In mid-July, the Orioles were desperate for any outfielders they could get.
With an injured and sick outfield, the Orioles were reportedly linked to Yasiel Puig as the cries for prospect Ryan Mountcastle from the fanbase grew louder.
Now, in mid-September, the Orioles suddenly have youth, talent and most importantly, depth across all outfield positions not only for the remainder of this season, but for the future, too.
In a 5-1 loss to the Braves on Tuesday at Camden Yards, the Orioles (21-27) got a look at the outfield talent in nearly full form.
“This year, there’s a surplus of a lot of young outfielders, and these are guys that I’ve played with for the last three and four years,” Hays told reporters Tuesday. “I said it last night, when we were stretching on the lines, it was me, Mounty, DJ and Cedric. I was like, ‘The Bowie boys are back from 2017 and 2018.’"
On Tuesday, Cedric Mullins played in center and batted leadoff, DJ Stewart played in right and hit third, Mountcastle was at first and followed in the cleanup spot and Austin Hays, in left field, hit ninth. That list doesn’t include Anthony Santander, who is likely out for the season with an oblique injury, or Trey Mancini, who missed all of the 2020 season after a cancer diagnosis.
If Santander is officially finished, he’ll end the season with 37 games played. He batted .261 — the same as in 2019 — but hit 11 home runs and 13 doubles, far better than any pace he’d hit for before. He was the clear leader of the outfield trio when healthy.
But perhaps the most surprising revelation of the Orioles’ young outfield is Stewart, who went his first 10 games of the season without tallying a hit. As a result, he was sent to the team’s alternate training site at Double-A Bowie.
Then, from Sept. 4-14, he batted .394 with a .444 on-base percentage, before an 0-for-4 performance against the Tuesday. His power was the most impressive part of his resurgence, as he’s totaled seven home runs in 20 games. Instead of batting at the bottom of the lineup, like he had all year, he hit third against the Braves.
Mullins, with his dangerous speed and supreme bunting ability, has been a dangerous at-bat on the basepaths. Manager Brandon Hyde has now publicly claimed Mullins should be in the conversation for a Gold Glove award. His play, along with an injury to Hays, boosted him to the leadoff spot.
But as any young players are to do, the Orioles have been an up-and-down team all year. When asked if that’s the next place for improvement, the answer is clear.
“I do believe so,” Mullins said. “We have a great team, we’ve continued to battle throughout this season and put together a solid season. It’s just a matter of continuing to improve.”
Just a few months ago, the Orioles’ outfield was one of the most concerning parts of the organization with little help seemingly near the big league level.
Now, with prospects like No. 2 overall pick Heston Kjerstad and Yusniel Diaz in the system still, once a major weakness has now become a focal point of the rebuild.
“The guys that I came up with through the minor leagues, those are everybody that are in the big leagues right now,” Hays continued. “I just feel a little bit closer to the team than when I first came up.”