The Orioles, as many got to see last year, appear to finally have made some progress on their four-year-long project. The Orioles pulled off their first season above 60 wins since 2017, their first full season above last place since 2017, and outdid all of this by having a record above .500 and 83 wins. Falling only three games outside of the playoffs was closer than many thought possible. Yet, when further examined, should we have seen this all along? And should we expect more of this in this upcoming season? These are the keys to making that happen.
Elite Farm System
With five straight years of being one of the worst teams in baseball, a team is expected to have some solid players waiting to come up with all of the top picks acquired over the years. And that is the case for the Orioles. When looking at the Top 100 Prospects ranked, and the Top 30 Orioles Prospects ranked by MLB.com, certain numbers jump out. For instance, the Orioles have six of the 100 overall, four of the top 50, and the number two AND four prospects in Gunnar Henderson and Grayson Rodriguez. Combining that with the readiness of these prospects, the Orioles can make changes and try new guys throughout the season. If certain players and positions start to regress from last year’s success, then the Orioles can look to any of their many prospects that are projected to be ready and playing for the O’s in 2023. Of the top 30, nine are projected to debut for the O’s this coming year in 2023. Of these guys that are projected to be ready for this year, four of them are pitchers, three are infielders, and two are outfielders. Overall, this equates to a very well-rounded, balanced farm system that can offer possible substitutes due to injury or recession. Also, this farm system is just entertaining. Last year, these prospects made some huge plays and got attention all over the place. Hudson Haskin, the 21st prospect for the O’s, started last year in AA and immediately had one of the highlights of the season, hitting THREE homers in one game, all of them being the first AA home runs of his career. These boys can make plays, and they are exciting.
From Awful To Good, Now to Great? The Bullpen.
In 2021, the Orioles’ bullpen was bad. No, worse. Awful. The team was last in the league with a 5.71 ERA in 2021. This immediately became the main focus going into 2022. A year later, and what do you know, the Orioles suddenly have a dangerous bullpen. The team ERA plummeted TWO whole points all the way down to a team ERA of 3.49, according to stats provided by MLB.com. This level of improvement was unprecedented, yet one of the keys for this season will be further improving the bullpen. Although O’s fans were more than happy to be out of the cellar, there is still one more step to creating a solid bullpen: sustained success. The first item of business to make this happen? More depth. Already, we have seen the O’s go out and get key players that could be vital in a bullpen fighting to reach the playoffs. Mychal Givens has been a solid reliever for the past years. Going into his ninth year in the MLB, Givens will be making his return to the O’s after previously pitching for the team from 2015 to 2020. Recently, he has been the setup man for Edwin Diaz and has consistently had an ERA+ over 100. This addition was not talked about extensively at the time of signing, but it could prove more valuable than expected. This depth and veteran experience could be key to guiding some of these new prospects to create a truly dominant bullpen. Another vital arm that was signed by the O’s was Kyle Gibson. Although less reliable in recent years, Kyle Gibson is the definition of a persistent veteran. Gibson turned 35 last year and has shifted his style toward bullpen work. As he has gotten older, this style fits Gibson’s style of play much better. Gibson has thrown fewer innings yet still has a solid arm. He can potentially be a 5th starter for the Orioles, and this versatility provides the depth that the Orioles will need.
With the pitching staff looking the best it has in the last six years, the only thing left is the offense (obviously). The most significant factor on this side of the ball will be the veterans recently acquired. As mentioned earlier, the O’s will be one of the youngest teams in the league this year. One of the most important pieces in developing young talent are veteran players that surround prospects. But often times these veterans can cause teams to sacrifice performance for the experience. When looking at the O’s additions, this appears to be different. First, we’ve got Adam Frazier. Although Adam Frazier is not quite the all-star caliber player he was during his 2021 season for the Pirates, Frazier posted some encouraging numbers for the second half of 2022. He has a knack for getting on base and can absolutely help improve and mature the young infielders. Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, and Jorge Mateo could all use veteran leadership from a guy like Frazier. All of these guys struggled with getting on base and putting the ball in play, so this is where the value of Frazier comes into play. Next, there is the addition of James McCann. McCann brings much-needed experience as a high-quality catcher. Just three years ago, McCann was an All-Star catcher for the White Sox. One of the most important parts of the O’s is the development of last year’s top prospect Adley Rutschman. Rutschman showed some incredible potential, but as young players can do at times while getting acclimated to the big leagues, he definitely went through some slumps. McCann serves as a solid substitute for Rutschman, as needed, as well as a mentor and DH hitter. Overall, veterans will prove to be a vital part of the success that will hopefully prove the Orioles are successful and here to stay.
Be on the lookout for the Orioles this year. Although people have become used to seeing the Orioles struggle, this team finally seems to be on an upward track. These guys are young and fun and are looking to make even more improvements with the help of their bullpen, their farm system, and newly added veterans. Beware the O’s!