Lugo, Mets

“I’ve pretty much developed my pitches through repetition, especially my breaking pitches. My sinker, as well. I didn’t have them coming out of high school. I didn’t learn my sinker until Low-A. All of my pitches really came after that season.

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Sunday Notes: Josh James Is More Than a Fringe Five Favorite

Josh James has been a Fringe Five favorite this season. He’s also been a shooting star. The 25-year-old hurler began the year in Double-A, and he’s finishing it with aplomb in Houston. Since debuting with the Astros on September 1, James has punched out 27 batters, and allowed just 14 hits and six runs, in 21 innings of work.

His ascent has come as a surprise. A 34th-round pick out of Western Oklahoma State University in 2014, James went unmentioned in our preseason Astros Top Prospects list (ergo his eligibility to take up residence in the aforementioned Carson Cistulli column).

Every bit as surprising was the righty’s response when I asked him how he goes about attacking hitters.

“To be honest, I’m still trying to figure that out,” James told me on the heels of his rock-solid MLB debut. “A couple of years ago I was a low-90s guy and mixed up pitches. I’d throw curveballs in 0-0 counts, work backwards. All that stuff. Now the velo is up a little higher, so I can throw more fastballs and attack the zone a little more.”

The velocity jump is real. James’ four-seam heater has averaged a tick over 97 MPH since his call up, and he’s been told that he touched 101 earlier this summer. Getting a good night’s sleep has helped breathe more life into his arsenal. Read the rest of this entry »


Chris Davis Is Having Merely One of the Worst Seasons Ever

This season can’t end soon enough for the Orioles, whose 111 losses match the 2004 Diamondbacks and 2013 Astros for the most defeats by any team since the Tigers lost 119 in 2003. While Tuesday night’s postponed game against the Red Sox — one that carries no implications for the playoffs, given that the Boston has clinched the league’s best record — will be made up as part of a day/night doubleheader at Fenway Park on Wednesday, the least that we can hope for is that Chris Davis’ season is done.

You may recall that Davis, the all-or-nothing slugging first baseman who has belted as many as 53 homers in a season (2013) and struck out as many as 219 times (2016), got off to such a dreadful start that on June 15, I wrote that he might be having the worst season ever, at least as far as FanGraphs’ measurements go. Through the Orioles’ first 67 games (of which he had played 57), he had “hit” .150/.227/.227 for a 24 wRC+ and “produced” -1.9 WAR, putting him on pace for somewhere between -4.6 and -4.7 over a 162-game season, depending on the rounding — lower than any player in the annals.

The same day that my piece was published, the Orioles announced that they had benched Davis — who at that point hadn’t actually played since June 11 — indefinitely in an effort to pull him out of his slide. He ended up sitting for eight games, and homered in the second plate appearance of his return, off the Braves’ Sean Newcomb on June 22. The gambit worked, in that he generally wasn’t as bad after the benching as before; in fact, he rarely scraped bottom to the same degree:

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The Law of Tanking, Part Two

After part one of this series, many of you began debating whether, under Major League Rule 21(a), tanking — that is, deliberately conceding a season for the purposes of experiencing success in later seasons — was barred by the same Rule which bars deliberately losing a game. I’d like to address that matter here.

To refresh our memories, Rule 21(a) says this:

(a) MISCONDUCT IN PLAYING BASEBALL. Any player or person connected with a Club who shall promise or agree to lose, or to attempt to lose, or to fail to give his best efforts towards the winning of any baseball game with which he is or may be in any way concerned, or who shall intentionally lose or attempt to lose, or intentionally fail to give his best efforts towards the winning of any such baseball game, or who shall solicit or attempt to induce any player or person connected with a Club to lose or attempt to lose, or to fail to give his best efforts towards the winning of any baseball game with which such other player or person is or may be in any way concerned, or who, being solicited by any person, shall fail to inform the Commissioner (in the case of a player or person associated with a Major League Club) or the President of the Minor League Association (in the case of a player or person associated with an independent Minor League Club) immediately of such solicitation, and of all facts and circumstances connected therewith, shall be declared permanently ineligible.

To understand this in context, imagine (if you will) a scenario in which the 2018 Baltimore Orioles made a deal with the Devil at the All-Star break. As part of that deal, the Orioles agreed to voluntarily lose 90% of their games in the second half of the season. In exchange, Mephistopheles would agree to give the Orioles 95 wins and a playoff berth in 2021.

On the one hand, that would appear to violate the Rules, right? Indeed, we established last time that a team (including its front office, not just the players) can’t try to lose on purpose. On the other hand, this deal with the Devil isn’t all that different, practically speaking, from the efforts by a club to sell off assets at the trade deadline, is it? By trading Manny Machado, the Orioles made themselves deliberately worse — and less likely to win games in the second half — in hopes of winning in the future. But then, that can’t be right, because front offices don’t get barred from strip-mining their rosters in search of prospect gold.

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Ryan Borucki, Jacob deGrom, and Yefry Ramirez on Developing Their Changeups

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Ryan Borucki, and Jacob deGrom, and Yefry Ramirez — on how they learned and developed their changeups.

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Ryan Borucki, Blue Jays

“When I was 12, I hurt my arm. I had ‘Little League elbow’ from throwing too many curveballs at a young age. Because my elbow didn’t feel so good, my dad canned my curveball. He was like, ‘Alright. You’re just going to throw a fastball and a changeup.’

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Daily Prospect Notes Finale: Arizona Fall League Roster Edition

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Note from Eric: Hey you, this is the last one of these for the year, as the minor-league regular season comes to a close. Thanks for reading. I’ll be taking some time off next week, charging the batteries for the offseason duties that lie ahead for Kiley and me.

D.J. Peters, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Level: Double-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: 7   FV: 45+
Line: 4-for-7, 2 HR, 2B (double header)

Notes
A comparison of DJ Peters’ 2017 season in the Cal League and his 2018 season at Double-A gives us a good idea of what happens to on-paper production when a hitter is facing better pitching and defenses in a more stable offensive environment.

D.J. Peters’ Production
Year AVG OBP SLG K% BB% BABIP wRC+
2017 .276 .372 .514 32.2% 10.9% .385 137
2018 .228 .314 .451 34.0% 8.1% .305 107

Reports of Peters’ physical abilities haven’t changed, nor is his batted-ball profile different in such a way that one would expect a downtick in production. The 2018 line is, I think, a more accurate distillation of Peters’ abilities. He belongs in a talent bucket with swing-and-miss outfielders like Franchy Cordero, Randal Grichuk, Michael A. Taylor, Bradley Zimmer, etc. These are slugging center fielders whose contact skills aren’t particularly great. Players like this are historically volatile from one season to the next but dominant if/when things click. They’re often ~1.5 WAR players who have some years in the three-win range. Sometimes they also turn into George Springer.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 8/29/2018

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Cal Stevenson, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Level: Advanced Rookie   Age: 21   Org Rank: NR   FV: 35
Line: 3-for-4, 2B, 4 SB

Notes
College seniors are expected to dominate short-season leagues after signing but what Cal Stevenson has done merits some discussion, in part because he played through a hand injury this spring that may have clouded his actual skill. Stevenson has a .513 OBP at Bluefield because he has walked nearly three times more often than he’s struck out. He’s also stolen 21 bags in 22 attempts since signing. These numbers corroborate scouting reports which compliment Stevenson’s plus speed and bat-to-ball skills before noting his likely corner-outfield defensive projection and lack of characteristic power for the position. But let’s keep an eye on this guy because Toronto has a track record of making swing adjustments to bat-first college players that have helped those players become more viable prospects.

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Orioles Pitching Prospect Zac Lowther Has Vexing Funk

Zac Lowther has been deceptively good. In 20 starts this season between Low-A Delmarva and High-A Frederick, the 22-year-old southpaw boasts a 2.11 ERA and has punched out 134 while allowing just 76 hits in 106.2 innings. He came into the campaign No. 10 on our Orioles top-prospect list — no other publication had him ranked higher — and his propensity to miss barrels is due in large part to his delivery. Eric Longenhagen described the 6-foot-2, 235-pound hurler as “a low-slot lefty with vexing funk.”

Lowther has heard similar things from opposing hitters.

“I don’t have overwhelming velocity, but guys tell me the ball kind of jumps out of my hand,” related Lowther, whom the Orioles drafted 74th overall last summer out of Xavier University. They’ll say, ‘I don’t know what you do,’ and I’ll be like, ‘I just throw the ball as well as I can.’ It’s not something I actively think about. It’s more of them telling me I’m deceptive, as opposed to me figuring it out.”

Which doesn’t mean that he hasn’t figured out. Pitchers almost always understand what makes them effective, so Lowther knows as well as anyone why he induces a lot of uncomfortable swings.

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Elegy for ’18 – Baltimore Orioles

A visual representation of Baltimore’s 2018 campaign.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

The Orioles became the first team in Major League Baseball to be eliminated from all theoretical playoff contention in 2018, the first team to cross to the “other side,” where even Harry and Lloyd can’t say there’s a chance. As such, the Baltimore Orioles become our first team in our series of post-mortems for the 2018 season, in which we’ll talk about where each team was, is, and where they’re headed.

The Setup

After a 75-87 season in 2017, the Baltimore Orioles were in no mood for a rebuild. The season marked the team’s first losing campaign since 2011, a stretch that marked the most successful sustained non-losing run by the Baltimore Orioles since the early 1980s, a happier time featuring Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Ken Singleton, Cal Ripken a little later on, and until his first retirement, legendary manager/tomato grower/curse-word innovator/umpire fighter Earl Weaver.

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Would the Orioles Be Better with Rafael Palmeiro?

Chris Davis is having a no good, terrible, very bad season. He’s hitting .163/.245/.310, good for just a 49 wRC+, and overall has contributed 25 weighted runs below average. His once-solid defense at first base seems to have deteriorated, as well: his -3.6 UZR/150 this year at that position represents the lowest figure he’s recorded since playing there in limited fashion for the Orioles back in 2012. Overall, he’s posted -2.2 WAR, and if that sounds like it’s close to historically bad, that’s because it is. And while Davis is no longer in danger of authoring the worst season ever, there’s no disputing that, as a player, his 2018 campaign leaves much to be desired.

Davis’s futility led a reader to pose an interesting question in Dan Szymborski’s chat this week: would the Orioles be better off using Rafael Palmeiro at first base in 2018 than Davis? Because this seemed like a question worth answering, I enlisted Dan’s help (in exchange for crafting some documents so he could buy the Orioles) in doing just that.

Rafael Palmeiro, in case you were wondering, is now approaching his 54th birthday. Back in his heyday, he was one of the more underrated superstars of the game. Over more than 2,800 games spread across 20 major-league seasons — mostly at first base and DH — he hit .288/.371/.515 (130 wRC+) and accrued 70 fWAR, including 10 (!!) seasons above 4 WAR. His counting stats, too, are impressive: 3,020 hits, 569 home runs, and even 97 stolen bases (including 22 in 1993). Perhaps most incredible of all, Palmeiro struck out 1,348 times in his career and walked 1,353 times , posting identical 11.2% rates.

Palmeiro was, in many ways, a complete hitter. He would probably be a deserving member of the Hall of Fame, too, had he not told Congress under oath that he’d never used performance enhancing drugs, then failed a steroid test just six weeks later. Congress even considered perjury charges against Palmeiro before concluding there was insufficient evidence to charge him in a report which, notably, called Palmeiro’s testimony “compelling” and included that he had passed a polygraph test.

But we’re not talking about prime Palmeiro. We’re talking about 2018 Palmeiro. While at first that might sound bizarre, Palmeiro is currently playing professional baseball. He and his son are teammates on the Cleburne Railroaders, a team in the independent American Association. And wouldn’t you know it, Palmeiro is raking. Though a full 26 years older than the league’s average player, Palmeiro is hitting .301/.424/.495. (His son Patrick is hitting .239 with a .654 OPS.) He has 20 walks to 25 strikeouts, showing he still has some plate discipline skills, and he’s been getting better as the season wears on, raising his OPS from .801 to .919 just since June 27.

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FanGraphs Audio: Eric Longenhagen’s Prospect Road Trip

Episode 826
Lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen recently traveled from Phoenix to Baltimore to Washington DC to Chicago to Catasauqua to Hartford to Wilmington, not necessarily in that order. What he does in this episode of FanGraphs Audio is to recount his travels.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 1 hr 11 min play time.)

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Braves Add Gaus to Sputtering Rotation

For as pitching-rich as the Braves may be, they could not afford to stand pat at the non-waiver trade deadline, particularly given the recent struggles of their rotation, the uncharted territory towards which their top starters are heading innings-wise, and a 31-games-in-31-days stretch that has only just begun. On Tuesday afternoon, they dealt four prospects and $2.5 million in international signing bonus slot money to the Orioles in exchange for 27-year-old righty starter Kevin Gausman and 35-year-old righty reliever Darren O’Day It’s the second deal in three days between the two teams, following Atlanta’s acquisition of 32-year-old righty reliever Brad Brach, also in exchange for slot money.

At 56-47, the Braves entered Tuesday half a game back in both the NL East (behind the Phillies) and the Wild Card races (behind the D-backs, .001 ahead of the Rockies). They’ve generally gotten good work from their starters this year, at least in terms of ERA, as the rotation ranks third in the NL (3.68). They’re a shakier eighth in FIP (4.19), with a gaudy 9.8% walk rate, the league’s second-worst. The team’s 9-13 record this month owes plenty to the unit’s recent struggles; their 4.90 ERA and 4.95 FIP in July both rank in the bottom third of the league.

All of that has been a problem, but if the Braves stay In This Thing, they’ll have another:

Braves Starters’ 2018 Performance and 2017 Innings
Pitcher GS IP ERA FIP WAR 2018 IP 2017 IP
Kevin Gausman 21 124.0 4.43 4.58 1.3 124.0 186.2
Sean Newcomb 21 119.2 3.23 4.05 1.5 119.2 157.2
Julio Teheran 21 115.0 4.46 5.33 -0.1 115.0 188.1
Mike Foltynewicz 20 112.1 3.04 3.54 2.2 112.1 154.0
Brandon McCarthy* 15 78.2 4.92 4.79 0.2 78.2 100.1
Anibal Sanchez 13 75.0 3.12 3.93 1.0 81.2 125.0
Michael Soroka* 5 25.2 3.51 2.85 0.6 66.1 153.2
Max Fried 4 19.2 2.75 2.91 0.5 80.0 144.2
Matt Wisler 3 17.1 3.63 4.03 0.2 96.2 126.0
Luiz Gohara 1 4.0 4.5 3.16 0.1 68.1 153.0
* = disabled list.
2017 and 2018 innings totals include all roles and all leagues for regular season and postseason.

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Brewers Acquire Jonathan Schoop Presumably to Play Infield

Ahead of the deadline, the Brewers traded for bullpen help in the form of Joakim Soria. They appeared to need a second baseman, but then they traded for Mike Moustakas and moved Travis Shaw to second base in an unusual experiment. With those needs met, the Brewers turned their attention to the starting-pitching market. Then Chris Archer went to the Pirates, Kevin Gausman went to the Braves, Matt Harvey stayed in Cincinnati, and Kyle Gibson remained in Minnesota. Without seeing any other starting options available, the team landed another infielder in the form of Jonathan Schoop of the Orioles.

Brewers receive:

Orioles receive:

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Atlanta Acquires Kevin Gausman

The Baltimore Orioles continued their suddenly aggressive rebuild this afternoon, trading Kevin Gausman and an injured Darren O’Day to the Atlanta Braves for a RHP Evan Phillips, INF Jean Carlos Encarnación, C Brett Cumberland, LHP Bruce Zimmermann, and international bonus-slot money. A year ago, the Orioles still thought they were a contender and the Braves were still rebuilding, but with the Braves a half-game out of first in the NL East and Orioles a nearly striking 42 games out in the AL East, those positions have clearly flipped.

Twenty years ago, I’d have been sad to see Kevin Gausman leave Baltimore. But at some point between when I enjoyed baseball as a teenager and enjoyed baseball as someone covering it for a career, my relationship with the game changed. I’m from Baltimore, grew up an Orioles fan, and still identify one, but the truth is, I’m a fan of players before I am a fan of teams. At this point, I’d much rather see Kevin Gausman succeed anywhere else — even with the Yankees — than struggle or even just be a league-average starter as an Oriole, even if someday he were to throw a game for another team that ends an O’s season.

Gausman is not an ace pitcher, though he shows glimpses of it at times, which is why he’s simultaneously maddening and fascinating. He doesn’t throw as hard as he used to, when he’d average 99 mph over full games at times, but he’s also been trying to take a few ticks off his pitches to try and improve his command, which occasionally failed him in 2017. Many, including myself, were hopeful after Gausman’s 9.6 K/9, 3.41 ERA second-half last year (7.7, 5.85 in the first-half), but the same kind of frustrating inconsistency has continued. He still has a mid-90s fastball that can touch something even higher than that, a slider, a splitter that can make hitters look helpless when he’s hitting his locations, and a slider of varying quality.

The FanGraphs Depth Charts have the Braves with the 17th-ranked starting rotation, in terms of rest-of-season projections. While the ZiPS projections are more optimistic, pegging Atlanta at 13th, that’s still a rotation that could use an upgrade. Gausman has the potential to pay off well for Atlanta if the team can figure out what they can do with him that the Orioles never could figure out, similar to the Cubs and Jake Arrieta. With Gausman not set to become a free agent until after the 2020 season, his move to Atlanta could pay off extremely well for the team in the best-case scenario, something you couldn’t say if he were simply a two-month down-the-stretch rental.

More to come from us on the prospects later!


Let’s Sell the Orioles!

Gausman to the Pirates?
(Photo: Keith Allison)

During the All-Star break, Manny Machado was traded to the Dodgers for a solid package of prospects led by Yusniel Diaz. Last night, longtime closer Zach Britton was shipped off to the Yankees for Dillon Tate and some other interesting names. Both moves were obviously made with a view to the Orioles’ future.

Both moves were also inevitable, though — and, in a way, easy. It doesn’t take a fancypants scientist to figure out that trading terrific players who’re headed to free agency is a smart thing to do; us regular-pantsed folks can see that for ourselves. Now, though, there are harder decisions to make, other players to give away, if the Orioles are going to embrace a full rebuild. Complicating this is an organization that has shown a tendency to balk at hard decisions and put off future plans, preferring instead to tread water with the least aggressive quarter-measures available. In this case, however, action is required.

Unfortunately, we can’t just waltz into the B&O Warehouse and start trading away Orioles. Seriously, I double-checked what my credentials will permit. No, we may have to seize the team by force. Let’s presume that our dark FanGraphs forces can seize the corporate offices successfully — we do have a particular expertise involving WAR — and gain control of the franchise. It wouldn’t be the first war lost by the Angelos family, and Sheryl Ring can draft some paperwork to make this nice and legal. We have to be quick, though, before we all end up in jail. So let’s start the sale.

Kevin Gausman to the Pittsburgh Pirates

It seems a little too easy to sell Kevin Gausman to the Chicago Cubs and, really, at this point, I’m tired of Orioles pitchers going to Chicago and experiencing a renaissance. Jake Arrieta is the most noted example, but the Cubs squeezed significant value out of Jason Hammel, Pedro Strop, and even Tsuyoshi Wada. The Pirates aren’t rightly interested in rentals: they’ll require somebody who’s useful beyond the 2018 season because, even with their 11-game winning streak, they’re still more likely than not to miss the postseason.

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Scouting Baltimore’s Return for Zach Britton

Baltimore’s deadline purge of big-league mainstays continued Tuesday night as they sent LHP Zach Britton to the division rival Yankees for a trio of pitching prospects: RHPs Dillon Tate and Cody Carroll, as well as LHP Josh Rogers.

Barring something unforeseen, all three of the new Orioles have a probability of contributing at some level in the majors, as all three are upper-level arms with at least playable big-league stuff. As seemed to also be the case in the Manny Machado deal, Baltimore has (consciously or not) prioritized quantity and probability over potential impact as they begin their rebuild in earnest. Other than a fully realized Tate, none of the pitchers acquired for Britton is likely to be more than a role-playing big leaguer.

So let’s tart with Tate, as he’s not only the player with the best draft pedigree but also the deal’s most volatile piece. He entered his junior year at UC Santa Barbara having thrown just 46 collegiate total innings as an underclassman — this due to having worked out of the bullpen as a sophomore and having barely worked at all as a freshman. But he had the best stuff on a staff that also included Cleveland rookie Shane Bieber and enough strike-throwing ability to start, so he was moved into UCSB’s rotation and asked to throw more than twice as many innings in one season than he had in his entire career to that point.

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The Yankees’ Bullpen Is About to Get More Ridiculous

Reports suggest that Zach Britton has a new employer.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

The New York Yankees have the best bullpen in the game. Aroldis Chapman is great. David Robertson is having a typical year for David Robertson. Dellin Betances seems to have recovered his form and is, once again, pitching like a relief ace. Chad Green and Jonathan Holder — even A.J. Cole and Adam Warren — have pitched well.

The Yankees don’t need bullpen help. Yet, if rumors are true, they are about to get it anyway. Jon Heyman reports tonight that New York and Baltimore are close to finalizing a trade that would send Zach Britton to the Bronx.

As for whom the Orioles will receive, Ken Rosenthal reports that right-handed pitching prospect Dillon Tate is expected to headline the deal. Sources tell both Joel Sherman and Heyman that the deal will look like this:

Yankees receive:

Orioles receive:

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A Conversation with New Oriole Zach Pop

Zach Pop isn’t the biggest name going from the Dodgers to the Orioles in the Manny Machado trade. But he does have the most electric arm, as well as an impressive track record against A-ball competition. In 35 professional games, the 21-year-old Brampton, Ontario native has allowed just 27 hits — only one of them a home run — in 48.1 innings. His ERA is a minuscule 0.93.

A seventh-round pick last year out of the University of Kentucky, Pop profiles, at least stylistically, as a right-handed version of Zach Britton. His signature pitch is a sinker that not only dips and dives but also sits in the mid-90s and ticks even higher. The worm-killer certainly proved to be an anathema to Midwest and California League hitters this season. Pitching for the Great Lakes Loons and Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, Pop boasted a 64% ground-ball rate and a .168 batting-average-against before being promoted to Double-A earlier this week (and subsequently swapped to the Dodgers, who are reportedly assigning him to the Bowie BaySox).

Pop talked about his aggressive approach on the mound and his decision to not sign with his then-favorite team out of high school, prior to the trade from Los Angeles to Baltimore.

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Pop on how he gets outs: “For me, it’s being able to throw that two-seam sinker — whatever you want to call it — to both sides of the plate, and mixing in the slider. I’ll go in with the four-seam, as well, to give a little bit of a different look, but everything starts off with the two-seamer sinker. That’s my strength. I like to stay down in the zone.

“I’m hunting outs any way I can get them. My goal is to induce weak contact, and if they want to swing at the first or second pitch and make an out before I can get a strikeout opportunity, than so be it. I haven’t really struck out that many guys this year with the Quakes, only around one per inning, maybe a little less. For the most part, I’m just trying to be efficient. I’m trying to break a barrel or just keep the ball on the ground.”

On his sinker and his delivery: “I do [have good velocity]. Yesterday, I hit 99 with my two-seamer. It used to be the case that I’d throw harder with my four-seam, but now it’s kind of equaled out. The only thing that’s really different is the movement. I get some pretty crazy numbers on my sinker. I think I have something like 20 inches of horizontal, and five inches of vertical, movement.

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Scouting the Orioles’ Return for Manny Machado

The prospect package acquired from Los Angeles in exchange for Manny Machado is deep on warm bodies who are likely to wear a big-league uniform and produce some kind of value. One or two of those new Orioles has a realistic chance of producing two wins or better annually and making enough noise to drown out the howls of a fanbase that’s losing its most talented player since Cal Ripken.

The collection of talent sent to Baltimore is headlined by 21-year-old Cuban OF Yusniel Diaz and 22-year-old righty Dean Kremer, the latter of whom had recently been promoted to Double-A. Up-and-down utility infielder Breyvic Valera, 21-year-old reliever Zach Pop, and 21-year-old breakout performer INF Rylan Bannon were also acquired in the deal.

Diaz, whom Kiley and I saw this weekend at the Futures Game, is a career .288 hitter who leaves behind a .314/.428/.477 slash line at Double-A Tulsa. Diaz homered twice on Sunday, once to right-center, once to left-center, and had one of the better batting-practice sessions on the World team.

For all that, Diaz hasn’t exhibited much over-the-fence power as a professional, even during his 165-game stay in the Cal League between 2016 and -17. He’s an all-fields line-drive hitter who keeps his hands inside the ball and peppers the right-center-field gap. He’s much more likely to display doubles power in games, which could cap his ceiling a bit, as the offensive bar in left field, where Diaz projects due to speed and arm-strength limitations, is quite high.

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