Orioles finally give up on Riley

y Jim Callis
March 30, 2005

Matt Riley ranked as the Orioles’ top prospect entering the 1999 and 2000 seasons, and the club patiently nursed him through Tommy John surgery and attitude problems afterward. A payoff never came, however, so Baltimore traded Riley and catcher Keith McDonald to the Rangers on Tuesday for Ramon Nivar.

Riley, a 25-year-old lefthander, got his most extended trial in the majors in 2004. He didn’t fare well, going 3-4, 5.63 in 14 games (13 starts). He had a 60-44 strikeout-walk ratio in 64 innings, as opponents hit .244 with 11 homers off him. His curveball is an out pitch and he has good velocity (although not much movement) on his low-90s fastball. To realize his potential, Riley will have to repeat his delivery more consistently, which should improve his control, and refine his changeup. He’ll probably begin his Rangers career as a middle reliever. He has a 4-4, 5.40 record in 19 career games in the majors.

Nivar, 25, signed out of the Dominican Republic in 1998. He had a breakthrough season in 1993, then regressed at Triple-A Oklahoma last year, when he batted .264/.290/.374 with 10 homers, 52 RBIs and 15 steals in 113 games. Nivar has plenty of speed, but needs to improve his on-base and basestealing skills. He has surprising pop for a little guy and makes good contact. Defensively, he moved from second base to center field in 2003. His quickness helps him in center, but he still has to hone his outfield instincts. His arm is above average. Nivar has hit .213/.246/.259 in 108 big league at-bats, and .293/.332/.397 with 33 homers, 276 RBIs and 120 steals in 642 minor league games. He’ll probably open the season at Triple-A Ottawa.

McDonald, 32, signed with the Cardinals as a 24th-round pick out of Pepperdine in 1994. While he has just eight games and nine at-bats in the majors to show for his 11-season pro career, McDonald is one of just two players ever to homer in each of his first two big league at-bats. That display was uncharacteristic for McDonald, who never has hit for much of an average or much power in the minors. His makeup stands out more than any of his tools, and he’ll serve as a Triple-A insurance policy for Texas. McDonald hit .255/.342/.380 with six homers and 30 RBIs in 92 games at Triple-A Nashville in the Pirates system in 2004. He also threw out 20 percent of basestealers. After the season, McDonald signed with Baltimore as a six-year minor league free agent. In 907 minor league games, he has batted .266/.340/.405 with 76 homers and 379 RBIs.