WRITER’S NOTE: It seems to me that the process for rookies entering the NFL and NBA are very well-documented. However, due to the multiple levels of baseball farm system and the years that draftees spend in the minors, often times newly drafted guys disappear off the radar for a time until they’re either in the bigs or on the cusp of being called up. When the Os took Brenan Hanifee in the 4th round of the 2016 draft, I was excited at the prospect of being able to hear about the process and check-in periodically with a player with whom I was personally familiar. This series of posts entitled “Becoming a Pro” will chronicle Brenan Hanifee, the Orioles’ 18th ranked prospect according to MLB.com.
In February, a close friend of mine started coaching baseball at Turner Ashby High School in Bridgewater, Va. The team was loaded with talent, but he told me specifically about their best player, Brenan Hanifee. Hanifee, Turner Ashby’s top pitcher and starting shortstop, had committed to East Carolina University. At 18, his fastball was consistently 91-93 mph and touching 95 mph, and his two seam had solid movement. He also was a stud with his glove and at the plate (when I saw him play in April, he started at SS and hit a two-run homer in the first inning). The captain and “clear leader” of a state semi-final baseball team was now a member of his favorite pro team’s farm system.
Prior to his senior year, forgoing college ball was not on Brenan Hanifee’s radar. The 6’5″, 180lb. righty had committed to play for ECU and was focused on winning a Virginia state title on a team loaded with talent at Turner Ashby High School. As Hanifee prepared for a preseason scrimmage, everything began to change. Scouts from the Mets & Dodgers were there to watch him throw for the first time all year. “It changes your mindset,” Hanifee said, “You just want to throw strikes and make sure you throw all your pitches.” He impressed from the onset and struck out 5 in 2 innings. From that point, pro scouts were present at every game, and according to Hanifee, there were “usually more than 10.” Hanifee impressed with every opportunity as well, going 7-0 with a 0.78 ERA.
Hanifee did not log a lot of innings on the mound for the Black Knights during his sophomore and junior seasons and didn’t participate in many scout showcases. He also missed pre-draft workouts because of a playoff game. Despite this, he became well acquainted with many professional scouts and spoke frequently with several throughout his stellar senior year. The Red Sox, Rangers, and Padres were among teams that made their interest in Hanifee known, but he built his best relationship with Orioles’ scout Rich Morales. “He was my biggest inspiration leading up (to the draft),” Hanifee said of Morales, “We were texting all the time.” Morales came to every one of Hanifee’s starts during the season and was in constant contact with the righty even up to draft day.
Heading into the draft, Hanifee still wasn’t sure what to expect. Everyone seemed to have a different idea about where he would go, ranging anywhere from the 4th to the 10th round, but Hanifee had a “feeling” he would go to the Os in the 4th. On draft day, TA lost in a state semifinal game and on the somber ride back, Hanifee and his assistant coach were watching the draft on their phones. That’s when Morales called, “We’re taking a shortstop in the 4th and you in the 5th.” At that point, Hanifee turned off the draft and thought he’d have a little time between then and his official call. Within a minute his phone rang again. “Are you watching the draft? Watch right now.” Morales said on the other end before saying he’d let him have time to celebrate before he called back.
At that time, he saw his name come across the screen and his teammates erupted. Players went from silent to jumping around. The pick was also celebrated by Morales as Hanifee was the highest pick he’d scouted. On the day before his high school graduation, Brenan Hanifee had received a call that millions have only ever dreamed of. The 18 year old from tiny Hinton, VA was going to be a professional baseball player.
I don’t know that there are phrases in the English language that can adequately describe how horrendous Ubaldo Jimenez has been this year. Dumpster fire, complete train wreck, or utter embarrassment don’t even do it justice. As of right now, Jimenez has a 7.38 ERA in 17 starts, which doesn’t even tell the whole story of what a car crash this guy has been on the mound. As a result, seemingly any trade that would jettison him out of Baltimore would be welcomed by the fan base. This past week, the fever was created when Ken Rosenthal reported the Os had a deal in place to send Ubaldo to the Padres. Twitter went nuts supporting the idea of a trade including Jimenez and a prospect for Melvin Upton Jr. It didn’t happen, and Upton was ultimately traded to the Blue Jays.
I would like to see Ubaldo gone as much as anyone else, but this trade was not the answer.
In Upton, the Blue Jays get a player having a solid year with an albatross of a contract. Upton will make $15mil this year and $16.5mil next (more than Ubaldo’s $13mil next season). Upton has failed to hit better than .250 in a full season since 2008 (he played in less than 100 games last year). His speed makes him a commodity, especially for the Os who currently have a league worst 13 stolen bases (St. Louis is second to last with 24). However, $16.5mil is too steep a price for an inconsistent player with good speed. Upton just simply is not the player he was when he was in Tampa Bay but is still getting paid like it.
The idea of tossing in prospects for the expensive, inconsistent outfielder would have also been problematic. “Experts” say the Orioles have one of the worst farm systems in baseball, and with their history of sending solid future starters to other teams in return for under-performers, it was probably best they didn’t succeed in acquiring Upton.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m too skeptical because I feel like I’ve seen this story before (remember when Gerardo Parra was hitting .328 then came to Camden Yards and hit under .240, good times). Maybe Melvin will continue to rake and steal bases in Toronto, and make the Os regret not pulling the trigger (although I doubt it). Maybe Ubaldo will turn it aro… I couldn’t even finish typing that.
Ubaldo is awful, yes, but Upton is having the kind of year that Ubaldo had prior to getting his current deal. The success is a blip on the radar, for Melvin Upton Jr. and if it was believed otherwise, the market would have been more competitive for him. The Blue Jays have a history of way overpaying for less than stellar production. Plus, DFAing $13mil just sounds better than $16.5mil.
The O’s roster is not short on lovable characters. Manny is not only exceptionally talented, but also one of the most charismatic players in the game. Chris Davis has jaw-dropping power, which has led fans to gravitate toward him. Fans rejoiced when the Orioles signed him to a mega-deal despite any real strong, publicized report of any other suitors. Adam Jones is one of the faces of MLB (Face of MLB) and the kind of man any team would be proud to have on their roster. JJ, Zach Britton, Tillman, Schoop, the list goes on and on, but where is the love for the guy who has arguably been the second best player on the team this year. Why are fans so reticent to love Matt Wieters?
Time and again this year, Wieters has come through with clutch at-bats, played stellar defense, and has (knock on wood) stayed healthy. Even with all this in mind, it seems to me that you’re hard-pressed to find many fans that would list Wieters as their favorite Oriole. As a matter of fact, Wieters has been the target of more criticism than seemingly any other position player on the team (especially from Jim Palmer).
From the moment Wieters joined the big league club in 2009, O’s fans have kept him at a distance. While being labeled as a plus defender, Wieters switch-hitting bat is what had scouts salivating. Matt came up with unbelievable expectations and ranked as Baseball Prospectus’ #1 prospect in 2009. For whatever reason, it has always been believed that Wieters would bolt Charm City given his first opportunity to do so. As a matter of fact, fans seemed almost disappointed that Wieters signed a qualifying offer prior to the 2016 season. Fans have anointed just about every other catcher that has come into the organization as Wieters’ successor (see: Steve Clevenger), and then subsequently called for the team to trade Wieters due his high value.
It is long overdue, but it is time to give Wieters some love. The guy could’ve left this past offseason and gotten paid. He didn’t. Granted, with the year he’s having, he will really cash in come November. But don’t write him off quite yet. He’s under contract for the remainder of the year (and who knows, maybe his love for Baltimore will keep him around).
The dude has been a rock for this team and a leader throughout his time here. He’s a perennial All-Star and a huge part of the turn around this team has experienced under Buck. He’s the Orioles manager on the field and does a hell of a job handling the pitching staff (I don’t want to hear the bull about him “calling bad games”). Go out and give the guy his due, he’s one of the best. Years from now, when he’s being inducted into the O’s Hall of Fame, we’re going to regret not loving this guy like he deserved.
In the final segment of this week’s pod, Josh asked Jason what he thought about the disappointing attendance at Camden Yards this year. It’s a complex topic, and one that honestly could be the focus of an entire episode. One listener, Chris Malarkey, sent us an email with his take on the situation.
“Jason / Josh – Great podcast the other day! Really enjoyed it and especially when you started to dive into the lack of fans at Orioles games. I too believe this can be it’s own episode because there are a lot of factors in play.
I have ranked some factors from least significant to most (apologize if I am not the world’s best writer but I am trying to do this at work without my boss catching me:
1) Nats – Not to be totally dismissed however I still feel that on any given night the Nats can account for 3-4k fans not being present. Yes the Orioles have plenty of fans in central Maryland, southern PA, Southern Delaware and the Eastern shore but a lot of the fans south of Howard County flipped to the Nats because of their dissatisfaction with the Angelos family. I currently live in AA county and have noticed a increasing number of Nats fans. Which leads me to my second factor…
2) Hatred of Angelos family – While this has decreased over the past few years there are still fans I grew up with in Maryland that still haven’t come around to this team after 14 straight losing seasons. I understand for some that is hard to forget. I have certainly moved on and continue to purchase my season tickets and go to games but people have a hard time giving Angelos money. I believe this could account for another 3-4k fans not being present on any given night.
3) Orioles lack of marketing – The ripken days are over and most fans want to say they won’t come back to the stadium because ripken is no longer here but I would argue the orioles currently have more stars than they did in the 90’s and more transcendent, homegrown players with a bigger path to stardom than Cal. Manny Machado is going to be a once in a lifetime player and is already a better player than Cal or Brooks ever was. If I am the Orioles I build billboards all over Maryland with Manny’s face. I put his face on milk, eggs, buildings, street signs, strip clubs, etc…I would put Manny in a limo and take him to the suburbs of Howard, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford counties and get him in the community. Lastly, I would try to find a better way to brand Manny in the city. He has a great opportunity to become a hero to many inner city kids much like Adam Jones. But kids need to see and touch Manny so they know who he is and why he is one of the best athletes on the planet. You should be able to go to any Baltimore / Washington metro area in the state and poll 100 people if they know who Manny is and 98 should say yes. I don’t think that’s the case. If fans really understood how great and transcendent Manny Machado is the stands would be filling up. Fans need to appreciate him.
4) Last but certainly the most important factor is the City of Baltimore. Nobody wants to say it but the past few years haven’t been good for Baltimore. I assume the Orioles rely heavily on getting $ from the affluent Baltimore / Washington suburbs but I would ask the question if families even feel comfortable driving into the city, parking, or taking the metro to see a game. The answer is probably NO. I continue to take my wife into Baltimore and with my young, infant son to see games and visit other attractions but we have already faced some unique situations where we have second guessed our decision to visit the city. The Orioles have to honestly ask themselves this question and whether or not they can attract as many fans as they did from the suburbs in the 1990’s. If the answer is yes then they have to find more ways besides ticket or food discounts. They need to work with the city and find ways to market Baltimore better to young families in the area. Maybe they believe this is simply not as attainable. That may be okay but then they need a plan to market to the city more and young millennials and inner city youths where football and basketball are probably more popular. As millennials leave college and begin having families, I would argue “seeing a baseball game” is not a high priority and for several reasons. Millennials may be more interested in the arts or a trendy new restaurant. They may also leverage technology more to stream games online or through other means. Entertainment at home is also better and may account for their reason to stay home as well. All of this means the Orioles need to adapt to their future fan base. It may not be the same fanbase from decades ago, it may be evolving. Sometimes change is a good thing and the Orioles can adapt with the times and find new ways to remain competitive in attendance. I don’t have all the answers but the first thing the Orioles need to do is admit there is a problem and come to terms with it. Then they can begin to define a strategy and path towards getting more fans in the stadium.”
We want to thank Chris for giving us his thoughts and allowing us to post them. What do you think? Let us know on Twitter (@bmoreopinionate) or through email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
About 10 years ago, chances are the entire Camden Yards crowd and audience watching at home would have booed or griped at the sight of former Steelers coach Bill Cowher at yesterday’s O’s-Yankees game. While Cowher was at one time one of the most reviled men in Baltimore, his time with CBS and status as one of the most universally respected coaches has softened the feelings of many Ravens’ faithful. Since leaving the Pittsburgh sideline, Cowher has become incredibly popular across the country (yes, Charm City included) and is admired and respected by all those who get to work with him (working with Cowher is one of Jason’s favorite things about covering the NFL for CBS). By all accounts, Coach is just a great dude. He even stopped to take photos with an entire wedding party at the Hilton late on Friday night.
At the game, Cowher scored points with Baltimoreans by sporting an O’s hat. Fans flocked to him for autographs and the opportunity to tell him how much they respected him, even while hating his team. He gave everyone the time of day. After the game, he spent his entire evening hanging out with Jerry and Jason, and according to Jason, “Hell, he even seemed to enjoy chatting with Jerry (though he might just be a good actor!)”
While all involved were left feeling good about the time Coach Cowher spent at OPACY, the real story here is what MASN cameras captured behind Cowher heading into the 5th inning (video below).
Anyone who knows Jerry, listens to the pod, or follows him on social media knows that Jerry keeps very exclusive company (or at least is very public about it when he does). In the above video, you find Coleman directly behind Coach Cowher sharing a laugh with Orioles Executive VP and recent podcast guest John Angelos. Where there are important elbows to be rubbed, you can be sure Jerry is near. Orioles broadcast viewers were treated to a shining example of Coleman being Coleman.
We here at B-more Opinionated are always keeping an eye out for those doing positive things in the community and will certainly highlight that from time-to-time on the podcast and here on our blogs (especially as it pertains to local sports). With that in mind, here’s a cool story on the ongoing outreach work MLB is doing in urban Baltimore, in this case involving a few O’s Hall of Famers from the glory days of the franchise.
Thanks to the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation (CRSF) and Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE), youth in West Baltimore will soon have a new place to play ball and hang out. Eddie Murray Field at BGE Park will be the 59th Youth Development Park built by CRSF. The parks created by the Foundation “encourage healthy physical activity and provide mentorship opportunities through youth sports and enrichment programs.” Eddie Murray Field at BGE Park will feature a synthetic turf baseball diamond with dugouts and a digital scoreboard, and will be located behind James Mosher Elementary. The field will be a home for James Mosher Baseball (which is longest continuously operating African-American youth baseball league in the country) and also host after-school programming.
The Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation has spent the past 15 years crafting youth development programs in order to tackle the issues facing at-risk youth in affected areas. The Ripken Foundation has completed 59 parks across the country over the last five years. According to statistics from CRSF, the Ripken Foundation impacted over 1 million kids nationwide through its youth programming and Youth Development Parks in 2015.
The partnership with BGE has provided significant financial support, and Calvin G. Butler, Jr., chief executive officer for BGE stated, “BGE shares CRSF’s mission to positively impact the community, especially the lives of young people. Investing in our youth in the communities that need it most will provide the foundation for growth and strengthen Baltimore.” The project is also being completed thanks to financial support from Bon Secours Hospital, Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, The Cupid Foundation, Under Armour, and The State of Maryland and Fields, Inc.
“It’s crucial that we provide our youth with opportunities to play, learn and grow in a positive environment,” said Cal Ripken, Jr., Ripken Foundation Vice Chairman, Baltimore Orioles legend, and Baseball Hall of Famer. “Kids need caring adults who can teach them important life lessons like teamwork, respect and personal responsibility; they need guidance to be shown that there are other options besides negative influences. It’s great to provide the kids in West Baltimore with a safe place to play and learn.”
It is always fantastic to see investments made to benefit the youth in our community, but the fact that the Ripken Foundation is behind the project makes it all the more meaningful.
Below is a video from the CRSF featuring a park and program they put together in Florida. Coming soon to West Baltimore!
It would be easy to write off the putrid baseball the Orioles played in Houston – pitching aside – as just a bad series. And I sincerely hope it ends up being an extreme anomaly and one of the low points of the season.
But if you think it’s a total fluke you are kidding yourself. It’s been brewing for a while.
Maybe the bad lighting at Minute Maid Park compounded the issues and this is certainly a streaky team prone to feast or famine at the plate. But what happened against the Astros wasn’t all that different from what we’ve seen since the O’s closed out that stirring four-game series with the Tigers. If anything, this was a steady downward continuation of the Seattle and Anaheim series, where the Orioles were stumped and befuddled by junk balls and slow curves. And in a game of perpetual adjustments, the next step clearly must be made by Orioles hitters. Because the book on them only keeps growing.
My biggest gripe with this entire ballclub remains situational hitting and productive at bats – all of the money and resources are in this lineup so I will be holding them to a considerable standard – and we are now approaching double-digit games on the season where they have wasted a good enough effort from their makeshift rotation. That horror show in Houston with the record strikeouts for a three-game series is clearly not going to be the norm; the problem is the two series that preceded it weren’t all that different.
The Seattle series began with them being lulled to sleep by weak-armed Wade Miley, and as I watched the finale of that series from 14 rows behind home plate with my kids – an equally lethargic effort against Nathan Karns, my concerns started to mount. Here was a kid who can hit an easy 97 m.p.h., going to all these 3-2 counts, and then repeatedly getting O’s hitters to chase curves all over the batters box. I was shocked to see curve after curve – both early and late in counts – from a promising youngster with such a live arm, but as the weeks have gone on I’ve come to appreciate the genius in the Mariners’ approach and now everyone wants to duplicate it.
The O’s won the Angels series, but really were brutal at the plate in all but the opening game, winning game two on a Matt Wieters three-run bomb after showing no life all game, and then following that walk-off with a four-game slump since. They could muster nothing against the likes of Matt Shoemaker and Jered Weaver, two struggling pitchers whose spots in the rotation (and the Majors) were in grave jeopardy. They got totally shutdown in So Cal and followed that with an inept series in Houston, losing all three one-run games, alternating at bats between looking clueless and looking disinterred, scoring just seven total runs against what had been one of the worst teams and worst staffs in the American League.
It’s great to hit home runs, and chicks dig the longball and everyone wants to be the hero. Nut it was borderline selfish the approach many of the club’s top hitters continued to adopt in critical situations.
Failing to take pitches. Hacking all over the place. Jumping at balls after the pitcher had just shown an inability to throw strikes. Bad lighting or not, this was shameful and it’s the kind of series that can come back to bite you in October. Everyone can’t close his eyes and swing from his heels all the time. Fighting to simply make contact and put the ball in play when two runners are on and no out, or the bases loaded and less than two outs, is imperative. I don’t care how many homers you hit and how many Ks are in your DNA. The Astros were a team looking for reasons to roll over, and the O’s provided none.
Going back to the start of the Seattle series – when the O’s looked to be a club about to really take off coming so close to a four-game sweep of the Tigers – they are 3-6, scoring just 28 runs (16 of them coming off homers). Here are the numbers:
Opponent (SP) H/AB Ks RISP
Seattle (Miley) 2/30 3 0-2
Seattle (Walker) 5/31 4 2-9
Seattle (Karns) 6/32 10 0-4
LA (Santiago) 14/40 7 3-8
LA (Shoemaker) 5/33 13 1-2
LA (Weaver) 5/31 8 0-2
HOU (Fister) 8/47 19 2-9
HOU (McHugh) 11/38 18 2-14
HOU (McCullers) 5/33 15 0-5
TOTALS 61/315 (.193) 97 10/55(.182)
So they are hitting below .200 for that stretch – with almost every regular available on a daily basis sans JJ Hardy) and are managing to hit even worse with runners in scoring position. They are striking out 10.7 times per game. And this is during a stretch when they didn’t face any of those team’s best starter (King Felix, Dallas Kuechel, Garrett Richards). I know you can’t win them all, but this team has to be better than this. Miley already got slapped around his next time out, and I have a feeling Shoemaker, Weaver, Fister and the rest are going to continue to get crushed by the AL as well following their blip of success at Baltimore’s expense.
Wasted opportunities are a part of the game. No one stays hot forever and streaks come and go. But the kind of bad habits that manifested themselves in Houston were showing up plenty in the previous two series as well, and with the Indians having a legit staff and Boston outhitting everyone in the league, well, these batters better snap out of their funk and at least attempt to do the little things required to manufacture runs.
The O’s have scored three runs or less in seven of the last nine games and it’s already happened to them 21 times through 45 games. And their biggest challenges are yet to come. And you have to wonder if the starting pitching will be this solid come, oh, August and September.
They can’t possibly as bad as what we’ve seen for the past two weeks all that much longer … but a funk this severe is certain cause for a team-wide reboot at the plate, and they’re going to have be much better very soon with better opponents ahead.