Orioles news, notes and opinions: minor league depth, Davis, Scott, set-up tandem, Russell, Lugo
The Orioles have their share of problems, but one of the most concerning things has to be the uneven production of their prospects in the upper level of the minor leagues. Third baseman Josh Bell has shown some signs, batting .261 with 12 homers and 37 RBIs against Triple-A pitching. But he has also struck out 75 times in 271 at-bats and has made 13 errors. Norfolk first baseman Brandon Snyder is also hitting .262 with eight homers and 32 RBIs, numbers hardly befitting of a first baseman in the American League East. Double-A Bowie first baseman Joe Mahoney, the organization’s reigning Minor League Player of the Year, has been dogged all season by injuries. His Baysox teammate, Xavier Avery, the organization’s top outfield prospect, has come on lately to raise his average to .265, but he’s striking out too much and his defense and baseball instincts are regularly questioned. Bowie’s LJ Hoes, who entered the season as the organization’s top second base prospect, recently went 5-for-5 to raise his average to .281. However, consistency has been an issue, and he has mostly been playing the outfield at Bowie. And, of course, there is the possibility that Dan Klein, perhaps the organization’s No. 1 pitching prospect, will miss the rest of the season with a SLAP tear in his labrum. Sure, people continue to rave about shortstop Manny Machado, who debuts at Frederick tonight, and Keys infielder Jonathan Schoop and there have been some nice surprises, like reliever Cole McCurry. But there remains a serious void at the upper levels of the minor leagues with players who can come up soon and help the Orioles win. How else can you explain two guys who weren’t even invited to big league spring training -- Chris Jakubauskas and Blake Davis -- occupying spots on the 25-man roster? There’s still plenty of time for this to change, but which guys in Bowie and Norfolk are making statements that they should be heavily considered for big league jobs next spring? I’m sure people are going to blame this guy or that guy, and that’s fine. But it has to be considered an organization-wide failure. Andy MacPhail heads the front office, so it’s certainly on him. It’s also on the player development and amateur scouting departments, both past and present.
The big question everybody has been asking since yesterday is why Davis, who made the decisive error in the series-finale loss to Pittsburgh, was starting at second base in his major league debut when he hadn’t started a game at that position all year at Norfolk and has started just 19 games there over his six-year minor league career. The simple answer is Robert Andino is not going to start every day and Davis is considered the utility infielder on this club. Orioles manager Buck Showalter clearly wants to give Andino most of the starts, so the club didn’t feel that it was prudent to have a prospect like Ryan Adams sitting on the bench rather than getting regular at-bats. No disrespect to Davis, but he is 27 and probably better suited for that role than Adams. It’s a fair question to ask why Davis and not a veteran like Nick Green or Brendan Harris, who have handled utility roles in the big leagues before. From what I can gather, the answer is that Davis was playing well at Norfolk, had done whatever he was asked, including moving to the outfield, and some felt that he should be rewarded with a promotion over guys like Green or Harris, who have both flirted with the Mendoza Line for much of the season. They also felt that Davis, who figures to play sparingly anyway, could handle the position in the few opportunities that he’d get. I can’t say that I don’t see the rationale. For years, Orioles minor leaguers have been getting promotions because of a desperate need at the big league level, not because they’ve necessarily earned a shot. That’s not a good situation either.
If you needed further proof that left fielder Luke Scott still hasn’t found his swing and rhythm at the plate, you got it in the fifth inning Wednesday, when Pirates starter Kevin Correia, whose stuff was mostly underwhelming on the afternoon, blew a letter-high, 3-2, 90 mph fastball by Scott. Last year, Scott went a couple of months without missing a pitch like that. I'm not sure whether it’s the shoulder or just another one of his slumps, but he has to get going. A .239 average, eight homers and 21 RBIs at this point of the season just isn’t getting it done.
Because I really should say something positive, one element that has really worked out so far for the Orioles is the set-up tandem of Jim Johnson and Koji Uehara. The two complement each other very well, with Johnson throwing that hard sinker and that mid-to-high-90s fastball in the sixth and seventh innings and Uehara coming in with his tricky arsenal of well-located split-fingered fastballs and off-speed pitches in the eighth. The two have combined to make 64 appearances and go 5-2 with a 2.49 ERA. In 77 combined innings, they’ve allowed just 59 hits and walked 12 while striking out 72. There are not too many other teams that have a pair of setup men with numbers like that.
I should have included this yesterday, but Orioles coach John Russell basically confirmed on a Pittsburgh Pirates pre-game show that he will be the bench coach for the rest of the season with Willie Randolph, who was hired to be the bench coach, coaching third base going forward. Showalter didn’t say it that strongly the other day, but he did acknowledge the team could continue with the way things were in Pittsburgh with Randolph at third and Russell on the bench, based on the team’s needs. Showalter is not going to throw Russell under the bus, nor should he. Regardless of what's being said, I’m sure there were a lot of things that factored in the decision, including a couple of Russell’s ill-advised sends during the first 2 1/2 months.
In case you missed it, former Oriole Julio Lugo was promoted to the big leagues by the Atlanta Braves and went 1-for-3 in their 5-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays yesterday. Lugo signed a minor league deal with the Braves late last month and played 13 games at Triple-A before he was summoned back to the major leagues.