Prospect Watch: Lucas Giolito

Byline BraydenLucas Giolito was drafted with the 16th overall pick by the Washington Nationals in June of 2012 out of Harvard-Westlake High School in Southern California. Standing at 6 feet, 6 inches tall, the hard-throwing righty was well under way for his future in baseball.

After signing, Giolito pitched for the Nationals’ rookie level team. In his first pro start, Giolito notched two innings, giving up one run (earned) on two hits and no walks, and struck out one before he felt a sharp pain in his pitching elbow. The Nats top prospect had to undergo Tommy John Surgery after making just one appearance to begin his professional career.

Lucas GGiolito began rehabbing in Florida soon afterward, where he shared a hotel room with injured catcher Spencer Kieboom. Both Giolito and Kieboom were not far in their pro careers when they needed Tommy John Surgery. They rehabbed together in Florida and became friends.

Later on, Giolito finally got back to pitching regularly for the Nationals’ rookie team in 2013. He pitched in eight games for the rookie affiliate, going 1-1 with a 2.78 ERA. Shortly afterward, Giolito was promoted to Class-A Short-Season Auburn to play for the Doubledays.

He finished the season with Auburn pitching in three games with a record of 1-0 and an ERA of 0.64 in 14 innings of work.

In 2014, the Nationals announced Giolito would pitch for the Class-A Full-Season Hagerstown Suns. The Suns had been an affiliate with the Nationals since 2007 and has had many prospects and rehabbing big leaguers come to the small historical town.

Giolito made his Suns debut on April 5 against the Rome Braves (Braves affiliate). Giolito pitched three innings giving up six hits, four runs (three earned), two walks and three strikeouts in front of a small crowd of 509 as the Suns lost to the Braves, 9-8.

Giolito rebounded in his first road start for Hagerstown. He pitched on April 10, going six innings giving up one hit, on runs, walking one and striking out six. Giolito got the win as the Suns beat the Lakewood BlueClaws (Phillies), 6-0.

Part of Giolito’s success is from having a familiar face behind the plate. His catcher was his rehabbing partner, Spencer Kieboom. Oddly enough, these two live together once again as they both received the same host family.

Kieboom has been behind the plate for most of Giolito’s starts and the two have done well together this season. Kieboom is hitting .308 with seven home runs and 52 RBIs in 76 games this season as the Suns’ starting catcher. Giolito is 9-2 with a 2.23 ERA, 28 walks and 105 strikeouts in 19 starts.

One of Giolito’s best starts came at home on July 25 against the Kannapolis Intimidators (White Sox). Giolito only pitched six innings and gave up one hit as he walked none and struck out seven and was the winning pitcher in a 5-1 Suns win.

Another great start came in Charleston, South Carolina against the Charleston RiverDogs (Yankees) on July 31. Again, Giolito pitched six innings but he gave up only two hits, no runs again, walked one and struck out six. That was back-to-back quality starts from Giolito.

If Giolito pitches on normal four days of rest for the remainder of the season, he’ll will make three more starts for the Suns all on the road as the minor league regular season ends on Labor Day, September 1. Giolito was scheduled to make his next start on tonight at Lakewood.

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Bundy on DL with Lat Strain

Byline IanDylan Bundy, the Baltimore Orioles’ top pitching prospect, was placed on the DL with a right latissimus strain, according to the Baltimore Sun. The injury is said to be caused while Bundy was running, not throwing.

Bundy was drafted fourth overall in the 2011 draft. He quickly rose through the minor leagues, making his professional debut in April 2012, six months after signing with Baltimore. He made his debut with Single-A Delmarva and was promoted to Class-A Fredrick one month later.

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He stayed with Fredrick until August of that year when he was promoted to Double-A Bowie in early August. Bundy was then promoted once again to the major league team as a September call up.

In June of 2013, Bundy had Tommy John Surgery and missed the rest of the 2013 season and half of this season until he started his rehab assignment. Bundy was progressing through his rehab starts but hadn’t regained his form completely.

The good news in all of this is the arm Bundy is rehabbing is said to be fine. In nine rehab starts, Bundy has a 1-3 record with a 3.27 ERA. He allowed 38 hits, struck out 37 and walked 16 batters in 41.1 innings pitched. With Bundy already being on a pitch limit, he might be shut down for the rest for the season.

Buck Showalter: Culture Change

Byline IanIt is late August in 2010; the Baltimore Orioles are playing a regular season game and are on their way to their 13th-straight losing season. The Baltimore Ravens, coming off a heart-breaking loss to their arch rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the AFC Championship game, are playing a preseason game. Both teams are playing on the same night, if you are a fan of both teams, who will you watch?

Fast forward four years. It is late August and the Orioles are in the thick of an AL pennant race, heading toward their third consecutive winning season. The Ravens, on the other hand, are playing their second preseason game. Again, both teams will be playing on the same night. So now which game will you be watching?

If you were a Baltimore sports fan at any time before 2012, you would understand the reasoning behind people watching football over baseball in the middle of August. Baseball took a back seat to football in Baltimore for a good part of 13 ½ years.

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Football was in the spotlight for a good reason. The Orioles had lost that winning mentality they had in the late 1990’s, having 14 consecutive losing seasons, and the Ravens were turning things around after some inconsistent seasons themselves.

As stated, the Ravens were consistently good but every new season brought a sense of hope that it could maybe be their year to win a Super Bowl. For the Orioles, it was completely different. Fans had a fake sense of hope that the Orioles would finally end the losing streak at the beginning of each season, but they were never fully convinced. No one wanted, or wants, to watch a losing team play, even if the only other option was to watch preseason football.

In all honesty, I was one of those people who chose to watch football over my favorite sport. Granted I would still flip the channel back and forth during commercials, and turn the Orioles’ game on when the second and third string players came into the game, but I still chose football first. As a diehard baseball fan, it pains me to say that.

Enter Buck Showalter. Showalter came into Baltimore with a winning attitude and changed the fans’ and the Orioles players’ perspective completely. Showalter was the eighth person to manager the Orioles in 14 years. He did what others could not: Win.

Of course this is not the first time Showalter has brought a winning attitude into a city. He took losing teams in New York, Arizona and Texas and turned them into winners. Though he was fired from all three teams, New York and Arizona won the World Series the following year. New York’s championship year would be the first of four in the span of five years; one can only imagine what would have been of Showalter if he was not fired.

Texas would have two consecutive World Series appearances four years following Showalter’s firing. Showalter obviously made a positive impact on all three teams and their baseball culture. He has a knack for doing that wherever he goes.

Showalter has set a precedent in every city he has come to. Baltimore is no different. He wants to win and if you don’t believe it, just look at the most recent example.

Is his first full season with the Orioles he had a 69-93 record. In his second season, he led the Orioles to a 93-69 record; a record that would lead the team to its first playoff appearance and its first winning season in 14 years. Two years later, the Orioles have 69-50 record and lead the AL East by 7.5 games.

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The fans are not the only ones who can feel the attitude changing. The players and managers can feel it too.

“This club is a lot like this city,” Showalter said during his post-game press conference after a 5-2 win over the Yankees. “It’s a very proud club.

“Everybody here has had their nose bloodied,” Showalter continued. “And you’ve got a choice to make.”

One thing that has been different in Baltimore is the length of his tenure as manager. The end of this season will mark the longest Showalter has ever managed a team and it doesn’t look like he will be leaving anytime soon.

World SeriesShowalter has proven that he can take teams with the worst possible records in the major leagues and turn them into perennial playoff teams time after time. What is his next step? He needs to lead a team to the World Series. What about after that? He needs to win a World Series.

Will this 2014 team be THE team that takes Showalter to the promise land? Do they have what it takes to win the AL East and go toe-for-toe with arguably the best pitching staffs in the majors in Oakland and Detroit? Is this the best team Showalter has ever managed?

OK, I might be getting ahead of myself there. It’s not even September yet, but you get the point.

Only time will answer those questions. And, for once, time is on our hands. We will get an answer in a little over two months’ time. But one thing has already been answered. The culture around Baltimore has changed. This town is, once again, a baseball town and their damn proud of it.

With Machado out, What now?

Tyler's BylineA huge panic came through Baltimore when Manny Machado went down to ground after swinging at a pitch and grabbing his knee.

Fans remembered last season when Machado destroyed his knee last season running to first base and the rehab he had to go through in order to come back.

Last year’s injury resulted in a slow start to this season for the Platinum Glove winner, but he quickly made up for it with a hot start after the All-Star break.

It looked like the progress would be for naught when Machado went down Monday night, but it turned out to be a sprained right knee ligament, smaller damage than many knee injuries. As a result, he has been placed on the 15-day DL.

It’s the best case-scenario for the Orioles, who hold a 6.5-game lead in the AL East.

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The Orioles have called up infielder Cord Phelps from Triple-A Norfolk to take Machado’s spot on the roster.

Phelps was batting .258 at Norfolk and has a little power, with seven homeruns on the season.

Buck Showalter could give Ryan Flaherty or Chris Davis the starting job at third base while Manny is out, with Phelps backing him up.

Losing Manny long-term would have hurt the Orioles’ playoff hopes and would have hindered their shot at making it far in the postseason if the team got there.

Baltimore can afford to be without Manny for a short period of time though, as the team hits an easier stretch of the schedule.

The Orioles finish up their series against the Yankees tonight and then go on a road trip to take on the Indians, White Sox and Cubs.

Then, the team comes back home for a four-game series against the Rays and then a three-game series against the Twins.

It’s never good losing your superstar-third baseman, but Manny Machado picked an affordable time to be out for the Orioles.

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Jimenez gets the win in return

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Ubaldo Jimenez came off of the DL last night and got the win in a quality start in a 10-3 decision against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Jimenez finished the game with six innings pitched, while giving three earned runs off of six hits and three walks.

The Orioles gave their pitcher plenty of run support though, including home runs from Caleb Joseph, Nelson Cruz and Delmon Young.

Joseph has now hit a home run in five straight games and looks to have grasped the catching role, along with Nick Hundley.

Cruz’s home run was his 30th of the season and came off pitcher John Lackey.

Lackey had previously made comments about Nelson Cruz and using PEDs. The former Red Sox pitcher was rocked for nine earned runs, as the Orioles got to him early.

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This was Jimenez’s first start since July 5 and pitcher Miguel Gonzalez was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk in a corresponding move to bring Jimenez back to the rotation.

Jimenez struggled with his command early in the game, walking two batters in the first inning.

He proceeded to give up a hit to Jhonny Peralta, which brought in one run, but a solid throw from Delmon Young gunned down the second runner trying to score.

The second inning was more of the same thing, as Jimenez gave up a home run to Jon Jay.

However, the right-hander settled down after that and only give up one more run off a sacrifice fly in his last four innings of work.

It was a quality start from Jimenez, but it will be interesting to see just how big of a leash he’ll have with Miguel Gonzalez waiting in Norfolk.

The Orioles are obviously going to give the former Cleveland Indians pitcher a chance though, after signing him to a four-year, $50 million deal.

But might not be many chances, as the Orioles are in the midst of potentially winning their first division title since 1997 and won’t have time to keep throwing Jimenez out there if he is struggling.

It was a positive sign for Jimenez to grab the win, but will have to do more in order to keep a spot in the rotation.

Numbers Aren’t Everything

Byline IanBefore you go and say that your favorite prospect should be starting for the major league club, think about a few things first. Numbers like batting averages, slugging percentage and on-base percentage don’t always give someone a good inclination about how a prospect will do in the major leagues. Numbers aren’t everything.

If numbers aren’t everything, then how does the above-average fan know if a prospect is really that good? Why wouldn’t a young player with a .342 average in Double-A be called up to the majors right now? Why wouldn’t a young pitcher be called up when he has a record of 10-4 with a 3.02 ERA? Take a few things into consideration when thinking of these logical answers.

The first thing someone should consider is if the prospect has a place to play. It is a pretty obvious question with a clear answer that arises when drooling over a 21-year-old’s batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. The answer is always yes, right?

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Of course, the young player who has been compared to Cy Young or has been called the next Robinson Cano (there is a reason I used Cano’s name) should be brought up right away.

“He can play over… oh, yeah; we already have a second baseman.”

“We already have a great starting rotation.”

“We already have an average or a good enough player at said position.”

There are three ways you can answer this question.

  1. The front office or the major league manager have to be absolutely positive that the young player is so good that he will definitely be better than the person he is going to be replacing.
  2. The major league has no choice to bring him up. The players at the position have been either terrible defensively, offensively or both, leaving the major league team at the point where they need to promote him.
  3. A combination of the first two.

Take the situation the Baltimore Orioles had with Manny Machado a couple years ago. Machado was a highly-rated prospect; a shortstop nonetheless. The Orioles already had a great shortstop on their team in J.J. Hardy, so the answer to the first question was no. However, the Orioles needed to use him at a different position, third base.

The players the Orioles were using at third base were not the greatest defensively. A combination of Steve Tolleson, Mark Reynolds, Wilson Betemit, Robert Andino and Ryan Flaherty made 25 errors in 134 games. Manny Machado made five in 51 games.

The Orioles needed Machado to play third, a position he had never played before. He had a very good batting average in the minor leagues and thankfully for the Orioles, it transitioned to the major leagues. Also, Machado turned out to be a pretty good third baseman; winning a gold glove in his first full year in the majors.

The second thing any fan should take into consideration is if the prospect is really that good. We can all read numbers. Everyone can look at the batting averages and all that good stuff, but have we actually seen the player play? If someone likes this prospect so much and thinks he should be called up to the major leagues, does the fan really know how he will do once he gets there?

Fans question manager’s and general manager’s decisions not calling up a player or keeping one player on the major league roster or not playing a certain player; whatever it is, fans question it. Even if the team is in first place just two years after the team had 14 consecutive losing seasons; yes I’m talking about you Orioles’ fans. But fans, diehard or not, question the manager and/or general manager because they all want one thing: to have the best team possible.

Most of the time, the managers and general managers know what they are doing, even if it is hard to fathom getting paid to make decisions like that. They are more knowledgeable about these things than the average fan is. The average fan does not have scouts giving them reports on certain players. The average fan does look at tape of certain players or opposing player to make sure he is putting the best lineup out.

Before you go ahead and say “Prospect A should be called up and replace Major League Player 1,” take a trip down to your local Double-A or Triple-A stadium, buy a cheap ticket and see how the player does on a daily basis. Pitchers could have had multiple bad games when they played the team of your favorite prospect, which could lead to lopsided stats.

Your favorite prospect could simply just be better than everyone else and deserve to be called up, but you will never know until you go see him play in person. Video highlights do not do enough justice when scouting prospects. They are called “highlights” for a reason. They never showcase the player’s bad games or how a player overcomes adversity or a tough situation in the field or at the plate.

The third thing a fan should consider is if the prospect will be able to handle the major league competition. A certain prospect could be tearing it up at the Double-A or Triple-A level, again the number thing, but might not be ready mentally to handle the pressures of the major league game.

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Take Johnathan Schoop of the Baltimore Orioles for example. He was a highly rated second base prospect and was compared to Robinson Cano. Experts said Schoop would be power-hitting second baseman with pretty good defensive skills.

Last season he batted .278, had a slugging percentage of .460 and an on-base percentage of .330 in 81 games between Triple-A and Single-A ball. Even though he was only 22 years old, he was the starting second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles opening day.

The first two questions were answered at the start of spring training. The Orioles needed a second baseman and the players whom Schoop was going to replace were either Ryan Flaherty or Robert Andino (circa 2012). Buck Showalter, the manager of the Orioles, thought Schoop could start over both of those players, which he did. The Orioles thought that Schoop “was really that good.” They thought he was far better than the competition presented to him in the minor leagues.

The answer to third question however, is no. Johnathan Schoop has played a very good defensive second base so far this season. However, Schoop has struggled offensively. Anyone who has seen him play every day knows he is overmatched at the plate. He gets fooled on the off-speed and breaking ball pitches, meaning he is not mentally ready for the major leagues.

572233One player highly touted in the Orioles system right now is first baseman Christian Walker. He started this season at Double-A Bowie where he played a total of 95 games. His numbers, and his consistent play backed him up, were good enough for him to be promoted to Triple-A Norfolk.

So far at Triple-A, his batting average and slugging percentage have both dropped, but not by much. He does however, have a better on-base percentage. His name has been talked about by many fans to be brought up. There is a slight problem in that.

Some fans want him to be brought up because reigning home run champion Chris Davis has struggled at the plate all season. Honestly, it seems like anyone would be a better option at the plate than Davis right now. But that does not count out what he means to the team.

Davis is a leader of the team in the clubhouse and on the field. His presence and the possibility of him “breaking out” are too important to sit him on the bench. The only way someone will improve their statistics is by playing.

There is another problem that occurs when discussing whether Christian Walker should be called up; Steve Pearce. Pearce is the backup first baseman, who has played a lot this season and also has seen plenty of playing time in left field, switching off that role with Delmon Young.

Both Pearce and Young, two proven major league hitters, have been strong offensively this season whenever and wherever they play. If the Orioles brought Walker up, it would mean taking a bat away from one of these two players. To take a bat away from either of these could cause the Orioles to decline offensively. They would be adding Walker, a young hitter with no major league experience, to a lineup that has been inconsistent, to say the least.

Granted, rating a prospect and deciding on how great of a player is very hard work. Not every player is a major league-caliber player. But remember this too; even if a player is absolutely dominating at the Double-A level they could still be too young and might need to work on some things to improve their overall game.

So remember, numbers aren’t everything. Major league scouts don’t just look at the numbers and fans shouldn’t either. Take a trip to your local Double-A affiliate’s stadium and see prospects in person. But most importantly, think if those prospects truly actually have a place on the major league roster and if they are better than players who are currently on it.

Nick Markakis: Sign Him

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Byline JoeLeader. Professional. Dependable.

Those are just some of the words that Nick Markakis’ teammates have used to describe a man who has never been to an All-Star game despite being one of the most important ball players to ever wear an Orioles uniform.

He’s seen the likes of Ty Wiggington and George Sherrill take his well-deserved All-Star spot. He’s watched his friend and fellow outfield teammate Adam Jones play four times in the Mid-Summer Classic. Manny Machado made the team as a rookie. None of this fazes the quiet, yet reliable Markakis as he continues to be one of the most consistent players in Baltimore history.

O’s players to Make All-Star team since Markakis Joined the League:

Miguel Tejada (2006)
Brian Roberts
George Sherrill (2008)
Adam Jones (2009, 12, 13, 14)
Ty Wiggington (2010)
Matt Wieters (2011, 12, 14)
Jim Johnson (2012)
J.J. Hardy (2013)
Manny Machado (2013)
Nelson Cruz (2014)

He is not your ideal leadoff hitter. He’s a singles machine that lacks speed coveted by a traditional table setter. He has just four stolen bases on six attempts. He ideally would be a team’s No. 2 hitter.

However, Nick has especially done well in setting the table in the first inning, batting .333. Markakis has also performed well in extra innings, batting 8-for-13. He hits lefties (.288) and righties (.285) at nearly the same average. His defense is one of the best in history, evidenced by a streak of 283 consecutive games without an error in the outfield, a franchise record.

Markakis is first in the league in plate appearances with 505. He ranks fifth in hits with 131, and his .286 batting average and .349 on-base percentage are in the Top 20. With 73 more hits, he will catch Boog Powell, the former American League Most Valuable Player and four-time All-Star, for fifth on the Orioles’ all-time list and only Brady Anderson (1,589) has more hits as an Orioles outfielder.

“I hope everybody understands what we’re watching here,” Showalter told the Baltimore Sun. “We talk about some of those guys through the years that were solid Orioles, you’ve got to mention his name, hopefully for many years.”

On the day that he collected his 1,500th career hit, Markakis finished a triple short of the cycle and carried an Orioles offense that owns the worst batting average and on-base percentage in the American League since the All-Star break.
Despite the inefficiency from the offense, the win was the ninth in 13 games for the AL East-leading Orioles, who won the season series from Seattle, 5-2. Baltimore is 10-6 since the All-Star break, and currently holds a 3.5 game lead over Toronto in the AL East.

With the O’s offense continuing to struggle, they needed another strong effort from their improving pitching staff. During that same stretch, Baltimore’s ERA (2.78) and opponents’ batting average are the third best in the league. Eight of the last nine games have been decided by one run and all of their last six wins have come by that same margin.
The leadoff home run by Markakis was the first time in the club history that the Orioles won a game when the lone run came on a leadoff homer.

“That’s what we’re out here to do,” Markakis said told reporters after the game yesterday. “We’re out here to win ballgames, no matter if it’s by one run like today or if it’s by 10 runs.”

Prior to this season, many wondered whether the Monkton resident was worthy of his current contract following a disappointing 2013 campaign. It was a forgone conclusion that this would be his last season in orange and black. Now, it’s hard to imagine the Orioles not keeping such a valuable member of the team moving forward. The Baltimore brass has a club option for him to be retained by the Orioles for $17.5 million in 2015.

Sign the man.

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