Baltimore Orioles: The Past, present, and future of the outfield

BOSTON, MA - MAY 4: Joey Rickard
BOSTON, MA - MAY 4: Joey Rickard /

Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado‘s walk-off grand slam completed an incredible comeback victory for the Orioles as they celebrate the 25th anniversary at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The Baltimore Orioles critical ninth inning rally started with Anthony Santander who singled to right field, collecting his first major league hit.

Santander’s contract was selected after his rehab assignment was complete. To make room, last year’s Rule 5 draft pick Joey Rickard was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk. The outfield composition has come a long way since the 2014 season.

For example, the end of the 2014 Baltimore Orioles season marked a critical moment for the team concerning the outfielders. Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz were free agents and prominent members of the powerful lineup that won the American League East division crown.

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While they both received offers to stay, the offers were soon off the table after the Orioles refused to give Cruz a fourth year. Additionally, worry about Markakis’s neck surgery in the offseason led to the Orioles rescinding the contract. We would later find out how much it cost the team to lose both corner outfielders the following year.

The Baltimore Orioles went into 2015 believing Travis Snider and Alejandro De Aza could fill the void after respectable 2014 seasons. This was not the case. Trading deadline acquisition Gerrardo Parra was tremendous for the Milwaukee Brewers but could not find his bat in Baltimore.

International free agent signing of Hyun-Soo Kim and Rule 5 Joey Rickard proved to be a formidable platoon in 2016 along with trading for Mark Trumbo who would later be the home run king that year. Along the way, Seth Smith and Craig Gentry have made their ways to Camden Yards in 2017.

There is greater significance to keeping Anthony Santander and Joey Rickard.  The combination of promising Rule 5 draft picks along with the major outfielder developments in the farm system project a younger outfield to come in 2018 and 2019.  What was once a barren land concerning outfielders for Baltimore has now been unearthed with promise.

The Rule 5 draft picks

Joey Rickard is known as a valuable, versatile defensive player. Rickard provides great speed on the base paths along with the ability to prolong at-bats. While his OBP has dropped from .319 to .290 this year, not ideal for a potential leadoff type of hitter, he still has room to prove himself more than a late game defensive replacement.

While Anthony Santander has only one MLB game under his belt, his advanced hitting tool at the age of 22 is what brought great intrigue to the Orioles. Having been compared as a disciple of Victor Martinez, the Orioles believe that his bat will play.

In his rehab assignment, he was sent to Double-A for the first time with the Bowie Baysox. Santander did not disappoint as he slashed .380 batting average along with five home runs and 14 RBI’s. He is someone worth keeping an eye on.

The Developing Farm System: Bowie Baysox

The current Bowie Baysox outfield has the potential to be an Orioles outfield combination in 2019.

Cedric Mullins was a 13th round draft pick in 2015 out of Campbell University.  While only standing at 5 foot 8 inches, he plays a much bigger game.  Mullins emerged onto the stage in Delmarva where he posted a .274 batting average, 37 doubles, 10 triples, 14 home runs, and 30 stolen bases.

Mullins’s remarkable 2016 campaign allowed him to skip the next level and move to Double-A Bowie where he has not disappointed.  After battling two hamstring injuries during the season, he is currently hitting .299 with 18 doubles and 11 home runs in 59 games.

As a switch hitter with great speed on the base path and in center field, he projects as the perfect future lead-off hitter.

Austin Hays was a 3rd round draft pick in the 2016 draft out of Jacksonville University.  Hays has emerged as the most promising of Orioles prospects by making the jump from Aberdeen to Frederick and now to Bowie. The man has been a one man wrecking crew getting better and better as he climbs the minor leagues.

If a line of a .328 batting average, 16 home runs, and 41 RBI’s was not impressive enough, he is now hitting .333, 13 home runs, and 44 RBI’s after his promotion.  On the defensive side, he possesses great speed and strong arms to get runners out.  National prospects lists have started to take notice and project him as a starting right fielder.

DJ Stewart was the Orioles first round draft pick in 2015 out of Florida State University.  What started out as a disappointing campaign in Aberdeen and Delmarva led to a surprising promotion to Frederick, the high Single-A affiliate.

Since his time in Frederick, he has found his bat and proven why he was taken in the first round. At Bowie, he has filled out the stat sheet by slashing .264, 20 doubles, 17 home runs, 69 RBI’s and 17 stolen bases.

Stewart’s greatest asset is his disciplined eye and ability to get on base. From low Single-A to Double-AA, he has been above a .360 on base percentage, something the Orioles could use more often.

Trey Mancini has taken the outfield and proven himself to be at least a serviceable defender. Given the fact that Seth Smith will be a free-agent after this year, there is the possibility of an opening in the outfield for next year. Decisions will have to be made concerning moving some players to allow for the promising young ones to grow.

The Orioles will have to find the right balance between Rule 5 draft picks and their growing farm system. In any case, what was once an outfield deficiency has led to a good problem to have for the future.