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When the Orioles are good again, what is the team going to look like?

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There probably aren’t many guys from the next good Orioles team on the roster right now.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore Orioles Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Some day down the road, the Orioles will be a good baseball team again. With the Orioles mathematically eliminated before September, this year wasn’t their year.. Next year doesn’t look so good either. Neither of these statements could come as a surprise to anyone who’s been listening to GM Mike Elias, who has been consistently firm that there are not any shortcuts to the organization’s much-needed rebuilding process that he is now overseeing.

About a year ago, as the Dan Duquette-era Orioles stumbled into the inevitability of the rebuild, it was tough to have a clear picture of what the rebuild might look like. Though Duquette was going around saying the right things about what the O’s needed to invest in, it was tough for me to believe that the best guy to revive the franchise from a 47-115 season was the same guy who presided (perhaps only nominally, if half of the stories of dysfunction and Buck Showalter’s influence are true) over the team sinking to that level in the first place.

The team at the major league level is not much better right now than it was a year ago, and on nights where they make you feel the grumpiest they might even feel worse. Despite that, it’s not hard to feel better about the future with Elias in charge. He was a top lieutenant as the Astros ascended from three straight 100+ loss seasons in 2011-2013 to a wild card bid in 2015 and a World Series title in 2017. He knows what works in the specific areas where the Orioles were, until recently, critically deficient.

Whether the Orioles will be able to follow a similar timeline as the Astros is not a sure thing. Several key players of the Astros wild card and later World Series teams were already in the organization when Elias’s old boss took over, including Jose Altuve, George Springer, Dallas Keuchel, and even 2017’s super-utility breakout Marwin Gonzalez. They also had a smashing success with their first #1 overall selection, Carlos Correa.

We can hope that Elias’s #1 pick in Baltimore, Adley Rutschman, has such a bright future ahead of him. Outside of that, it’s not as clear there was as much existing talent for the Orioles organization to polish like the guys that Houston had kicking around.

Still, there have been encouraging signs in the farm system since Elias took over and implemented analytics-driven philosophies. The rotation of the Delmarva Shorebirds has flourished in particular, with Double-A Bowie also enjoying a second half pitching surge. The team launched into the international amateur market at last, setting up a potential talent pipeline in the future that it has simply never had before.

Last August, I polled Camden Chat readers about when the Orioles might next have another .500 or better season. A plurality of 45% responded with an optimistic 2021-22 vote. If the Elias Orioles are able to follow the Astros footsteps, 2022 would be the year where things start to coalesce into something where the right now is exciting again.

2022 is not so far away. It’s also forever in baseball terms. Many of the small number of remaining tenured Orioles will be set to be free agents before then, including Dylan Bundy and Mychal Givens. Trey Mancini, who’s the closest thing to the current face of the MLB team, would be in his final year before becoming a free agent.

Many more players who are placeholders at best will shuffle in and out of the MLB roster by then. The next good Orioles team is going to look a lot different. This is an obvious relief for anyone who’s watched enough 2019 O’s baseball.

With all of that in mind, here is a vision of the key parts of a hypothetical surprising breakout 2022 Orioles team. This list is necessarily optimistic about the development of Orioles prospects and does not attempt to predict any acquisitions that are not currently in the organization by either trade or free agency. It’s also assuming anyone who won’t have multiple years of team control remaining by 2022 will be traded before then.

INFIELD

  • C - Adley Rutschman
  • 1B - Ryan Mountcastle
  • 2B - Hanser Alberto
  • SS - Cadyn Grenier
  • 3B - Rylan Bannon

One immediate problem with this exercise is that it’s tough to come up with an infield that looks like it could be a part of a good 2022 team with only internal options currently contracted to be around. The O’s are not flush with prospects at second, third, or short once you get above Delmarva, which might have something to do with why Elias drafted three shortstops in his first six picks. I find Shorebirds infielder Adam Hall’s 2019 performance exciting, but don’t think he’ll be up to MLB by early 2022.

The optimist who squints really, really hard might see a place for light-hitting Bowie infielder Mason McCoy (.274/.338/.349 in 97 games) or the light-hitting Frederick shortstop Grenier (combined .244/.355/.384 between Delmarva/Frederick).

I am not that optimist, though I’ve put Grenier at shortstop anyway because I don’t want to leave many spots blank. That’s also why Bannon, who enjoyed some modest success at Bowie to earn a recent promotion to Norfolk, is at third base. I will be pleased if either of these players exceeds my current expectation of their chances to stick in MLB.

Alberto is maybe the most pleasant surprise on the 2019 team. Although some awful defensive plays stick out in my memory, he’s rated decently enough in the publicly available defensive metrics, with -1 in Defensive Runs Saved between second and third and 0.3 in Ultimate Zone Rating. I don’t think he will continue to be the lefty masher he presently is three years from now, but as long as he is that, he’ll play.

OUTFIELD

  • LF - Anthony Santander
  • CF - Austin Hays
  • RF - Yusniel Diaz

The outfield was supposed to be the one area the Orioles would absolutely have figured out by the end of this season, or so I foolishly believed. It hasn’t worked out that way, starting with the Cedric Mullins flameout at the MLB level. Santander is the one guy who seems like he’s seized a spot for the near future this season, and before the year he wouldn’t have even made my top 5 of O’s outfield prospects.

Hays has battled through injuries again and only has a .757 OPS in the juiced Triple-A environment. Diaz is on his second injured list stint, though his .258/.331/.465 batting line in 69 games is fine. I still have hopes that both Hays and Diaz will be able to climb above where they are right now. It may be that Elias doesn’t have as high hopes, and that’s why he drafted three college outfielders in his first eight picks this year.

After a standout 2018, Ryan McKenna has stumbled at Bowie. DJ Stewart has yet to make the most of the opportunity presented to him in Baltimore. It’s only been 17 games, but once you’re the guy who dove for a fly ball and had it instead hit your face, you’re always that guy. He has at least hit safely in six of his last seven games.

STARTING ROTATION

  • John Means
  • DL Hall
  • One of these “crafty lefties”: Zac Lowther, Alex Wells, Bruce Zimmermann
  • One of these right-handers: Michael Baumann, Dean Kremer, Cody Sedlock
  • Another of the above, or one of these: Keegan Akin, Brenan Hanifee, Blaine Knight, Luis Ortiz

Much as I was tempted to put Grayson Rodriguez on here, I don’t think he quite squeezes into the picture by 2022, or at least not by Opening Day when our theoretical next good Orioles team trots down the orange carpet at Camden Yards.

The groupings of pitchers are somewhat random in that there is no reason that both Lowther and Wells can’t make it into an MLB rotation if they both pitch well enough and stay healthy enough. It’s just that, even if the Elias development program is a success for pitching prospects in the way that things never were under Duquette, there will still be attrition.

Some players will get hurt. Others will bump into a level where their talent can’t get them any closer to success in MLB. It may be that this has already happened to prospects like Hanifee and Knight, who’ve stumbled at Frederick this season. It could happen to Zimmermann and Kremer, whose limited results since earning Norfolk promotions have not yet lived up to what they were doing at Bowie. Even the next successful Orioles team is highly unlikely to have a rotation made up entirely of players who came up from their farm.

Means smacking into a bit of a wall since the All-Star break leaves the impression that even the one young-ish player to pitch well for the 2019 Orioles isn’t guaranteed to still be pitching well in three years. And although Hall has turned into one of the top 100 prospects in MLB, command still hasn’t developed for him in the pro ranks. He walked 42 batters in 94.1 innings at Delmarva last year, and has issued 54 walks in 80.2 innings for Frederick.

BULLPEN

I will lose no sleep about who is going to pitch in the bullpen for the next good Orioles team. If the team is good, they will have found some good relievers. Some may be from the above ranks of starting pitchers if they can’t be effective or stay healthy in those roles at higher levels. One apparent converted starter, Hunter Harvey, has offered intriguing potential in his first few big league relief outings.

A later Elias hire might be able to get Tanner Scott to figure out how to throw strikes. An Elias draftee or two could race from later rounds up through the farm and into a big league bullpen. I have faith that this new group, unlike the last set of guys, both has an idea of what a good pitcher looks like and has an idea about how to get the best out of the pitchers they’ve got in front of them. That hasn’t sunk in with the 2019 MLB pitchers just yet, but performances on the farm, especially from the Bowie and Delmarva rotations, offer hope.

**

In reality, the 2022 Orioles roster will not be limited to players who are currently in the organization. This is not at all a bad thing since I doubt the roster above would be the next good Orioles team. They could find another pleasant surprise like Alberto on the waiver claim trash heap. They might be able to get some prospects in trade for some of their current veterans like Dylan Bundy and Mychal Givens, if those players start playing well enough to have some trade value in a subsequent offseason or trade deadline season.

The Orioles will also start to dip their toes into the free agent waters once they sense that they are getting close to where it’s worthwhile to spend resources there. We can hope that the young players start to arrive in MLB and play well over the next couple of seasons so that the front office gets the sense in another couple of years that the good times are close.

Poll

When will the Orioles next have a better than .500 record in a season?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    2020, 2021
    (194 votes)
  • 64%
    2022, 2023
    (777 votes)
  • 14%
    2024, 2025
    (170 votes)
  • 5%
    2026 or later
    (67 votes)
1208 votes total Vote Now