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John Means continues stunning rise to become latest Orioles All-Star

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USA Today

John Means continues stunning rise to become latest Orioles All-Star

The last player to make the Opening Day roster for the worst team in baseball just three months ago is now an MLB All-Star.

John Means can hardly believe it either.

“I was sitting there and I said ‘You’re joking, this isn’t that funny,” Means told MLB.com after finding out about his selection to the 2019 All-Star Game.

His reaction is hardly surprising. Means was never supposed to be the ace of a staff, or an organization’s lone All-Star representative. Even in Baltimore, the All-Star push surrounded Trey Mancini, not Means.

As noted above, Means barely made this year’s team out of camp. He was never a prospect with much pedigree, drafted out of West Virginia in the 11th round of the 2014 MLB Draft. Players picked that late are often lucky to make it to the upper minors; now Means is dominating the majors.

Means made one appearance on MLB Pipeline’s annual prospect rankings, debuting in 2017 at number 29.

To be clear, that was 29th-best in a poorly-rated Orioles farm system, not 29th overall in baseball. And by 2018, he had already fallen back off the list.

A player who never made a single minor league All-Star Game is now headed to the Midsummer Classic at the highest possible level. It’s the culmination of a journey no one saw coming. And yet, it’s also a beginning of sorts. Means is only a rookie after all, which adds to his feat.

He is now the first rookie pitcher to make the All-Star team for the Orioles since 1960, just six seasons after the franchise originally came to Baltimore. Hall of Famer Mike Mussina didn’t do it. Hall of Famer Jim Palmer didn’t do it. John Means did. 

How great has Means been in 2019? Thanks to an inauspicious one-game debut in 2018, Means’ Wins Above Replacement this season (3.2) is actually greater than his career WAR (3.1). He’s 7-4, with a 2.50 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP.

If he had pitched enough innings to qualify, his ERA would rank third in the American League, just 0.1 away from first.

Means doesn’t throw with much velocity, but the peripherals highlight a modern breakout archetype. His fastball spin rate is well above average, as is his hard-hit rate. And rather than force his fastball, he has also learned to lean heavily on his best pitch: a putaway changeup that rates as the eighth-best in all of baseball, according to Fangraphs.

It all tells the story of a pitcher who’s taken well to the analytically-driven approach of the new regime in Baltimore. And now, after a brilliant first half to his rookie season, he’s being rewarded for his hard work.

The Orioles are required to have an All-Star representative, but don’t mistake his lack of preseason expectations for an undeserving candidate. John Means has objectively been one of the American League’s best pitchers in 2019. 

Just because not even Means himself saw it coming hasn’t made it any less impressive, or fun, to watch. If the Orioles are ever going to pull themselves out of baseball’s cellar, they’re going to need to unearth a hidden gem or two. 

It appears they’ve done just that with their 26-year-old rookie pitcher. And it clearly, ahem, “Means” a whole lot to both the player, and the organization who gave him a chance.

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Orioles outfielder Anthony Santander reveals he tested positive for COVID-19

Orioles outfielder Anthony Santander reveals he tested positive for COVID-19

Orioles outfielder Anthony Santander said Wednesday that the reason for his absence at the start of Orioles training camp this summer was because he tested positive for coronavirus. 

He hadn’t participated in workouts in recent weeks, but no one within the organization provided a reason why.

“I would like to start by letting you know that I did test positive for COVID-19 and was quarantined the past two weeks,” Santander said on a Zoom call Wednesday morning. “Now, I’m healthy, I’m not contagious. I’m happy to be back on the field with my teammates and I’m ready to workout.”

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Santander said he had mild symptoms, but now feels better and was able to rejoin the team this week. 

The Orioles open their season on July 24 against the Red Sox, and both Hyde and Santander are optimistic they will be able to get him ready in time. 

Last season for the Orioles, Santander slashed .261/.297/.476 and had 20 home runs and 59 RBIs in 93 games, his best as a professional. Santander played all three outfield positions for the Orioles last season.

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Ryan Mountcastle still patiently waiting for Orioles debut to come

Ryan Mountcastle still patiently waiting for Orioles debut to come

Ryan Mountcastle has waited his entire life to make his major league debut. Now he’ll just have to wait a little longer. 

The 23-year-old slugger for the Orioles has essentially accomplished everything he could in the minor leagues. He climbed the organization's minor league ranks since the time he was drafted in 2015 and last season, in Triple-A Norfolk, he took off. 

Mountcastle slashed .312/.344/.527 with 25 home runs and was named the International League’s Most Valuable Player. 

Even still, he won't be on the Orioles' Opening Day roster this summer. 

“They communicated with me, I think right before all the names came out and said I was going to the alternate site,” Mountcastle said Monday. “A little upset, but at the end of the day they sent me down after spring to Triple-A and they said most of the guys they sent down were going to that alternate site.”

With service time the major issue with Mountcastle, just a week away from the roster will give the Orioles another year of team control before he hits free agency. In essence, the Orioles are making a long-term play to save money on Mountcastle down the line.

“He wasn’t one of the original players we brought in here,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said Monday. “He’s going to go to Bowie, get some work in and be ready for us sometime this summer.”

Still, though, Mountcastle has work to do if he wants to become the everyday player like many expect him to become. 

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Last year in Norfolk, he played 81 games at third base, 84 games at first base and 26 in left field. But on Tuesday, Hyde indicated the team has basically moved on from trying Mountcastle at third base. Instead, they’re repping him constantly in the outfield with a few drills at first base sprinkled in-between.

“You’ll see him play the majority of time at left field, he might get a few reps at first base also, but we really want to make the primary focus left field because it’s new to him,” Hyde said. “It’s important for him and for us for him to be able to play the outfield. At this point, we’re not hitting him ground balls on the left side of the field, so we’re really focusing on his defense in left field primarily and first base next.”

In left field last year in Norfolk, his first season playing the outfield as a professional, he tallied a perfect fielding percentage and had 37 putouts with five assists. 

“There’s a lot that goes into the outfield,” Mountcastle said. “Just getting better routes, that’s all I was trying to do. Being able to put my head down and run and look up and be able to find the ball, stuff like that, as opposed to the infield. When you get a fly ball in the infield, you got your eyes on it the whole time.  But when you’ve really gotta put your head down and run in the outfield, it’s a little more tough.”

While his adjustment to the outfield is the predominant focus and discussion surrounding Mountcastle, there are still things he’s got to clean up before he makes a clean transition to the major leagues. Mountcastle, who is the 94th ranked prospect in baseball according to mlb.com, posted a 23.5 percent K-rate a season ago in Triple-A and just a 4.3 percent walk-rate. 

The clear response to those questions about Mountcastle, however, are to let him give it a twirl at the major league level. 

As for when he’ll get that chance, though, remains to be seen. 

“I worked my butt off my entire life to be a big leaguer,” Mountcastle said. “I want to be able to be up there and help the team win. I think I bring enough to the table to do that. Hopefully I get that call this year.”

Stay connected to the Orioles with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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