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May 6, 2011

Oriole news and notes: talking draft, Machado, Tillman, Fox, Markakis, Rapada

The first round of the 2011 draft will take play a month from today with the Orioles picking fourth overall. I spoke to Director of Amateur Scouting Joe Jordan the other day and he said that he and his national cross checkers and supervisors are currently rotating around the country so everybody gets looks at the players the club is considering for its first pick.

Jordan said that he has a pretty good idea of the two or three players that the club will choose from, but it’s still too early to narrow it down so there remains about 10 players under consideration. He of course didn’t read me off that list, but you can assume it includes the following: Rice University third baseman Anthony Rendon; UCLA pitchers Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer; fellow college pitchers Danny Hultzen (Virginia), Sonny Gray (Vanderbilt) and Jed Bradley (Georgia Tech); Oklahoma prep pitcher Dylan Bundy; and Kansas high school outfielder Bubba Starling (outfielder). What I know about the above-mentioned players is pretty much what I read from Keith Law of ESPN.com, Jim Callis of Baseball America and other draft and prospect pundits, so I’m not going to pretend this early that I have any inside information on who the Orioles are going to pick. If you were to ask me what my gut feeling is, I’d tell you one of the college pitchers. I still haven’t seen a mock draft yet where Rendon falls out of the top three, and I think the Orioles would love to add a polished lefty, like Hultzen, who could move through the system reasonably quickly and join a rotation that includes southpaws Brian Matusz and Zach Britton. However, Bundy, who reportedly throws in the mid to upper 90’s, will certainly garner some consideration because the Orioles know him so well. For one, the Orioles’ Jordan lives in Oklahoma so he’s been watching him pitch for several years. Two, Bundy’s older brother, Bobby, was an 8th-round draft pick by the Orioles in 2008 and he’s currently pitching very well for Single-A Frederick. Though picking a high school pitcher may not be well received by a fan base still smarting from the 2009 selection of Matt Hobgood, Bundy could be too promising to pass up.

I’ve heard conflicting information about the severity of Manny Machado’s left knee injury, so it’s probably best to just wait until after the Single-A Delmarva shortstop is checked out by team doctors today before speculating too much. However, it goes without saying that an extended absence would be a major blow to the organization and to its top prospect, who would miss out on valuable developmental time. It also seems like an appropriate time to point out what an awful week it has been for the Orioles’ minor league system. Consider the following: Single-A Frederick center fielder Trent Mummey sustained a concussion in a collision with the wall Wednesday and will miss at least two weeks. Double-A Bowie first baseman Joe Mahoney, the organization’s minor league player of the year last year, is headed back to the disabled list with a quad strain and he’s expected to miss three or four weeks. He’ll be joined on the DL by fellow Baysox infielder Billy Rowell, who is dealing with ankle tendonitis. Right-hander Jesse Beal, who had a solid year at Delmarva last season, had labrum surgery on Tuesday, while fellow pitching prospects Matt Hobgood and Ryan Berry remain in throwing programs as they try to rebound from arm injuries. It seems those clouds that have hovered over Camden Yards for a long time are spreading out a little to the Orioles’ affiliates.

Now onto a couple of things from the big league club, Monday’s off day could allow the Orioles to skip struggling starter Chris Tillman if they see fit. Pitching coach Mark Connor acknowledged that option yesterday, but said that a decision hasn’t been made yet. Britton, Jeremy Guthrie and Brad Bergesen will face the Tampa Bay Rays over the weekend. After Monday’s off day, Jake Arrieta will start the series opener against the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday. Tillman is on schedule to pitch the following day, but the Orioles could just bring back Britton on regular rest, followed by Guthrie and Bergesen. That would mean that they wouldn’t need a starter until next Saturday, May 14.

I’ve said this before – and I’m sure the Orioles are doing this as we speak – but it may be time to evaluate Jake Fox’s role on the club. Fox could be a very valuable bench player, but as we’ve seen, he’s miscast as the regular back-up catcher. Nobody was saying it yesterday because good teammates don’t say such things, but as much as Tillman struggled, Fox also had a forgettable game behind the plate. It could totally be a coincidence, but both Guthrie and Arrieta’s worst outings this season came with Fox behind the plate, and it couldn’t have been more obvious yesterday that Tillman and Fox were not in sync. In an ideal world, Fox would move around some, occasionally getting starts at first and third base, designated hitter and left field, while serving as a pinch hitter on days that he’s not playing. However, when J.J. Hardy comes back probably by next Tuesday, I’m not sure there is a single Oriole regular who manager Buck Showalter would take out in favor of Fox late in the game. It certainly doesn’t help that Fox is hitting .107 (3-for-28), and is 0-for-18 against left-handed pitching. I think Fox could flourish in a certain role, but it’s not the one that he’s being used in now. I think he would be the first one to agree with that.

Because I am contractually obligated to mention the name of Nick Markakis in every blog, he has multi-hit games in three of the Orioles' past four contests. It's a start, but his average is still .225 and he has just 11 RBIs.

Left-handed reliever Clay Rapada, who certainly is one of the candidates to be demoted if Hardy returns and the Orioles go to a 12-man pitching staff, has given up at least one earned run in five straight outings and his ERA stands at 15.75.

Posted by Jeff Zrebiec at 6:30 AM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Minors
        

Comments

What are the chances they try to move Fox to a National League team? He plays multiple positions and seems like a better fit for a National Legue team where he would be effective in a double switch. I realize its not likely it would result in a big prospect but it would solve their logjam on the bench when Hardy returns

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His value won't be high so any trade return would be nominal, if at all. But, sure, he'd probably fit better in the NL.

Way to go Jeff you did a wonderful job of plugging Nick, KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.

I really hope Jordan's new scouting staff starts to change this organization's fortunes this year at the draft.

It's really pretty amazing to go back and look at our drafts for the past 5 years. There doesn't seem to be one impact position player outside of Machado and Wieters. I know their job is extremely difficult, but it sure is hard to watch teams like TB draft well year after year.

Man I hope Machado is ok. Has he had any injury history at all?

Ah, look who took the bait!

Jeff (and everybody else)-
Where on earth did the notion that Fox is a 'big bat' come from? What value does Fox really have? He did well in Spring Training against mostly AAA caliber pitching and against MLB pitchers who were not really trying, but just getting warmed up for the regular season. Fox has never succeeded with the bat at the major league level. Fox is almost 29 years old and he is a career .228/.278/.414 hitter, which are horrible offensive numbers. Don't tell me that Fox is a 'defensive specialist', because Fox is of virtually no value defensively. To say that Fox can 'play' multiple positions is similar to saying that Wigginton can 'play' multiple positions. They both play all those positions terribly. The Orioles would be much better off if they dropped Fox and brought up Tatum.

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Jeff Z's reply: I think it came from those 10 Grapefruit League homers you spoke of. good point.

Jeff,

I give you credit for frank and sometimes brutal reporting on the progress of the team and the minor league system. Your style reminds me a little of Phil Jackman, who used to tell it like it is with no sugarcoat. Did you put the blurb about Nick in there just to agitate bob? That was funny.

What is your honest assessment of Mark Reynolds and Derrick Lee at this point? I know it's still early but it's getting later earlier every day.

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Jeff Z's reply: Nah Gil, I try to avoid playing childish 'I told you so' games. I just thought it was worth mentioning because other than Arrieta's gem and Jones heads-ip play on Wednesday, Markakis showing some signs of life was pretty much the only other positive during the season. One thing I'd say about Lee for the most part, he still has decent at-bats. The thing that concerns me about Lee is the lack of power right now. Granted, he hit a bomb just foul yesterday, but for the most part, it's a lot of pop-ups and groundballs. That of course will prompt question of age, bat speed, etc. I have no doubt Reynolds has enough power. It's just selecting the right pitch and doing something with it. You'd hope he gets comfortable with the mechanics and approach where he gets on a little hot streak. I agree with you. I hate this "It's still early" nonsense. It's May 6. The offense was supposed to be the strength of the team and it really has given the starters very little margin of error.

The Machado injury scares the bejeezus out of me. Any news you can get there asap would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Mr. Jeff.

Bubba Starling just sounds like a ballplayer. When you give a kid a name like that he's got to be destined to be a tobacco chewing, charlie hustle type ballplayer. I like it! O's could use a guy like that.

Any chance Snyder gets a look as a back up catcher / first baseman?

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Jeff Z's reply: I don't see anything imminent, but I think Snyder will get called up at some point this season assuming he keeps hitting and stays healthy. I think it will be as 1B/DH though, not backup catcher.

Minor point, but think you need to correct May 7 to May 14 for the time Tillman might next pitch, wrong Saturday.

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Jeff Z's reply: Good call Boog, thanks.

Jeff, thank you for finally answering, albeit indirectly, a question I asked weeks ago regarding why you comment about certain players and not others when "others" sometimes are more deserving of the ink. Are you also obligated to not comment on certain "others"? Thanks for your candidness.

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Jeff Z's reply: Not sure I understand the question, and I don't remember your post on this topic a couple of weeks ago. I was largely joking about the contractually-obligated Markakis thing because it seems like he's the polarizng topic these days on this blog. I'll comment on any of them if I'm asked a specific question. These news and notes items, I usually just write off the top of my large head.

Hate to say it, but I agree with the Fox naysayers.

Last year, I was a tremendous proponent of the trade to bring Fox here (maybe that had more to do with the riddance of one Garrett Atkins?), but he clearly has no valuable role on this team. It's really just a numbers game, and not a reflection per se on Fox himself.

Now I have no problem sacrificing some defense for some offense in the AL East, but when you're 3-for-28, you're really not lending any credibility to that argument.

That being said, when Hardy returns, Rapada will indeed be the one to go. No reason to carry 13 pitchers on this team:
The starters have been doing a good job of remaining consistent, if not spectacular, with the notable exception of Tillman (who just seems to throw and not pitch). And I actually like the bullpen now that Gonzo seems to have his mojo back. Berken is really the x-factor there, and that's looking like a problem since he's having some real issues right now. A good bullpen needs an effective long-man - if only for extra innings situations where you potentially need to stretch someone out - we saw this a couple nights ago.

I'm very encouraged by Markakis. He has seemed to be the victim of bad luck through April.

Agreed on both Reynolds and Lee. Lee does have good at-bats, but you rarely see him drive the ball. Reynolds rarely makes contact (in fact, I'm going to look up his contact ratio), but when he does, he certainly puts some life in the ball. I really hate that Lee clogs up that 3rd spot, but there really isn't a great other option. Guess Buck is just hoping he starts heating up. I think we all thought that for once Nick would have some legit threat behind him which would translate to more pitches for him to hit, but that still seems to not be the case.

I'm mostly encouraged by the progress of Adam Jones, who has played a Gold Glove CF, and is actually taking pitches, and by Matt Wieters who is at this point clearly the best defensive catcher in the pros - amazing leaps he has made in that department.

Thoughts?

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Jeff Z's reply: I have a flight to catch here in KC so I don't have time to go through your post point-by-point, but I pretty much agree with everything. Really informed, well thought out comments.

I was at the Wed and Thurs games in KC. Fox and Tillman were definitely out of sync all game. Tillman just didn't look comfortable. The Royals are aggressive on the base paths, but were doubly so with Fox behind the plate. Singles were automatic doubles.

The Royals are a team on the rise. They are young and aggressive and miles ahead of the Orioles in terms of rebuilding. I live in Omaha where the AAA team plays and it is just loaded with talent unlike Norfolk.

Also a note on Bubba Starling. He is signed to be the quarterback at Nebraska but is expected to go the baseball route based on the draft results. Who was another guy that spurned being a quarterback at Nebraska for baseball - Carl Crawford.

Jeff, I'm not trying to be a "silver lining" guy, but shouldn't we be excited right now?

I mean, the O's probably didn't get their 14th win until the end of May/early June last year. Our offense is terrible, some RP have struggled and our #2 starter hasn't pitched a game all year...and we're only 2 games under .500 and in the thick of things.

Yes, there's been plenty of reason for frustration, but if we're a .500 team right now (which many naysayers said we wouldn't be), does it not stand to reason that this team is good enough to compete for something this season when they produce?

The offense CANNOT stay this bad all season...there's too much talent. Hardy will be back soon, which will deepen our bench, Matusz will replace Tillman and bump Arrieta and Bergy down a spot in the rotation, and the bats will come around.

Call me a fool if you want to, but the fact that we're playing .500 ball right now WITH all the frustrations and lack of production...tells me that when things click, this will be a much better team than people expected.

Jeff,

I know it's early, but, the talk about Fox may mean a deal by the trade deadline.

Do you see any of the O's being moved and what do you think the O's will want (position wise) in return.

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Jeff Z's reply: Way too early Jay. Players values hasn't been completely established yet, teams still deciding if they are contending, what needs they have, etc. However, with all the players they have on one-year deals or entering final years of their contracts (Gonzalez, Koji, Lee, Vlad, Hardy, Izturis, etc), you'd like to think they'd be active.

I'm surprised that they are not interested in Lindor,the best SS in the draft. I would take him and move him or Machado to 3rd. On the other hand, if they draft Rendon, it won't matter.

I'm happy to hear that they are interested in Starling because he sounds like quite a prospect.

This team has so many needs that i just hope that they have a great draft.


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Jeff Z"s reply: Kelly, probably too early to say that they aren't interested in Lindor. Jordan didn't come out and list the guys they are considering. Some are more obvious than others. My gut feeling is he's not as high on their list as some of the pitchers, but that's just me talking.

Pat,

Bubba Starling is also a huge college QB prospect already committed to Nebraska. Drafting him would be a risk as he seems more likely to go to college at this point then turn pro. It may just be a negotiating tactic for leverage, but it'd still be a big risk in a draft with this much quality to not sign your 1st pick.

My feeling is - Whenever you have a chance to get a potential superstar, you take it. It appears that Starling is that guy - just as much as Rendon. Go all out to convince him that baseball is his sport, and pick him. Oh, and sign him.

Scott,

Thanks for the info. Makes me love him even more that he's a football player headed to Nebraska. Probably a corn fed, country strong, old school ballplayer.

Best of luck to him. I have to say though, if he's going to be a top draft pick I find it hard to believe he'd turn down the multi-million dollar signing bonus to play football. Makes more sense to sign the baseball deal and if he scrubs out go back to football later, i.e. Chris Weinke.

Jeff,
What do you think about this, trade Markakis and Lee to the Cardinals for Pujols and prospects or whatever value for Markakis? Here's my point- Markakis is not living up to his big contract and that mony can be used on Pujols, we throw in Lee to play 1st for the Cardinals and if Pujols does not sign with the O's after the season oh well Lee was on a 1 year contract any. Now is the perfect time for O's to go after Pujols because none of the big money spending teams Yanks, Sox, Mets..ect. will be in the market for a 1st baseman.

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Dan's Reply: Can't see that happening.

Why have you not mentioned that the O's staff is last in ninnings pitched? Maybe you can lay that on Fox as well. Saw the game yesterday and Tillman let runners have huge leads, and earth to Tillman, when there is an attempted steal get out of the way. Fox had to side step on both steals of second. Johnny Bench could not throw a guy out in that situation. I seriously doubt Matt could either.
Power hitters need consistant AB's, contact hitters do not to be productive. While it was spring training, hitting 10 bombs, batting close to 300 was no accident for Fox. He had 70 plus plate apperances. If he was given consistant at bats he would produce. He will have a heck of a time when he is almost last in total AB's. If he can't get to the plate then move him and you can have your man back behind the plate as a backup.

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Jeff Z's reply: That's kind of my point, Pete. Fox is going to have hit in part-time duty, because he's not going to be a starter on this team. I obviously think he'd be doing much better with regular at-bats too, bu tthe problem is, to get more at-bats, he's going to have to hit when he gets an opportunity. I think if he was in another role, he could be productive. He's just miscast as a backup catcher.

Fox has no place on this team. He was chosen over Tatum because they thought his offensive contributions outweighed his defensive liabilities. Well, spring training's over and he's not getting a stead diet of gopher balls anymore. Time to cut him.

Please don't cater to the one person here who is harassing you about Markakis. We who know sports know he's a good player. My feeling is that he is trying too hard to hit for power. Maybe he has finally succumbed to the voices he hears everywhere telling him he has no power. He's similar to Bobby Abreu, and to me a nice player. His avg has suffered because he's swinging for the fences too much. We need .300 and more RBI's from him.

Reynolds and especially Lee play great defense. But Reynolds is of little value if he doesn't hit .250. Carlos Pena only hit .198 but he hit over 40 bombs. Reynolds is NOT going to do that in the AL East, sorry. So he better get his head out of his you know what and start learning how to hit instead of jerking his head away from every pitch.

Someone told me in confidence two years ago about a problem Tillman has, unrelated to the field. That and the fact that he lacks maturity will make it hard for him to find consistency. He also doesn't seem to want it bad enough. The world is full of talented people who waste it. I hope he realizes this.

Finally, we all agree Fox is miscast. But Tatum is no answer. There's got to be a better solution.

Pat and scott,

All the reports here in Nebraska, is that Starling will sign if he is drafted high enough. The Husker fans want him to come and play QB, but truly believe that he is going to go the baseball route, which is suppose to be his better sport.

I was wrong about Fox considering I wanted him to make the team out of spring training like a lot of others, the O's including. It is time to admit that it was a mistake and call up Tatum or find another back-up. Fox looks lost and his one homerun every once in a while is not worth it especially when Tatum played well last year as the backup.

the o's just need to hit more consistantly, lee, reynolds hit about once are twice a week that is not getting the job done. wieters and jones both hit one day and nohing the next. I've been an o's fan a long time but I feel like I'm coming to the end of the line unless they can hurry up and start kicking some butt and quit making excuses about this and that! lets go o's and get the lead out!!!!!

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About the bloggers
A Baltimore native, Dan Connolly has been covering sports for 14 years, and baseball and the Orioles for 10 seasons, including the past six with The Sun. His first year covering baseball on a daily basis was Cal Ripken Jr.'s final season as a player. It's believed that is just a coincidence.

Steve Gould is an assistant sports editor for The Sun, overseeing Orioles coverage. The Columbia native joined The Sun as a sports copy editor in 2006 after graduating from the University of Maryland.

Peter Schmuck has been covering baseball for a lot longer than Steve Gould has been on this earth. He is now a general sports columnist, but has been a beat writer covering three major league teams (the Dodgers, Angels and Orioles) and also spent a decade as the Sun's national baseball writer. If you want more of his insight on the Orioles and other sports issues, check out his personal blog -- The Schmuck Stops Here.


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