An All-Star as a rookie, Orioles lefty John Means shines for the worst team in baseball

CLEVELAND – Every Major League Baseball team gets an All-Star.

It doesn’t matter what your record is, or whether any of your players are having a particularly great season. It’s an age-old rule, one that allows for every club to be able to take part in the Midsummer Classic.

At 27-62, the Baltimore Orioles have the league’s worst record entering the All-Star break. Their 5.65 ERA – also worst in the league – is nearly a half-run higher than the team above them.

Ordinarily it might be tough to find an All-Star representative from such a team, but 26-year-old rookie left-hander John Means is that guy. And deservedly so.

“Never in a million years,” Means said Monday, asked if he thought he’d ever be here. “Especially coming up through the minor leagues and grinding my way through. I had no expectation of being a major league All-Star.”

John Means, 26, is the Orioles' lone All-Star representative. (Photo: Tommy Gilligan, USA TODAY Sports)

An 11th round pick in 2014 out of West Virginia, Means was incredibly consistent in the minors, posting a 3.83 ERA in 119 games and earned a call-up at the end of the 2018 season.

But that was the minors. How did he make the leap this year?

“It was what I did in the offseason. I changed things up, went to a pitching facility and learned a routine to get the most out of my body,” Means said. “I was only kind of a ‘thrower’ in the minor leagues, I wasn’t really a ‘pitcher’ yet. And I didn’t know exactly what I was doing.”

He ranks fifth among American League pitchers at 3.4 WAR, making 18 appearances, 14 of them starts. His 2.50 ERA would be second in the AL if he we were qualified, coming up less than seven innings short of that threshold before the break.

Means has held opponents to a .652 OPS this year, a better mark than Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. His 1.08 WHIP is better than Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets.

The sudden success and a trip to the All-Star Game can be a lot to handle, but Means was just taking everything in upon his arrival in Cleveland.

“I’ve just been looking around. I don’t really know anybody, so I haven’t gotten to introduce myself to anybody,” Means said. “I’m sure in the locker room I’ll start shaking hands and meeting people for the first time.”

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On the way into the interview room, he did have the chance to meet Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman, also a first-time All-Star.

“Stroman just came up to me, and this is his first game too – I could have sworn he would have two or three already,” Means said with a laugh. “He was like ‘you’re getting yours out of the way early’ … I went ‘yeah, I didn’t exactly expect it,’ but he told me ‘now this just carries on – you might as well make it a few years in a row.’”

While the Orioles are en route to their second consecutive 100-loss season, they haven't been quite as bad as many expected and fans have enjoyed watching the team.

Though this is presumably the lowest point of Baltimore's extreme rebuild, Means sees cause for optimism.

“The positivity in the clubhouse has been big," Means said. "I think that with the new coaching staff we have, they bring a lot of energy, a lot of new tools to our team. "I think analytically we’re getting better, mentally we’re getting better and in the second half I think some guys are going to come into their own.

"We’ve got a lot of guys still learning. We have a lot of guys with a little big-league time – including myself."

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