As the 2017 Orioles transformed from contender to pretender, September became a teaching/learning month for the team. The final grade won't come until sometime next year, but for the moment, "incomplete, needs work" would seem to fit.
Those who yearned to watch the young players in the final month got their wish during the last couple of weeks, and they learned two things: 1) The Orioles seem to have finally developed some position players with promise; and 2) collectively, they aren't ready for delivery to the big leagues as a package.
Giving outfielder Austin Hays, catcher Chance Sisco and outfielder Anthony Santander a chance to join outfielder Trey Mancini in the lineup might have provided a glimpse of the future, but the eye-opening reality is that this is not a team ready for an instant infusion of young talent.
Santander, a Rule 5 pick whose powerful switch-hitting is intriguing, will have to stay with the Orioles for the first 45 days next year (provided he can stay healthy) but almost certainly will need more minor league at-bats before he's ready. Sisco, who has three options after being added to the 40-man roster for the first time, can probably make the transition to the big leagues, but it would be pushing it to say he's ready to assume duties as the No. 1 catcher, even in a platoon role, since he would draw a heavy load of the at-bats as a left-handed hitter.
Hays, the fastest right-handed hitter out of the box the Orioles have had in a long time, made remarkable progress during his first full professional season and is a possibility to be in the Opening Day lineup in 2018 -- but it would be a mistake to project him as an instant star.
It's easy to overlook given Mancini's success this season -- he's the likely runner-up to the New York Yankees' Aaron Judge as American League Rookie of the Year -- but it took him four years in college and a complete trip through the minor league system to get where he is today.
There are some in the organization who believe Cedric Mullins, the speedy switch-hitter who was impressive during spring training but suffered through some nagging injuries in 2017, is a more major league ready outfielder than Hays. There was much speculation last spring that it would be Mullins who would get the late-season call-up that eventually went to Hays.
Taking the extensive look at rookies in September might have given the Orioles a better idea of what to expect next year, but it also probably cost them one spot in the standings, not that a last-place finish matters any more or less than fourth place. Of more importance, they dropped significant ground to the third-place Tampa Bay Rays, a team that has the pitching depth and potential the Orioles have spent the last decade trying to build.
I happened to stumble (not literally) across a
Chicago Tribune story that said a movie is in the works that recounts the Cubs ending a 108-year drought by winning last year's World Series. The only surprise about a movie being made on the subject is that it's taken so long that last year's "dynasty" team is a dark horse in this year's postseason.
Apparently the movie will be based on the book written by David Ross, the most famous backup catcher since Tim McCarver, detailing his lengthy but unspectacular career, which was highlighted by his role as Jon Lester's personal catcher. One of the hottest, and best, rumors is that Bill Murray will play Joe Maddon.
The best line, though, wondered who would play Murray, who seemingly gets more face time these days on golf courses, at Wrigley Field or in the Cubs' clubhouse (I swear he got more face time than Theo Epstein, who put the team together) than on the big screen.
This time a year ago, the Cubs were not only the popular choice to go all the way, but also the odds-on choice among those who indulge in sports wagering. This year, the Cubbies almost seem to be an afterthought, which is a little surprising considering how many, including Maddon, thought last year could be the start of a dynasty.
The Washington Nationals have become something of a sexy pick to represent the National League in the World Series, which is kind of a snub to the Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers, who only have the best record in the game. If Nationals ace Max Scherzer isn't healthy, all bets are off.
I still think the Cleveland Indians, who took the Cubs to the 10th inning of Game 7 last year, are the best team in baseball, and I'm thinking they will emulate the Kansas City Royals of 2014-2015 by winning the World Series a year after narrowly losing it.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox