The Orioles – the surprise of the 2022 season – have some decisions to make about their September roster. The biggest decisions center on top prospects Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall, and Gunnar Henderson, the 56th, 4th, and top-ranked prospects in the game, per Baseball America.
Hall and Henderson are under consideration to join the big league club when the rosters expand, and perhaps sooner, so says General Manager Mike Elias, tweets Nathan Ruiz of the Baltimore Sun. The plan has been for Hall to win the right to join the bullpen in September when rosters expand, but the evaluation process is dynamic, and nothing is guaranteed for the southpaw, who made his debut earlier this season. (It’s worth noting that, regardless of what happens this year, the plan remains for Hall to join the rotation next year.)
Fans are certainly eager to see this cluster of high-ceiling prospects in action, but they can put at least a modicum of trust in the process, as compared to seasons past. With the new CBA, the Orioles are freed from some of the service time concerns that have hampered clubs’ decision-making under the prior collective bargaining agreement. With less than 45 service days remaining in the season, Baltimore has no service reasons to keep Henderson or Hall in the minors any longer, notes The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. If they feel the pair can help the big league club as they make a push for the playoffs, we should see them soon.
For Rodriguez, the issue is more a question of health than MLB readiness. He has yet to begin a rehab assignment as he recovers from a lat injury. Per Rich Dubroff of BaltimoreBaseball.com, Elias said, “I’m almost positive that we’re going to see him in real game action before the season’s over. As with any rehab assignment, we’ll start him in the lower minors and then we’ll get him back, hopefully, to the level in which he got injured, and we’ll take it from there.”
Of course, Elias has more to think about than just the individual development of each of these high flyers. With the team unexpectantly pushing for a playoff spot, the Orioles should prioritize fielding the best team possible. Thrusting a young player into a playoff chase for a team that’s been so far from contention for so long is no small decision, however. Suddenly, the lights are bright in Baltimore. Elias must weigh the current needs of the team against the developmental hurdles in front of Henderson, Hall, and Rodriguez. Given the process and plan that Elias has instilled in this organization, he’s likely to want to maintain the long view, even amidst a playoff race.
For now, Orioles fans will have to content themselves with watching new face-of-the-franchise Adley Rutschman lead this team. Thus far, Rutschman has done everything promised to keep this Cinderella squad in the hunt. The 24-year-old backstop has slashed .253/.363/.442 with eight home runs across 320 plate appearances. Those numbers are 34 percent better than average, as evidenced by a 134 wRC+, which isn’t just remarkable for a catcher, or for a rookie, but for anyone in spikes.
Maybe this will be the new normal for Baltimore, but especially in the AL East, where the competition will be top-shelf year after year, each opportunity for postseason play is precious. If nothing else, August/September baseball should matter in a way that Baltimore fans haven’t seen since the days of Buck Showalter, Manny Machado, and Zack Britton. If the kids come to play, all the better.