The Baltimore Orioles announced the signing of 12 players to minor league deals on Tuesday, including three players who are new to the organization.
Before closing up shop for the Thanksgiving holiday, the Baltimore Orioles announced the signing of 12 minor league free agent signings, including three players who are brand new to the organization. The other nine all played with an Orioles affiliate in 2019.
The most notable name on the list is center fielder Mason Williams. The Orioles were in the market for an experienced center fielder and Williams’ name has been floated around since he was designated for assignment after the season.
While he won’t live up to his initial billing as a top prospect when he entered professional ball, Williams put together a career-year for the Triple-A Norfolk Tides last year, recording a wRC+ of 117 and logging a career-high 18 home runs with 15 doubles, 62 RBI and a walk rate north of 9%. He will likely serve in the same role he did last year, as an emergency outfield option roaming around the outfield of Harbor Park.
Those also returning to the organization include catchers Martin Cervenka and Daniel Fajardo, infielders Ryan Ripken, Jesmuel Valentin, and Jose Rondon, and pitchers Francisco Jimenez, Hunter Cervenka, and Cristian Alvarado.
Cervenka is still attempting to become the first player from the Czech Republic to reach the major leagues. He hit .206 with four home runs and a wRC+ of 64 in 46 games with the Bowie Baysox before finishing the year strong with 12 games in Triple-A. In 49 plate appearances, Cervenka hit .372 with three doubles and five walks. He should return to Norfolk in 2020.
Fajardo, 25, made his debut in the organization back in 2012 and spent 2019 splitting time with the Delmarva Shorebirds and Frederick Keys. A respectable defensive catcher, Fajardo recorded a K/BB ratio of 31/17 across 267 total plate appearances last season. He’s a solid minor league option behind the plate and a favorite among many loyal followers of the minor league system.
As for the infielders, Valentin was signed last April and slashed .256/.334/.390 with 35 extra-base hits in 115 games for the Baysox. He’s a super-utility ballplayer who can play multiple positions around the infield and outfield. Rondon was claimed off waivers in late July last season and saw one at-bat in the big leagues before finishing the season in Triple-A. He hit just .219 but he provides depth up the middle where the Orioles are very thin at.
Ripken, 26, missed a chunk of time in 2019 due to injury, but still put together some of the best numbers of his career as he split time between High-A and Double-A ball. He combined to hit .276 with six home runs, but continued to record high strikeout totals and an extremely low amount of walks.
All three returning pitchers put together solid campaigns last season, especially Cristian Alvarado. A middling starting pitcher in A-ball for four-straight years, Alvarado saw his ERA climb, strikeouts decrease, and home runs allowed spike from 2015-2018 before moving up to Double-A in 2019 and working out of the pen.
It worked very well for Alvarado. He went 3-3 with 13 saves, a 2.66 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and a .186 average against in 40 appearances. Alvarado served as the Baysox lights out closer down the stretch and into the playoffs where he has found new life as a reliever. If he can continue to find success after a move up to AAA, don’t be shocked to see him make his major league debut at some point late next summer.
Cervenka quietly went about his way in Norfolk. The 6’1″ and 250-pound lefty signed as a free agent in August and gave up just three earned runs on seven hits across 12 innings with the Tides. He didn’t allow a single home run and strike out 18 while walking five. He’s another depth arm out of the pen in case things get crazy next year.
Lastly, there’s Francisco Jimenez. A 25-year-old righty out of the Dominican Republic, Jimenez pitched at three different levels, going 8-1 with a 3.12 ERA, .234 average against, and 81 strikeouts in 83 innings.
Who are these new guys signed by the Baltimore Orioles?
Alright, so what about the three new guys. Let’s start with infielder Malquin Canelo. Canelo is a 25-year-old middle infielder who was originally signed by the Philadelphia Phillies back in 2012 out of the Dominican Republic.
He spent last season in Triple-A where he hit .262 with a 320 OBP, two home runs, and a wRC+ of 71. It was the first time since 2014 where he didn’t steal at least 12 bases (only 8 in 2019) and he saw a slight drop in walks taken with a big spike in strikeouts (29%).
Canelo has posted a wRC+ above 90 just one in his career. All the scouting reports agree that he’s a utility infielder type with plus-defense and good speed. Sounds exactly like the type of player Mike Elias was looking to add this winter. Does that mean no Yolmer Sanchez or other major league veteran middle infielder?
Next up is another infielder, switch-hitting middle infielder Angelo Mora. As you might expect, Mora doesn’t bring a big bat to the organization but does bring versatility with experience at playing all over the infield and in both corner outfield spots.
Originally signed out of the Dominican Republic by Philadelphia in 2011, Mora first signed with the Baltimore Orioles back in 2017, but was lost to the Rule 5 draft a few weeks later. He has spent the last two seasons in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.
Mora will be 27 when spring training rolls around and has yet to make his major league debut after failing to live up to some of the hype that surrounded him as a younger prospect. In 49 games at the Double-A level last year, he hit .291 with a .355 OBP and a .767 OPS, his highest OPS since 2017. However, he struggled mightily in Triple-A.
In 45 games with the Oklahoma City Dodgers, Mora hit .231 with no home runs and wRC+ of 39. Not exactly promising numbers for someone hitting the Pacific Coast League. Like Jesmuel Valentin and Jose Rondon, Mora will provide flexibility and depth in the minor leagues.
Last but not least is LHP Rob Zastryzny. Zastryzny is a 6’3″ lefty out of the University of Missouri. He was selected in the 2nd round of 2013 draft by the Chicago Cubs and pitched in the organization until signing as a minor league free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.
He made 16 starts (20 total appearances) in Triple-A, going 3-6 with a 6.49 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, and a .326 average against. He struck out 84 and gave up 17 home runs across 94 total innings. Pitching in the Pacific Coast League didn’t do him many favors. It was just the second time he gave up double-digit home runs and opponents have a career .270 average against him, so take his 2019 numbers with a grain of salt.
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Zastryzny appears to be a swingman option for the Orioles, if he can be consistent, limit his walks, and find a way to bring his groundball rate back up after watching it fall to a career-low 39.6% last season.
According to this quick profile of him from John Sickels back in 2017, he works with a fastball, curveball, and slider with his fastball working in the upper-80s and curveball dipping down into the mid-70s.
Zastryzny made his major league debut in 2016 with Chicago and saw brief action in 2017 and 2018. In total, he is 2-0 with a 4.41 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, and 31 strikeouts in 34 combined innings. He gave up just two home runs over that span, but did allow 16 walks.
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