It’s been an up-and-down season for the Baltimore Orioles. There’s no denying that fact. At 58-56, the team has struggled to break loose from the clutches of the .500 level. Thanks to a myriad of factors — inconsistent offensive production, spotty starting pitching, injuries, and just plain old bad luck — the Orioles are nowhere close to duplicating 2014’s 96-win season. Despite the ups-and-downs, Buck Showalter‘s bunch find themselves just 1.5 games behind the Los Angeles Angels for the second American League Wild Card spot.
With September roster expansions right around the corner, are there any impact players waiting in the wings who could help push the Orioles over the top and into the playoffs?
Let’s start with the outfield. Left field has been a gaping black hole of surefire outs for the Orioles this season. On the year, Baltimore left fielders are slashing a putrid .198/.270/.308 with a measly eight home runs and 26 RBI’s. There are National League teams whose pitchers manage better than a .198 batting average. Whether it was Alejandro De Aza, Travis Snider, or David Lough (all gone to the great DFA in the sky), there has been no production from the spot in the field filled by Nelson Cruz last year. Junior Lake and Nolan Reimold have been given a shot in left of late, but neither has done much with the opportunity.
Luckily for the Orioles, they have two minor leaguers who look more than ready to break through the glass ceiling that is the Mendoza Line. Henry Urrutia and Dariel Alvarez, two Cuban-born outfielders, have both put up solid seasons for Triple-A Norfolk. The masses have been clamoring for these two all year, and both should finally get a chance in Baltimore. Urrutia will be activated Saturday, and Alvarez can’t be much further behind.
Neither is going to set the world on fire, but both are mature hitters who make enough solid contact to play at the big league level. Urrutia has collected 32 extra base hits on the year, while Alvarez has 39 (16 home runs). These two are both ready for the Majors, and could inject some offense into the bottom third of the Orioles lineup.
First base is not a position of need for the Orioles, but they do have two minor league options who could come off the bench if needed — Christian Walker and Trey Mancini. Walker was the more highly-rated prospect entering the year, but Mancini has torn up the Eastern League to the tune of a .361/.394/.577 line in 61 games since being promoted from High-A. In his career, Mancini has a .313/.353/.469 line. He seems to be developing his power stroke this year with 17 home runs and 35 doubles across two levels. Walker is the better defensive player, but his bat has already fizzled in a few call-ups to the big leagues. Mancini will be the minor league player of the year for the Orioles organization, but will the front office feel comfortable giving him his first taste of Major League pitching in September?
As for the pitching staff, the Orioles may be more hard-pressed to find impact call-ups. Mychal Givens is already up and pitching well out of the bullpen. Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson have both been good at times for the Orioles, but both are dealing with minor injuries — a calf for Wright and an oblique for Wilson. If Wright and Wilson can shrug those minor ailments off, both could provide depth in the middle innings of the ballgame. The most promising name to keep an eye on at this point could be Cuban left-hander Ariel Miranda. The 26-year-old has been dominant in his first minor league season and has a 1.66 ERA in four starts at Double-A. Miranda is a veteran pitcher with good strikeout stuff. He could be valuable in relief.
The Orioles bullpen has been frequently called upon in the fifth and sixth innings of late thanks to laborious outings from the starting staff, so reinforcements in the bullpen will be gladly welcomed. If Wright and Wilson’s injuries drag on, or if the Orioles do not want to rush Miranda, relievers like Jorge Rondon and Cesar Cabral could get the call. Rondon and Cabral are nothing to write home about, but at this point of the season, bullpen depth is bullpen depth.
The Orioles don’t have an impact bat to call up like Kyle Schwarber or Joey Gallo, but maybe they don’t really need one. The core of last year’s ALCS team remains intact, but the role players that have helped to fuel the Orioles’ run the past three years have not come through in 2015. There are players like Urrutia, Alvarez, and Mancini waiting in the wings who can help provide the extra spark the lineup needs, and solid pitchers who can be called upon to get a few key outs in the middle of the game. The Orioles don’t need much more than that to stay in the hunt to capture their second consecutive playoff berth.