You know what time it is, baby. Pitchers and catchers for the Orioles reported to Spring Training on Tuesday, normally this is the time of year where people are all excited for their team. New free agents are showing up and in uniform for the first time, old faces are back, and the teams are getting ready to gear up for another 6 month grind towards a championship. None of those things describe the thoughts and feelings going around Orioles Spring Training in Sarasota.
As you are well aware, the Orioles finished with their worst record ever, worst record in the league, and the sixth worst record of all time. The numbers 47-115 will never be forgotten in this town. Because the rules states it, the Orioles will have to play and compete in the AL East this season, so they're going to take their beatings, but I'm okay with that. After a good five year run from 2012 to 2017 that saw three playoff appearances, the Orioles have bottomed out the last two seasons and cleaned house. Gone are the old faces of Buck Showalter, Dan Duquette, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Kevin Gausman, Jonathan Schoop, Darren O'Day, Brad Brach, Zach(k) Britton, Caleb Joseph, and basically the entire coaching staff. Out with the old and in with the new. We're talking Mike Elias, Brandon Hyde, and an entire new cast of prospects and young guys that the team will build around in the future. They traded five players last season at the deadline (Machado, Brach, Britton, Schoop, Gausman) and received back 15 prospects, 10 of which are in the Orioles top 30 prospects. They probably could have gotten a little more if they had moved the pieces earlier, but can't do anything about that now.
Spring Training will be different for the next few seasons. We know the O's won't be competing for a Wild Card spot, we are just basically attempting to set the table for 2020 and beyond. They won't be able to compete with the powerhouse teams, hence why they aren't spending in free agency and bringing in any expensive veterans. That is why there is no better time to be a young prospect in Baltimore. You have the chance to really set a good example with the new management and a chance to secure a position with the club. Every player, except Chris Davis, basically has a clean slate. Time to impress the new brass. With that being said, here are some of the players and storylines to look out for with Spring Training about to kick off.
-Be patient with the results, but be excited
Like I said above, this team won't compete this year. They won't win 70 games, hell, they may not win 60. This will come off as the biggest loser statement ever, but I fully believe it. Wins and losses don't matter this year. They aren't a few pieces away, they're a lot of pieces away. The club is being re-built from the ground up with all new pieces. So be patient. We know the club signing Nathan Karns to a one-year deal isn't a big move, we know the club only signing AAAA players isn't a big move, but they aren't going to make those moves this season. Oriole fans know what to expect this season, and now that they have a new coaching staff and upper management with a plan, that should excite fans.
Coming off a last place season I am fully pumped up for this season because of how open all the competitions are. Do I wish they were being picked to with the division instead of being picked dead last? Of course, but thats not the situation we're in, so there is no reason to get your hopes up about wins and losses. It's going to suck this season, attendance will be down, ratings will be down you won't know a lot of the players, but this is following the blueprint that Elias and Hyde were part of in Houston and Chicago. Last time I checked those were two pretty good franchises to model yourself after. Be patient, the guys are going to play hard, and it may not bring Ws, but we can worry about that in a few seasons. This season is all about setting the table up for dinner.
- Who will be the starting catcher going forward
Chance Sisco was thought to be the catcher of the future, but after a dud of a performance last season (.181 average, 2 homers, 16 RBI in only 63 games) it's not looking great for him. He had some injury struggles, problems behind the plate, and just got outworked by Austin Wynns. I loved what I saw from Wynns in his rookie season in Baltimore last year. Not the best defender, but he's openly working at that. His bat surprised me though. We saw a little pop from the 28-year-old as he hit 4 homers and hit .255 in 42 games. With Caleb Joseph out of the picture, it's really down to Sisco, Wynns, and Carlos Perez, who they claimed off waivers from the Braves. Because of the lack of depth they have at catcher for the foreseeable future, could this entice the Birds to take arguably the best player available in this years draft, a catcher from Oregon State, Adley Rutschman?
- Who fills out this rotation
There are SOOO many options for the back end of this rotation. Hell there are a lot of options for the front end of the rotation. Their rotation last season was the worst in the league ERA wise with a 5.48, it has to be better this year, right? We're looking at the front end looking like Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb (if he's not dealt to a contender), Andrew Cashner (if he's not dealt to a contender), Nate Karns, and that is when you get the options. David Hess? Luis Ortiz? Jimmy Yacabonis? Josh Rogers? Yefry Ramirez? It could be any one of those guys rounding out the rotation, I guess we wait to see who emerges from the pack this spring.
I could go on for DAYS about how the Orioles have no depth in the infield, or how they are going to have a crowded outfield, but that is for another day. Let me dive into a few of the young guys that Orioles fans should be paying attention to this Spring because they may be hearing their name called this season at Camden Yards.
This guy is an absolute stud of a pitcher that the Orioles got from the Dodgers in the Machado trade. I love everything I've read about him. Kremer lead all of the MILB in strikeout per 9 last year (12.20 K per 9, 178 Ks in 131 IP), the guy just knows how to miss bats. His fastball sits low to mid 90s, his curveball is above average, and has a decent changeup. Rumor has it he's been working on a slider as well, just another weapon for his arsenal. He received a non-roster invite to Spring Training, he's for sure someone to monitor for the next month. It wouldn't shock me to see him make his debut sometime in 2019 for the O's.
A few years ago Austin Hays was going to be the next big Orioles outfielder. Since then he has struggled against major league pitching, and underwent ankle surgery that basically left him on one foot for all of 2018. Not a great last few years for the first player from the 2016 draft class to reach the majors. He's still only 23, so he's insanely young, but it seems as if he is already the forgotten guy in the Orioles outfield situation. He hit .235 in 75 games in the minors last year, but wasn't healthy at all. Coming into this offseason he said he feels great and is all healed up. He'll for sure get a look at one of the outfield spots next to Trey Mancini and Cedric Mullins. When healthy he looks like a little sparkplug. A guy who can be a pain in your side on the base path as well as give you some pop if you need it. Maybe a Brett Gardner type guy? If Hays can live up to his billing, he can be a nice player for the Birds, but he has to show he's both healthy and ready for the big leagues, if not he's going to get buried on the depth chart.
The Orioles first round pick in 2017 is making noise down on the farm. He's been ranked the O's third best prospect and has made several top 100 prospect lists, not too shabby for a babyface lefty. At 6'2" and a little under 200 pounds, he has room to grow, pack on some pounds and that fastball velocity should go up as well. He had an awesome second half of the season in 2018 and finished with 100 Ks in 94 1/3 innings. As a lefty, he'll have eyes on him because this rotation desperately needs one, Hall could be that guy. Probably not this season, 2020 is more likely, but I'm extremely excited to see how he fares as he takes another step up this season, and how he handles himself in Spring. I think we could get some big things from this kid pretty soon.
The main piece of the Manny Machado trade, Diaz has all the makings of a stud outfielder for the Birds. The 22-year-old Cuban got the non-roster invite to Spring Training and as the Orioles top prospect, he'll have some eyes on him. MLB Pipeline lists him as the 64th best prospect in all of baseball, so there will be expectations from outside of Baltimore as well. He can play all over the outfield, so you can slide him into right field if Mancini is still stuck in right and Mullins is in center, or he can flip to left and you can put a healthy Hays or Joey Rickard in right. He had a rough time adjusting to Bowie after the trade and hit under .240, but that drop-off is to be expected when you switch leagues. I think he has a high ceiling and could possibly be an outfielder in the future. I'm just hoping to see him look comfortable this spring. He doesn't have to make the team out of camp, but I am expecting to see him sometime in Baltimore in 2019. There is really no reason not to try him up there. Unless he's having a god awful time in Bowie or Norfolk, maybe see what he can do in the bigs at some point.
Like I said earlier, there is no better time to be a young prospect than right now. These guys I listed above have quite an opportunity in front of them. And when it comes to the team, the next few seasons are going to be tough. Empty crowds and faces you don't recognize, but hopefully this is step 1 of the plan and in a few years Oriole fans will be able to look back at these dark years and laugh as the parade is flowing through the lovely streets of Baltimore. I'll be here in your pocket all Spring Training with all your Orioles updates, I know you are dying for them. And for Orioles fans, embrace this rebuild.