If talent was distributed equally across all of the major league teams - which, of course, it isn't - then the range of 201st-best to 300th-best players in baseball would cover approximately the 7th-best to 10th-best players on each team. There is no glamour in being the 9th-best player on any baseball team, unless that team wins the World Series, which is pretty glamorous.
Star power matters in baseball, and it also doesn't matter. One star can only carry a team so far. The best hitter on a team only comes up once every nine plate appearances; the best starter will pitch at most 1/6th of the team's innings; the best reliever might not even throw 80 innings. It matters who gets the rest of the playing time, and if those players, unheralded though they may be, play better than other teams' middle of the pack players, you can have some success. This may be the 2012 Orioles in a nutshell.
So having five players from 201-300 on the BBTN 500, as the Orioles do, in some ways means, "So what?" But it also means ESPN's panel of 34 experts is giving credit to these players for being good, and expecting them to contribute to another nice O's season. You can read my thoughts about 401-500 and 301-400 from the past two days.
Orioles who ranked from 201-300 last year were Brian Roberts (284) and Mark Reynolds (292). Almost-future Oriole Chase Headley was 265 and future Oriole Randy Wolf was 232, which probably says more about the people making the list than it does about those players.
Now on to this year:
A surprisingly aggressive ranking to my eyes, though it's quite possible the panel of experts was generally more swayed by hype from the prospect-industrial complex prior to this spring. I certainly want to believe the hype! But I also get a little nervous any time pitchers talk about mechanics, as Bundy has been. We already know he won't be breaking camp with the MLB team and we kind of hope the rest of the pitching staff is throwing well enough that Bundy has to be really good to force his way up. Which he could very well be, and that would be awesome.
Last year: Not ranked
Sandwiched between: Darren O'Day (246th), Todd Frazier (3B - CIN, 248th)
Slug over .500 over a full season and you're going to force your way up a list like this. If the experts expected him to hit 33 home runs again, he'd probably rank even higher than this, but they don't. That's OK, because I don't either, but there's plenty to be excited about for Davis. He is a strong human being. He is strong like bull. Broken bat home runs are no big deal. Opposite field lazy fly ball home runs are no big deal. Now, if he can catch baseballs thrown to him and maybe have a little range at first beyond how far he can fall over...
Last year: Not ranked
Sandwiched between: Kyle Seager (3B - SEA, 245th), Davis (247th)
Say, are you noticing a trend here on this BBTN 500? That trend is: Orioles who had great seasons and were key contributors last year were not ranked at all before the season. It's almost like the experts have no idea what can make a good baseball player. It goes back to what I was talking about yesterday: no baseball writer knows anything. Now that they're all embarrassed by missing the Orioles last year, they're jumping on the O's bandwagon.
This is the #1 ranked reason why I am nervous for the 2013 season: the people who, prior to last season, demonstrated that they know nothing about the Orioles or anything else, are suddenly believers. They were wrong, spectacularly, embarrassingly, and in some cases stubbornly wrong in an industry where being wrong is the expected norm, and now they are in our corner.
O'Day struck out 69 batters in 67 innings last year and had a 2.28 ERA. As with Davis, if he repeats last year's performance, he probably deserves to be a bit higher than this.
We may have to start calling Tillman by the name Comanche, because at the moment it looks like he could be the only survivor of a disaster for the cavalry. Every other time one of the other once-prospect pitchers had something resembling success, it was really just us squinting and calling mediocrity success because we believed they would build on that success. Arrieta, Britton, Matusz: none of them stepped forward from that mediocrity.
Tillman, last year, did something new for this lot of pitchers: he pitched great at the MLB level. I don't just mean he threw like a 4.20 ERA and didn't completely crap the bed so we all lauded him. He had a 2.93 ERA over 92 innings, and that's great. He also had a 1.26 HR/9 and his FIP was 4.25 to go against that ERA, meaning he could be due to regress back into the primordial soup of suck we're sadly accustomed to seeing. He has earned his rotation spot, though, and hopefully he will keep a lock on it.
Last year: Not ranked
Sandwiched between: Ichiro Suzuki (RF - NYY, 238th), Holland (240th)
This is the part where I'd muster outrage at the fact that Chen - and every Oriole ranked so far, and every Oriole who will ultimately not be ranked - is below Suzuki, had I any confidence whatsoever that the latest manifestation of the enduring pact between the Yankees and Satan will not prove to be some kind of MVP-ish season from the 39-year-old Suzuki, who had a .696 OPS last year.
As for Chen, this strikes me as a fair ranking for him. I think that the Chen we saw last year is pretty similar to the one we'll see this year. We hope he'll have adjusted more to the MLB workload and will have fewer stink bomb outings, but there isn't a team in baseball that doesn't have room for a starter who makes 32 starts with a 4 ERA. Any team could have signed him before last season for what now seems to be a bargain basement price. Only Dan Duquette did.
FORMER ORIOLES THUS FAR
ORIOLES THUS FAR
Previously: McLouth (487), Roberts (472), Reimold (394), Gonzalez (374), Strop (333)
Today: Bundy (292), Davis (247), O'Day (246), Tillman (241), Chen (239)
The following players are either old or they stunk last year and are ranked above every Orioles player listed thus far: Ricky Romero (231st, 5.77 ERA in 2012), Johan Santana (230th, 4.85 ERA in 2012), Andy Pettitte (227th, was born when American soldiers were still fighting in Vietnam), Carl Crawford (209th), Melky Cabrera (203rd, made a fake website to try to support his claim he'd accidentally taken PEDs). I anticipate the same demonic magic that fuels Suzuki will spill over to give Pettitte a Cy Young-caliber season.
Last year, there were only eleven O's players in the entire 500. So far there have been ten listed, and we still haven't seen names like Hardy, Markakis, Jones, Machado, Wieters, Hammel, or Jim Johnson. I've been nitpicking at every step because spring training is boring and there's nothing else to do, so why not muster up some righteous Baltimore indignation? But all indications are that by and large, the panel of experts is giving the Orioles plenty of respect. As mentioned above: they know nothing - even less than Jon Snow - and that makes me nervous.
151-200 of the rankings will be revealed on Saturday.