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The 2015 Orioles vs. Baseball America's pre-2012 idea of the 2015 Orioles

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Baseball America used to project team lineups years into the future with their annual team top prospect lists. How'd the idea of the 2015 Orioles at that time stack up to the reality? Turns out it's hard to see the future.

What will the Orioles look like in four years time? The people at Baseball America used try to answer the question annually for each MLB team. This time four years ago, a lot of things seemed impossible for the Orioles, not least of which was a winning season. Thinking about something like a 2015 Orioles lineup before the 2012 season was the only way to make ourselves feel better about what seemed at that time to be a very bleak present.

As of their rankings heading into the 2014 season, BA no longer goes through the exercise of the projected lineup. That's probably because, as you'll see for yourself, it's a hard thing to do. Looking four years down the road means you can't really project any free agent moves or trades, so it's really more, "Assuming no one major leaves in free agency and prospects pan out in the rest of the spots, what will the lineup look like?" It only tells you so much. Maybe that's why they stopped.

I always found them interesting to consider. Looking back on these last couple of projections, what's all the more remarkable about the Orioles success is the way they have managed to have it without hitting on many of the contributors you might have foreseen for them at that time.

In the chart below is the BA projected 2015 O's lineup from January of 2012, the BA projected 2017 O's lineup from October of 2012, and a representative early 2015 O's lineup. The publication skipped over 2016 for some reason and now they don't do it any more. Too bad.

Position / Year Projected 2015 Actual 2015 Projected 2017
Catcher Matt Wieters Caleb Joseph Wieters
First base Nick Delmonico Chris Davis Delmonico
Second base Jonathan Schoop Schoop Schoop
Third base J.J. Hardy Machado Hardy
Shortstop Manny Machado Hardy Machado
Left field L.J. Hoes Alejandro De Aza Hoes
Center field Adam Jones Jones Jones
Right field Nick Markakis Travis Snider Markakis
Designated hitter Ryan Flaherty Steve Pearce Davis

Before we get into anything else, may I first offer a LOL at the fact that Flaherty was listed as the projected designated hitter and Davis was completely forgotten by this list prior to the 2012 season. Nick Delmonico got that love instead. Even considering the haziness of what will happen in the future, that's a hilarious whiff. Which is also maybe why they stopped doing this kind of thing.

Still, there were successes, as four of the starting eight position players were correctly identified, even if positions weren't quite correct, and it could have been six if Markakis had stuck around and Wieters hadn't been hurt for half the year. I certainly never imagined Markakis' departure when he still had a 2015 option on his contract.

The other big miss was Hoes, though at the time it seemed like a reasonable enough projection. When the 2015 projected lineup was made, Hoes had just come off a 95 game stint at Double-A Bowie at age 21 where he batted .305/.379/.413. It's not crazy to see a big league future there, although as it turned out, something didn't quite carry over with his tools to success at the MLB level. Even as he's scuffled at the big league level, he's still shown good on-base skills in the minors - probably why the O's re-acquired him from Houston last week.

It's looking like they'll still hit on four of the eight starting position players for 2017. That could be five if the Orioles surprise us by re-signing Davis. I guess Davis hitting 33 homers in 2012 was enough to earn him a spot in the next revision... though he still doesn't get the 2017 first base nod over Delmonico. The 2011 sixth round pick batted .249/.351/.411 for Low-A Delmarva in the 2012 season. Not bad, but not enough to explain the fetish.

Well, we all make mistakes. The Camden Chat archives are littered with my own comically wrong certainties.

You may recall that Delmonico was traded to the Brewers in 2013 for reliever Francisco Rodriguez, who had done well for Milwaukee and promptly stunk here. This story seems familiar somehow. He's yet to make the Orioles miss him.

OK, so they were 50/50 at worst in guessing position players. Not bad, right? Now, the pitchers.

Position / Year Projected 2015 Actual 2015 Projected 2017
No. 1 starter Dylan Bundy Chris Tillman Bundy
No. 2 starter Zach Britton Wei-Yin Chen Kevin Gausman
No. 3 starter Jake Arrieta Miguel Gonzalez Jason Hammel
No. 4 starter Brian Matusz Bud Norris Chen
No. 5 starter Jeremy Guthrie Ubaldo Jimenez Tillman
Closer Dan Klein Zach Britton Jim Johnson

There was never much reason to believe in 2012 that Guthrie would still be an Oriole in 2015, just like there was never much reason ten months later to think Hammel would still be an Oriole in 2017. Johnson appears in the 2017 projection because he was good in 2012, so without regard to service time, they felt like they should stick him on there, I guess.

It continues to amaze me how the Orioles started to succeed, and continued to enjoy success, with names no one would have guessed as recently as four years ago. Chen signed with the O's the very day after that 2015 projection was made. Guthrie was traded a month later. Gonzalez, too, was not on anyone's radar at this time. It's fortunate for the wild card winning Orioles of 2012 and the AL East champion Orioles of 2014 that they found Gonzalez - but if things had worked out like Baseball America imagined, the O's would have never needed him to begin with.

What we all figured as a quartet of promising young starters has never materialized. None of those four were ever good as starters for a good Orioles team. How did they manage to win without any of those guys panning out as starters? Still kind of blows my mind to think about it.

The widespread failure of Dave Trembley's once-lauded cavalry makes you understand that nihilistic saying, "There is no such thing as a pitching prospect." Or are the Orioles just really bad at developing them? Arrieta, at least, has gone on to success elsewhere. Right now there are no sure thing pitching prospects left in the organization. That's another story for many other days.

Both Bundy and Gausman seemed like reasonable projections for a 2017 rotation at the time they were made. So did Tillman, who was successful at last in the bigs in 2012. Chen, less so, more due to his free agency status than performance. A lot can happen between now and then, but it seems like two out of five will be correct. That's probably not a bad guess, given all of the variables at play in making these projections.

If Baseball America still did this projection exercise the same way as the most recent time, this offseason would see them projecting the positions of the 2020 Orioles. That would be an even tougher thing to do. Now you're beyond the contract of basically any Oriole, beyond even those of manager Buck Showalter and GM Dan Duquette. Anyone currently with two or more years of service time, including Schoop, would be a free agent before then. Gausman would not.

You could give me another two months to let this year's free agency period play out - basically to see if they re-sign Davis or not - and I'm sure I'd do no better in predicting the future. We can all make some reasonable guesses that far into the future, but if the O's are still winning by then, or even if they're not, they'll probably be doing so with a lot of names we've never thought much about right now.