Twelve Orioles thoughts through first quarter of 2021 campaign

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With the Orioles sporting a 17-23 record through the first 40 games of the 2021 season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Though a 93-loss pace isn’t something to celebrate, the Orioles played just five of their first 40 games against clubs currently below .500. Knowing Boston would be leading the AL East, you probably would have expected worse with 20 combined games against the Red Sox and Yankees in the books.  

2. John Means has pitched as well as anyone not named Jacob deGrom, but Baltimore pushing back his latest start reflects how clubs are juggling winning, development, and health for pitchers after the unprecedented 2020 season. The lefty is on pace to eclipse 200 innings after throwing 43 2/3 last year.   

3. After a scorching April, Cedric Mullins has cooled with a .268 average in May, but he’s still posted an on-base plus slugging percentage of .813 while cutting down on his strikeouts and increasing his walks in 63 plate appearances this month. That’s still an above-average profile, especially with his defense.

4. Though Ryan Mountcastle was always likely to experience regression after a .398 batting average on balls in play last year, his hard-hit percentage, strikeout rate, and walk rate have all been worse than his rookie campaign. He’s been better in May, but a .289 BABIP doesn’t indicate much bad luck.

5. It’s been a rocky start for Dean Kremer, Bruce Zimmermann, and Keegan Akin after their debuts last year, but each having some success in the Yankees series was a positive step. Finding an answer or two from this current wave of young pitchers would speed up the contending timeline.

6. While Tanner Scott has averaged nearly a walk per inning, Paul Fry has been the best Orioles reliever with a 1.17 ERA and 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings. The lefty turns 29 in July, so it’ll be interesting to see what kind of interest he draws at the trade deadline.

7. Adley Rutschman is gaining experience — and homering off his face — at Double-A Bowie, but the major league catching situation has been a clear disappointment with Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco combining for a .579 OPS. Though the latter’s throwing has improved, a .448 OPS isn’t going to cut it. 

8. Second base hasn’t been any better with Rio Ruiz — and his .550 OPS — designated for assignment Tuesday and Pat Valaika sporting a .464 mark. Mike Elias wasn’t ready to promote the currently injured Jahmai Jones or Rylan Bannon, but Stevie Wilkerson’s positional versatility made him a logical replacement.

9. The Orioles are excited about Low-A infielders Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg and there are other interesting prospects like Terrin Vavra, but the infield remains a weakness in Baltimore’s system. That doesn’t mean Elias will sign Carlos Correa, but you do wonder if that’s where we’ll eventually see free-agent investment.

10. Even accounting for the pandemic, Yusniel Diaz not being in the majors by now would have been a surprise to many after he was the centerpiece of the Manny Machado trade three years ago. Another nagging leg injury has sidelined him for more than a week at Triple-A Norfolk.

11. DL Hall struggled in his last outing at Bowie, but The Athletic recently mentioned him as a prospect ready for the majors. His career walk rate may beg to differ, but such opinions illustrate how high pundits are on Hall and Grayson Rodriguez, who’s also off to a strong start.  

12. Forty games shouldn’t be viewed as insignificant, but it’s crazy to think that mark put us well into September of last year’s shortened campaign. That we haven’t even hit Memorial Day and still have an entire summer of baseball ahead should bring a smile. Remember it’s still early — barely.