There's a lot about the Orioles' competitiveness during this rebuilding process that's frustrating outside of the day-in, day-out results, from the pitching issues to the lack of execution in the field that exacerbates them.
One problem, however, is completely out of control of the people who are charged with fielding a team and creates some serious complications when the team needs every player at its disposal just to get by: the Orioles' 40-man roster is kind of a mess.
There are two factors at play, neither of which provide any comfort when the Orioles are cycling the same few players through the roster.
The first, simply, is that there is an abnormally high number of players who can't really help the major league team, absent an emergency. For example, only under the most dire circumstances did the Orioles call up pitchers Luis Ortiz and Josh Rogers on Friday.
That Ortiz struggled and was sent back to Triple-A Norfolk after one day in the majors puts him in the can't-help column at the moment, where he joins Cody Carroll, Hunter Harvey, Dillon Tate and Chandler Shepherd among the 22 pitchers on the 40-man roster.
Right-hander David Hess, by virtue of his quick demotion to the bullpen Saturday and then the minors Sunday, is probably on that list, too, at least for now.
Carroll hasn't pitched since spring training but isn't on the major league injured list, so he'd have to be added to the active roster to be placed on the 60-day IL and create an opening for another player. That would allow him to accumulate major league service time, though, so the Orioles are in limbo there.
Harvey and Tate, both well-regarded prospects at Double-A Bowie, each began the season in the Baysox starting rotation but are now pitching out of the bullpen. That at least puts them in contention to come up to the majors and help this year, but given the Orioles' focus on the future, both might be too good to be called up this early in the team's rebuild.
Shepherd was a waiver claim last month who struggled badly in his first three outings at Norfolk before pitching well Sunday.
That makes, effectively, 17 pitchers who are available to the Orioles to cycle through 13 spots, meaning the likes of Jimmy Yacabonis, Evan Phillips, Tanner Scott, Branden Kline and now Rogers are cycling through the last one or two spots.
There are also some outfielders, in Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins, who seem like long-term candidates to stay in the minors. A third, Joey Rickard, fell far down the pecking order while he was in the majors and has a long road to climb to get back to Baltimore, even if he remains on the roster.
The same could be said of Anthony Santander, DJ Stewart and Chance Sisco before the past few weeks, when all were languishing in Triple-A waiting for their turn but hadn't exactly forced the team's hand.
So depending on what the club thinks of left-hander Scott's last month, and why exactly Kline is at Double-A Bowie instead of Norfolk, the Orioles have anywhere between nine and 11 players on the 40-man roster who they either won't or don't want to bring up unless their hand is forced.
That's a really bad spot to be in.
It's not the fault of any of the players that they're on the roster and in the spot that they're in, nor is there much that executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias or manager Brandon Hyde can do about it.
The Orioles under Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter enjoyed adding players ahead of their Rule 5 draft eligibility and getting them an early taste of the majors, even if it was the player’s roster status that drove their debuts more than it was their readiness for the majors.
Acquiring so many players who needed to be added to the roster last summer — such as Ortiz, Phillips, Carroll, Rogers and Tate — meant a roster full of players who had little-to-no experience, and all of it coming on last year's disastrous club. (Kline would probably still be continuing his development in Triple-A had he not been added ahead of minor league free agency, as well.)
Considering only a handful players stick in the Rule 5 draft each year, the roster would look quite different if the Orioles were able to roll the dice and see if those players made it through the draft before adding them to the major league roster.
In their place, they could have more longtime Triple-A pitchers, the kind of veteran that has held his own on the position side this year. Instead, the Orioles have a lot of players who are young enough to project success, but still too inexperienced to be relied on at the major league level.
Eventually, some of the young players who were promised as the Orioles' future will be part of their present. It's already started to happen with Sisco, Stewart and Santander getting regular chances in the Orioles' lineup. There's also a wave of pitchers coming through the low-minors and all the way up to Double-A Bowie that's far more promising than any group they've had on the mound in a while.
But now that this team's competitive timeline is pushed so far back, those players won't be added to the major league roster or rushed any faster than they need to be. That means they'll only be here when they're more-than-ready, and the 40-man roster can be put together in a way that makes the noncompetitive present a little more palatable than this 21-50 edition.
What's to come?
A week out west facing the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners is a good news/bad news proposition for the Orioles. The good news is they get away from Camden Yards, where they have an astonishing minus-107 run differential and have lost 28 of 37 games this season.
On the road, it's a 12-22 record with a minus-44 run differential in 34 games, and at least anecdotally a better brand of baseball with more competitive games without the specter of the Camden Yards home run boogeyman looming over every pitch.
The bad news is the Orioles have historically fared poorly on these trips across the West Coast, though this is a team that's entirely different than the one that got swept out of Oakland and Los Angeles in May last year.
What was good?
Weekly apologies to Trey Mancini — the subject of a tremendous All-Star promotional video and the only good Oriole for yet another week — but there's just something about Anthony Santander's success that's worth mentioning.
While he had success in spring training, it wasn't necessarily all authoritative contact, but a lot of grounders down the line that went for doubles and soft contact that fell in for hits. He's doing plenty of that in his first week-plus with the Orioles, batting .343 (12-for-35) since he was recalled June 7 and .391 (9-for-23) this past week.
It's not always been rockets all over the ballpark, but he has a knack for getting the bat to the ball and has cut down his strikeout rate from his major league time last season.
Much has been made about his fate once left fielder Dwight Smith Jr. returns from the injured list with a concussion — which could happen during the western swing after a few rehabilitation games.
Smith, however, is pretty far removed from his hot-hitting early days of the season. Santander being sent down, even at a crowded position, would be another temporary block to any of the progress that's being made with young players this year.
Tuesday's 4-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays was the sixth straight game in which the Orioles bullpen pitched well, and players pointed back to a meeting a week earlier in Texas in which they were reminded that their opportunities weren't permanent and that they needed to be aggressive and execute if they wanted to stick around.
In the ensuing five games, the Orioles allowed 48 runs, with the bullpen allowing 29 earned runs in 23 2/3 innings. A week of cleaning up each other's messes and completing one's own assignment gave way to pretty much the exact opposite, and, as outlined above, it's not exactly like the roster is teeming with alternatives.
On the farm
It was a very tough start for Double-A Bowie this year, but some of their big-name hitters are starting to come around and deliver a bit of the offensive punch the club was expecting.
Including a stretch with a home run in three straight games, top prospect Yusniel Diaz has driven in runs in six straight games and has hits in his past five to raise his average to .243 this season. Infielder Rylan Bannon, another player acquired in the five-player trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers for Manny Machado, is batting .314 in his past 10 games.
They've also been massively helped by infielder Mason McCoy, who joined Bowie on May 6 and has hits in 27 of 36 games for a .318 average.