Baltimore Orioles: The unexplainable outfield breakthrough

With injuries taking out two promising outfielders, the Baltimore Orioles have seen two unsung heroes step up.

Entering the 2020 season, the Baltimore Orioles weren’t expected to be in the position they are currently in, but there were a number of intriguing storylines to keep fans entertained for a 60-game sprint this season.

The bullpen sat atop that list and has proven its value. Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro were traded away for three prospects who have since entered the Baltimore Orioles farm system as Top 30 prospects (plus two additional PTBNLs) and arms like Tanner Scott, Paul Fry, Dillon Tate and others have stepped up in a major way.

The other storyline of intrigue was the outfield. Can Anthony Santander consistently hit and finally post a .300+ OBP across a full season? Will Austin Hays ever stay healthy? Santander did show great improvements at the plate, but recently went down with a strained oblique and will miss the rest of the season.

More Orioles: Santander's breakout season is over

Hays hasn’t played since August 14th due to a hairline rib fracture. No set deadline has been announced for his return.

Luckily for the Orioles, two outfielders, who were largely written off by fans, have emerged as legitimate threats in this lineup and a pleasant spark as the Baltimore Orioles battle for a 2020 playoff spot (that last part felt weird to write).

The Baltimore Orioles are working magic at their Alternate Site.

The most eye-opening performance has been that of former first-round pick, DJ Stewart. The delayed start to the season gave Stewart enough time to heal from offseason ankle surgery, but he struggled mightily out of the gate.

Stewart began the season 0-22 before being sent down to the team’s Alternate Site in Bowie to try and reset. He not only hit the reset button, but came back as a man on a serious mission.

Including his 0-22 stretch, Stewart is now hitting .267 with a .488 on-base percentage, 1.255 OPS, and a career-high five home runs. All five home runs have come during his current four-game home run stretch, which started on September 5th when he hit two off New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole for his first two hits of the season.

Stewart spent the last two seasons bouncing between Triple-A and the big leagues, struggling to find regular playing time with a handful of injuries thrown in. He’s always been a high on-base guy with the ability to deposit a handful of home runs, but hasn’t been able to put it all together to become a regular contributor for the Orioles.

Obviously, his 1.255 OPS and Barry Bonds-like home run stretch won’t hold up, but it’s a great testament to the work being put in down at the Baltimore Orioles Alternate Site. If DJ Stewart can find a happy medium between his early career numbers and his current numbers, he gives the Orioles yet another intriguing outfield option to work into their rotation. The rest of 2020 will tell us if he’s worth another look next season.

The other pleasant surprise has been Cedric Mullins. His struggles have been well documented over the last year. He hit .094 in 22 games last season with the Orioles, quickly ending his run as the team’s starting center fielder and replacement for Adam Jones.

He didn’t fare much better after being optioned to Triple-A. There, Mullins hit .205 with a 46 wRC+ and was demoted once again to Double-A.

While Mullins ended his 2019 season strong in Double-A, few still believed he could develop into a major league contributor. He’s doing everything he can to prove the doubters wrong.

In 30 games, Mullins is slashing .296/.352/.420 with five extra-base hits and a 111 wRC+. He’s been worth 0.6 Wins Above Replacement in 2020 after recording an fWAR of -0.3 and -0.8 in his first two major league stints. He also has five stolen bases to his name.

The defense has been impressive, allowing the Orioles outfield defense to not miss a beat with the injury to Austin Hays. Mullins is among the league leaders with three Outs Above Average, per Baseball Savant.

While DJ Stewart’s future role with the team is up in the air, Mullins has a clear path to a permanent roster spot. His game-changing speed on the basepaths and plus-defense are valuable in Baltimore, especially with an injury-prone Hays in the lineup. Even as a bat off the bench, his ability to square up pitches and hit a home run, or bunt for a hit, can put you in a position to win a game and he’s proving that this season.

Next: The old John Means is back

There will be a lot of questions about the Baltimore Orioles outfield in 2021, but for now, it’s extremely promising to see these once written-off pieces contribute in a major way. Maybe, just maybe, they can help lead the Orioles to a playoff spot. Regardless, it’s been fun to watch along the way.



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