If you go by what most record-predicting sites tell you, the Baltimore Orioles might as well wrap up spring training and head home. Most sites have them at a 0.0% chance of getting to the postseason, or somewhere in that ballpark. Their chances are obviously somewhat higher, but that’s what happens when you hover around 100 losses for several seasons. They might even reach or get close to 100 losses this year.
So why are they even working out in their spring home of Sarasota? Why are they still making moves late into camp? Well, because they are still a professional baseball team. And fans shouldn’t just look at all the doom-and-gloom talk thrown their way. This piece will outline some real reasons for excitement in Birdland. Hopefully, it’ll get you excited for opening day in Fenway.
The Return of Trey Mancini
A story that transcends the sport and even the world of sports, is that of Trey Mancini’s recovery from colon cancer. The stud outfielder missed all of 2020 with a successful surgery and recovery period. Upon making his return this spring, he received a standing ovation. And that’s only just the beginning.
His courageous fight with cancer should have the team ready to rally around him. And teammates will have that extra motivation with him back in the clubhouse. Don’t underestimate what that can do. On top of it all, Mancini is an All-Star level talent for the Orioles. He might start rusty after a year away. Still, he’s the Orioles’ best shot to represent the team at the big event. Regardless, Mancini’s return alone is enough cause for celebration.
A Full Season of Ryan Mountcastle
The first sign that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for the Orioles’ rebuild came last season. It came with the arrival of touted prospect Ryan Mountcastle. The then 23-year old came in and played 35 games, slashing a .333 batting average with 5 homers and 23 RBI’s. Most notably he did show some signs of improving plate discipline with 11 walks. He knows how to work at-bats, and make flashy plays.
Now 24-years old, he retains his rookie status, making him one of the favorites for the AL Rookie of the Year award. So not only does bird land get to see the stud outfielder for a full season, but he could bring home some nice hardware. He’ll offer the first real glimpse of a bright Orioles future. Following him through the race for AL RoY is the icing on the cake.
Young Players with Potential
Down the lineup, there are some guys who could really put on a show. This is even more true considering that Oriole Park at Camden Yards is one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the league. Once promising prospects like Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, and DJ Stewart have gotten off to hot starts this spring. Though they’ve all faced some injury concerns, they have shown the pop that got fans excited in the first place.
With no real threat to playing time, the two could blossom into everyday players with raking ability. Chance Sisco figures to be a big part of the catching solution until mega-prospect Adley Rutschmann is ready for the call-up. And Anthony Santander might be able to carry last season’s success into this one. Back in 2019, Santander hit 20 homers on the year. In a shortened 2020, he was on pace to destroy that with 11 homers in just 37 games. He could truly break out this year.
An Intriguing Rotation
The word choice was very purposeful here. There is a chance that this Orioles rotation could be memorably bad, but it definitely won’t be boring. There’s a good mix of youthful upside and veteran presence. The Orioles made mini-splashes at the beginning of camp with their signings of two previous aces.
The first and most decorated is Felix Hernandez, the Mariners legend. Although his velocity is not what it used to be, he has shown some ability to get outs. He’s currently nursing an injury, but early indications are he should be back and compete for a spot.
The second is Matt Harvey aka the Dark Knight. Once a stud for the Mets, Harvey had a meteoric downfall in the league, He had a subpar year for the Royals in 2020, but has a chance to be a back-end starter for the Orioles. If nothing else, following these two All-Stars’ Orioles journey should be entertaining, and maybe bring some nice big moments.
John Means highlights the rotation as the Opening Day Starter. Means burst onto the scene in 2019 with a strong season and had a second-place finish in AL RoY voting. His 2020 season wasn’t as spectacular, but it’s understandable with the death of his father and the coronavirus pandemic. All the indications are that he’s primed for a bounce-back the third year. That’s exciting news for O’s fans.
Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer are two other exciting young pitchers in the rotation. Kremer made history last year as the first Israeli citizen to pitch in the league. He showed some flashes, as well as Akin. These 3 guys could be in the next winning Orioles rotation, so their progress should be fun to watch.
Maikel Franco Swoops In
The Orioles made their latest splash this week with the signing of Ex-Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco. While he didn’t live up to the once strong hype for the Philadelphia Phillies, Franco has the power to make some noise in the AL East. He will come in and almost immediately take an everyday third baseman spot. It was previously occupied by the decent Rio Ruiz, but Franco’s upside is undeniably higher.
Franco had a pretty good showing for the Royals last season, and he can make highlight-reel plays on defense. He’s not a high-profile free-agent or anything, but he does add pop to the Orioles lineup. And homers will come in bunches for the Orioles this season.
It’s All About 2022
Yes, this article is primarily about 2021. But with the Orioles rebuild ongoing, every season will be about the next. With the pandemic situation improving, minor league players will be able to get back to the grind of improving and moving up the ranks. A big part of the Orioles is their strong farm system. This system features top-100 prospects like the aforementioned Adley Rutschmann and SP’s Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall. These guys might not make it to the show this year, but they’re expected to at some point in 2022.
The Orioles will eventually need to add to their payroll and make true big splashes. Houston Astros’ shortstop Carlos Correa will hit the market next year, and he has a connection with GM Mike Elias from their time in Houston together. This could be the off-season where the Orioles finally show the fan base they are committed to winning with a strong signing. For now, though, there’s still plenty of reasons to be excited. And after all, baseball is still baseball.