More often than not, when something seems too good to be true, it usually is. When something seems extremely certain, practically unavoidable, well, it usually is too.
The Orioles winning this season was too good to be true. It didn’t happen. Baltimore seemed destined to lose 100 games this year. It did. But anyone that claims they knew how this season would unfold in Baltimore is simply not telling the truth. Even when you know how things are going to end, you don’t know how you’ll get there. That’s the beauty of a rebuild, and maybe life in general, but we’ll stick to baseball for now.
The breakout players on the 2019 Orioles have been well documented by now. After all, if you’re focusing on the positives, there’s not a lot else to talk about. John Means, Anthony Santander, and Hanser Alberto have been the stories of the year in Baltimore. They’ve performed better than anyone expected back in March, and they’ve earned their headlines.
But you already knew that. You’ve watched Alberto, Means and Santander play all season long. What you may not know, is which player has the best chance to keep things going next year?
Means will always be the focal point of conversations like this, not just because he was named an American League All Star, but because he plays the most important position in Baltimore’s rebuild. The Orioles need starting pitching, and they need a lot of it. The fact that a fringe-reliever on Opening Day emerged as one of the better pitchers in the American League? Well, it almost seems too good to be true.
Means currently holds a 10-11 record and a 3.65 ERA. Neither really jumps off the page, until you consider the Orioles are 49-102 with a 5.68 team earned run average. Means’s 4.1 WAR represents what he’s meant to the club this year, but that difference in statistics shows just how valuable he could be moving forward.
Means hit a rough patch after a dominant first half, and the imminent regression appeared to be setting in. But after failing to make it out of the fourth inning in three consecutive starts, Means responded with five consecutive outings of two earned runs or less from 8/14-9/11. He pitched into the seventh inning in four of those five starts, and reminded everyone what an All Star pitcher looks like.
Means’s ability to bounce back speaks volumes when projecting his future. Nobody walks right into the Major Leagues, dominates, and never has to make an adjustment. The lefty took a step back, only to lunge forward once again. As of now, it appears that Means is a guy that Birds can build around. Whether it’s out of preference or necessity really doesn’t matter.
Of course, there’s always a chance that Means’s inevitable regression will take a larger toll next season. He does pitch in the American League East, and he’ll be susceptible to the sophomore slump. Next year will be the first season Means enters with legitimate expectations, and Baltimore will lean on the 26-year-old to anchor its rotation.
However, Means won’t be in the national spotlight, and expectations should still be reasonable from the organization and most fans. This organization will do whatever they can to ensure his success, and don’t be surprised if he keeps things up next season.
Alberto may be the most fun story of the season simply due to the “he can’t keep this up” narrative that followed him all the way to September. But here we are, and Alberto has kept it up. “It” being his batting average.
The righty has hit .316 through 129 games and boasts a 3.1 WAR. His .402 average and .441 BAbip against left handed pitching is utterly ridiculous, and his .251 average against righties has been good enough to keep him in the lineup. He’s played seven positions, including pitcher, while spending a majority of his time at second and third base.
One does have to assume Alberto’s numbers against southpaws will have to dip a little bit. Just how much the production drops will play a large factor in his 2020 campaign. If Alberto continues to have success against lefties, and can even remotely improve against right-handed pitchers, then he’ll be in the lineup for Baltimore everyday.
We all know about Alberto’s lack of walks and low OBP compared to his average. The Orioles have not appeared to put any legitimate pressure on Alberto to work deeper into counts, and his aggressive approach has paid off for the most part. It will be interesting to see if he changes his approach at all, and how could impact his numbers next season.
Alberto could be reduced to a platoon role if he levels off any further against right-handed pitching. That being said, an extra base on balls here and there paired with a better average against righties could put him right back in the batting title conversation.
Of course, there’s always a chance that the Orioles feel Alberto’s value has peaked and they look to move him this offseason. If not, he’ll be one of the most intriguing players on the O’s next year.
Santander may have an argument for the highest ceiling among the trio, but Means gets the nod simply due to his position. That being said, Santander has the folks in Baltimore pretty excited. The 24-year-old did more than change the pronunciation of his last name by Gary Thorne—He also changed the perception of himself as a player.
Currently hitting .271/.308/.483, Santander has been the bright spot of the second half. He plays legitimate, Major League defense in the corner outfield spots and has showed an ability to play center field when called upon. Santander has 18 homers in only 88 games, and could threaten for 30 with a full work load next year.
The Venezuelan native hasn’t been quite as aggressive as Alberto at the dish, but he still needs to improve his OBP. He’s walked just 18 in 374 plate appearances, which results in the .308 OBP. Perhaps if his offensive success continues, he’ll be forced to look at a few more pitches outside of the zone from opposing pitchers.
Best case scenario? Santander takes advantage of an increased workload to expand upon his offensive outputs in 2019. If not, he could easily see a dip in playing time. Austin Hays could lock up center field in spring training, and Santander may be left competing with several young outfielders in the Orioles organization.
Which player do you think has the best chance at duplicating or improving upon their 2019 performance? Let us know below!
Which breakout player from 2019 has the best chance at continued success for the Orioles?
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