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Eric-OH

Picking A 2020 Minor League Taxi Squad

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The Orioles taxi squad of 20 players gives the organization a blank canvas as far as how to mix a bit of winning and a greater share of development but because of the fact that their 26-man roster isn’t concrete and would have been flexible in a normal season, the team has some room to go in a variety of directions with their choices.  Fan interest should be taken into some consideration but the progress of the team’s youthful nucleus is in every way a top priority.  Really, the only priority.   Winning in 2023 and beyond is by far the Orioles’ singular focus and that should not change due to this particular season.

Unfortunately for the purposes of this squad, the players who represent the most upside in the system may be too young (age and experience)and their respective developmental tracks wouldn’t benefit from facing MLB ready players....today.  I’d love to see DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez get some innings in against top level bats but this isn’t the time as I see it.  Both are very close, among so many others,  but now isn’t the time to rush that window in any way.  Fans would get so much out of seeing Gunnar and Hernaiz in the infield and especially in the cage, but they’re about to turn 19.  Most of the cuts I made came due to age/experience and that’s not really a bad thing.  It’s a difficult factor to balance like most other decisions when making cuts or rounding out a roster.  On the other hand, due to the O’s relative non-contending status they can be less rigid, much more future focused and also transparent.  Why not have some fun and introduce a few players who have been rehabbing or showing well in the minors for a bit?  I think if the list includes names who will be on an Orioles team that contends in the near future then some experience in this setting can be highly beneficial.  Remember that every team has the same issues to face and tough calls to make yet some still plan to treat this season as a playoff march and need their taxi squads to have more experience than upside.  I like the leeway and lack of pressure, at least for whatever 2020 will (may) represent.  

 

The 26-Man Roster I Used:

C-Severino/Sisco

INF-Iglesias, Alberto, Ruiz, R. Nunez, C. Davis, Velazquez, R. Martin, Valaika,

OF-Hays, Santander, Mason Williams=13

 

PITCHERS-Means, Cobb, Wojo, K. Stewart, LeBlanc//Castro, Fry, Harvey, Givens, Armstrong, Bleier, T. Scott, Tate 

 

Plus 4-offense:Mountcastle/McKenna

             Pitchers: Kremer/Lowther

 

Taxi Squad: Infield-A Hall, Grenier, Mason McCoy, Yahn, Bannon, Escarra

Outfield-Neustrom, Jarrett, Janvrin, Yusniel Diaz

Catcher-Rutschman, Cumberland 

 

Pitchers:Akin, Cody Caroll, Sedlock, Zach Matson, Isaac Mattson, Alexander Wells, Baumann, B Zimmermann.

 

 

 

Thoughts:  This was not easy list to make and there were several versions before landing on this list.  Yes, OF Mason Janvrin was drafted just a year ago and started 2019 in the rookie leagues, but he’s also an excellent athlete whose game begs to be seen.  And he played college ball.  If a guy’s game is ‘advanced’ then maybe this is an ideal environment to see some of that shine through. At the very least, as a late-inning defensive replacement Hyde could do a lot worse.  

Also, this squad is a way for the skipper and coaches to learn the abilities and skills of some guys they may not see otherwise.  That’s crucial in a fluid roster situation like this one.  

The team is fortunate to have near MLB ready talent in arms so Wells, Akin, Caroll, Tate, Lowther Zimmermann and Kremer get to measure themselves against some of the game’s best.   That’s long been a priority so now it can happen.  In spring training these guys were used in multiple situations so this process can continue as the team’s scouts can gather data from more in-game performance.  I see that as a net positive and that’s before examining a reduction in innings and the potential effects there.   Also the 2021 Orioles can finally start to turn deadline deals from seasons past into players or conclude that’s less than realistic and move on even younger.  

Zach Matson is a left hander with extreme spin rates and movement.  His walk rate is far from ideal and he’s only thrown 147 innings in the minors however he’s 24 and has size and mound presence.  He pitches with confidence in his stuff and I’d like to see what happens if he gets off to a good start.  I’m optimistic his plane altering movement would frustrate lefties out of the pen now.  There were a few other choices, mostly too young.  Dalton Stambaugh is a southpaw with ridiculous movement also.  A different  lefty Zack, this one named Muckenhirn may be about ready too.  

The other pitcher named Mattson (with 2-T’s) is a righty and he’s ready for a bullpen role today.  There was one pitch at minor league camp that had every witness sounding approval and it was a Isaac 12-to-6 curve with immense depth.  Fastball with sizzle at 94/breaking ball with drop, Isaac was my choice over David LeBron and this was a close call.  LeBron probably ticks higher on the heat, but Mattson mixed it with other offerings a smidge better in the limited chances I saw.  If Mattson ended up as a closer it wouldn’t be a surprise.  Now we can find out if that’s within reason.  

Baumann is someone who oozes readiness.  His stats, his answers in interviews, his seriousness while working, his aptitude and stuff are all currently present and high level.  There is no doubt in my mind that his time is either now or very close to now.  A bout with underperformance or adversity would not deter the Baumann I’ve been watching closely for a couple of seasons and he’s a leader as well so let’s get him some experience ASAP.  I don’t like to project or speculate, but thinking of a fully mature Baumann leading the Orioles reformed rotation 20-40 months from now is what helps me sleep at night.  Agree or disagree, he’s generated some serious momentum and I’d want to see it continue.  This is an open and unique time for that.  When the idea of ‘taxi squads’ was introduced he was the first name I thought of.  

The second name I thought of was outfielder Zach Jarrett.  When I saw him and fellow outfield pick Robert Neustrom at minor league camp they both stood out immediately due to their size.  Both are tall and thick and wouldn’t look out of place in a run producing spot in a lineup.  Now, we get to make that happen on some scale.  An opportunity to see two minor league sluggers’ swings slightly more often than a late inning spring situation is of value.  Maybe not the same value as 400+ABs in a minor league campaign but worth its share in developmental currency.  Janvrin and Neustrom both demonstrated with sound and steam the necessary throwing ability in drills.  Yusniel Diaz is so close to major league ready.  Ryan McKenna represents a question mark to me and I’d like some direction as far as his future.  Like many observers I’d love to see him face a full seasons’s worth of tough matchups and respond positively but he needs a chance to compete now and I think he’s earned a spot.  Like many other offensive choices on this team, he’s a perfect candidate for an almost MLB version of the O’s.  Mountcastle looks to be so advanced that I’d consider a role for him as soon as games start.  His bat impresses me that much.  Mason McCoy has little else to prove in the minors so he’s deserving too.  Grenier’s ability in the field is in doubt by absolutely nobody so he gets the nod as does Adam Hall who in a normal setting would be off to a hot start, getting on base and scoring runs and shooting up the lists of prospect evaluators.  Not a bad infield nucleus.  Add to it Bannon who has impressed me in person both in games and practice situations, and Willy Yahn who shows well everywhere and gets a reward for that grind.  Instant fan favorite with Willy and little kids would start rubbing their hands in the dirt at the plate like the versatile performer who maximizes his abilities everyday.  Rounding out the infield for me would be lefty first baseman JC Escarra and he also gets a nod for his hot hitting spring session and development.  A 25 yr old power corner with a decent eye got MLB spring ABs for a reason and I can mix that rationale with his impressive cage development and try to see what’s there.  This is a setting where that development can be prioritized. 

Catching is key because so much of what the franchise accomplishes soon is tied to a handful of young pitchers and their respective battery mate Adley Rutschman.  So Rutsch gets a head start on a few of them by joining this squad along with Brett Cumberland who I picked over Daniel Fajardo and Bryan Holoday due to his overall skills and Evan Gattis-like no BS mentality at the plate.  He certainly carries himself like a big leaguer standing in the lefty box and he’s not waiting out an AB to get a pitch to steer towards that right field corner.  I loved it, now let’s get to see more (or at least some instead of none)of it.  His numbers were solid but his attitude can rub people the right way.  In the limited chances I saw, Cumby got it done so here he gets his nod.  Catcher is full of difficult choices for today and the near future.  Overall, the group of hitters is probably guys I’ve seen more and know better.  It’s hard to not just pick a top 20 prospect list but this is a setting where the words readiness and deserving don’t carry the same weight they normally do.   That in itself is very strange.  But this represents a group that can both develop and supplement the skills and direction of the big league club while laying down a stronger,  more educated foundation for the years that matter most.

 

PS-The last cut was a rough one, they were all difficult choices, and I tried to force a place for Ryan Ripken without being able to find one on this list. It’s not due to him being Cal’s son it’s because he brings a highly intelligent baseball mind to any setting.  There’s lots of value in that. If there was one more spot he’d have it.  

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It will indeed be interesting to see what players get put on the minor league taxi squad.  

I did not contemplate any guys with so little experience at Frederick or above being placed on that squad so your suggestions are interesting.  

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48 minutes ago, hoosiers said:

It will indeed be interesting to see what players get put on the minor league taxi squad.  

I did not contemplate any guys with so little experience at Frederick or above being placed on that squad so your suggestions are interesting.  

There are lots of factors that could be at play here.  No matter what names are on the list it'll be intriguing and I’ll be curious as to the rationale behind the choices. 

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I can understand and expect guys like McKenna and Diaz and pitchers like Akin, Carroll, Baumann, Zimmerman. 

If this will be a time of instruction from the major league staff, then fine, but otherwise guys like Hall, Grenier, Janvrin, Nuestrom and more would be destroyed by major league pitching at this point in their careers, IMO.  Kudos to Yahn and Escarra if they can get ABs before their careers are over, but I don't really see it.  That said, we are fairly thin in quality prospect position players above Frederick IMO.

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14 minutes ago, hoosiers said:

I can understand and expect guys like McKenna and Diaz and pitchers like Akin, Carroll, Baumann, Zimmerman. 

If this will be a time of instruction from the major league staff, then fine, but otherwise guys like Hall, Grenier, Janvrin, Nuestrom and more would be destroyed by major league pitching at this point in their careers, IMO.  Kudos to Yahn and Escarra if they can get ABs before their careers are over, but I don't really see it.  That said, we are fairly thin in quality prospect position players above Frederick IMO.

It’s hard to disagree with your sentiments, and I don’t.  These are highly unique circumstances and I see value in hitting a wall and seeing a strong response to get over it.  The choices are made with an eye on the future, perhaps the longer term future and this group is a mix of the sooner and the later.  
Thanks for the perspective.  I wonder who an educated observer would replace them with and why.  I had tough decisions and most of them were bullpen pitchers that have proved to be ‘ready’. Tim Naughton and Luis Perez were ones who stood out.

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