Baltimore Orioles: Projecting the starting outfield in 2019
By Tim Smart
Outside of Adam Jones, the Baltimore Orioles mixed and matched their outfielders for the entirety of 2018. Will we see more stability in the outfield next year?
The Baltimore Orioles had 12 position players start games in the outfield in 2018. Four of them; Adam Jones, Craig Gentry, Danny Valencia and Colby Rasmus won’t return in 2019.
The remaining eight, plus Austin Hays, could all potentially be vying for playing time next year.
There are still roster cuts to be made and the 40-man for next year isn’t set, but this situation could turn out to be as messy as it was in 2018.
Guessing which of these guys will be on the roster next April is probably a fools errand.
But, since the organization is being exceptionally quiet about their current General Manager search, we need something to talk about.
Plus, it’s never too early to start thinking about next year’s roster, especially after the nightmare we just went through.
Let’s go position by position:
This is the toughest one to discern because there are more factors in play than just skill level. If the Orioles decide to keep Chris Davis as their everyday first baseman and Mark Trumbo is healthy, Trey Mancini will man the 9 spot for the Orioles on a daily basis.
If the Orioles smarten up and move Davis off the cold corner, or if they trade Trumbo, Mancini will be the everyday first baseman and the LF spot will open up.
If we’re basing this off talent level, this is DJ Stewart‘s job to lose. Stewart came up in mid-September for the Orioles and proved he belongs at the major league level.
Stewart played in just 17 games for the Orioles this year but he posted a .890 OPS with 3 homers and 2 steals. Fangraphs had him as the 16th ranked Orioles prospect coming into 2018 but he was the 4th ranked outfielder, behind just Hays, Mullins and Lamar Sparks.
He’s younger than both
and has more upside than both combined. Stewart plays aggressively and has plus-power; he should be the first option for the Orioles in left field heading into 2019.
This one is likely the easiest of the bunch. Cedric Mullins was by no means a superstar in 2018, but he was certainly an effective defender, and his bat still has upside.
In 45 games, Mullins posted a .671 OPS with an 8.9% walk rate. He hit really well in August (.941 OPS), but once major league pitchers had the chance to adjust to him, he hit like Chris Davis (.512 OPS in September).
Nevertheless, Mullins has been a productive hitter throughout his career in the Orioles system; he never posted a wRC+ lower than 109 in the minors. Plus, with his speed, he should be able to run a BABIP in the low-.300’s; he was at .279 in 2018.
There’s also the fact that there isn’t much competition for the center field job. After his call-up, Mullins started 45 games in center for the Orioles. Joey Rickard started 9 but nobody else has the experience, or even close to the kind of defensive ability that Mullins has.
You can lock Mullins in as the starting CF for the 2019 Orioles.
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There are three real candidates for the right field job in Baltimore in 2019. Joey Rickard, Anthony Santander and Austin Hays should all push to get significant playing time for the Orioles next year.
On top of that, John Andreoli and Jace Peterson will be fighting for roster spots next year, but I’m of the opinion that neither should be on it.
Santander dealt with injuries in 2018 but still has plenty of upside: he’s young, has plus-power and profiles well defensively in a corner outfield spot.
We know what Rickard is at this point; a serviceable 4th outfielder with decent contact skills, but he’s not part of the future in Baltimore.
Hays isn’t on the 40-man but he’s the organization’s top-rated prospect for a reason. We’ve seen plenty of players skip Triple-A and head straight to the majors from Double-A; he only reason Hays doesn’t make the roster out of spring training is if the Orioles want to manipulate his service time clock.
All things being equal, Hays should be starting for the Orioles in 2019. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see the organization keep him in the minors for another year for service time reasons.
What the Orioles should do vs. what they will do are different things. I think Joey Rickard will be the Opening Day starter for the Orioles next year, despite me thinking that’s not the correct choice.
There’s still plenty of work for the Orioles to do this offseason, but assuming they don’t sign any impact free-agents, an outfield of Stewart, Mullins and Rickard seems likely.