The long winter is almost over. Orioles baseball will be back in our lives tomorrow, or if it really rains a lot in Boston tomorrow, then it’ll be back on Friday. The best thing that can be hoped for this season is that baseball in general, and the Orioles specifically, can get back to having normal problems, instead of pandemic problems.
The Orioles, it seems, are going to have many of the normal problems that could plague a bad baseball team. There are all of zero proven quantities in their starting rotation, which consists of five guys for whom fans have varying levels of hope. The shuffling of players in the infield may give them both a worse offense and worse defense at second base, third base, and shortstop.
The outfield is also like the rotation with its lack of proven quantities. No player in that mix has played well for a full season at the MLB level yet, unless you count Trey Mancini as an outfielder, which the official Orioles roster does. One of my hopes for this season had been that the team would finally play an outfield full of real outfielders regularly, and that already seems to have been dashed by the apparent plan to stash Ryan Mountcastle out there. Oh well. I’ve had this same hope every year since 2017, so I’m used to it being dashed.
There can be hope for a lot of individual stories about the 2021 Orioles. There is not much hope for their success as a group. This was obvious simply from looking at the roster at the end of 2020. Mike Elias’s offseason comments about how the time had not yet come to “flip the switch” and try to maximize wins in the coming season were just another reminder: These guys are going to lose a lot of games. “Come watch the fifth straight Orioles losing season!” is not a pitch that will sell many tickets.
Last month, Fangraphs unveiled its playoff odds for the coming season. At that time, every team had at least some chance of making the postseason, except for the Orioles, whose odds were at 0.0%. The site even trolled Orioles fans on Twitter by making an updated graphic that showed every team having 100% playoff odds, except the Orioles, who remained at 0.0%.
Something changed under the hood between now and then, because you can look today and see that the Orioles’ playoff odds have improved. They now have a 0.1% chance of making it into the postseason. So you’re telling me there’s a chance!
With all that in mind, what do you hope for from the Orioles this season? What do you think is going to happen when you add a dose of reality to your hopes? I polled some of the other Camden Chat writers on three quick things, and I’m interested in knowing what you think about these as well, so drop in to the comments and let us know:
- Your biggest hope for the 2020 Orioles
- Your biggest concern about the Orioles rebuild project
- What you think the O’s final record will be
- A prediction (big or small) about something you think will happen with the Orioles this year
Here’s what we thought:
Alex: A few young starters have success. This feels like an obvious choice, but it’s what can have the greatest impact on the rebuild. If any collection of Kremer, Zimmerman, Akin, Lopez, Lowther, Wells, etc. demonstrate an ability to pitch at the Major League level, the Birds will be in good shape when Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall show up down the road.
Stacey: That at least one of the young pitchers (Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin, Zac Lowther, etc.) really shows us that they belong. Prospects turning into good pitchers would be really nice.
Harrison: The O’s show more patience at the plate and finish with a team OBP over .330.
Paul: My biggest hope is that a steady flow of O’s prospects make their way to the majors and acclimate themselves well while keeping the team respectable. And also that there are no COVID-related interruptions and that ballparks will be able to gradually, safely increase crowd capacity throughout the year.
Andrea: I hope that the pitching prospects—Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmermann in particular—have solid seasons, stay with the big-league club all season long, and show good enough stuff to make a case for the future. (And, if I can squeeze one more wish in, I hope that Zac Lowther, Mike Baumann, and Keegan Akin get their opportunities to start and make good use of them.)
Mark: I hope that the offseason’s periodic Anthony Santander trade rumors don’t come to fruition. Unless, you know, the trade brings back a totally awesome package of prospects.
Mark: Being the infamous Orioles pessimist that I am, my concern is that everyone’s hopes about the Akin/Kremer/Zimmermann level of pitchers and Lowther/Baumann/Alexander Wells level of pitchers are dashed and by year’s end not one of those guys looks like a future answer.
Andrea: My biggest concern is this untested starting rotation. Can John Means put together two good halves of a season? Will Bruce Zimmermann’s stuff (and Matt Harvey’s reengineered stuff, for that matter) play at the major league level? Which version of Jorge López will show up in 2021?
Paul: My biggest concern is that last year’s canceled 2020 minor league season ends up stunting the development of the Orioles’ best prospects. Or that the prospects turn out to just not be very good.
Harrison: Getting enough production out of their young, homegrown pitchers. More specifically, being able to develop a few top-of-the-rotation starters.
Stacey: I don’t know that we’ll see anything concrete regarding this in 2021, but I worry that the lost season of development in 2020 could derail things. When your whole future is relying on building up that farm system, losing that year could be devastating.
Alex: Will the team capitalize as soon as possible? Rebuilds move slowly, but will the O’s take advantage once the tide begins to turn? We’re still a year or two away, but eventually the club must pay for an established starting pitcher or a coveted position player to compliment their young talent. Long term success is the ultimate goal, but Baltimore can take advantage of early opportunities without mortgaging the future.
Orioles record predictions
Harrison had the best prediction of the group of us last year. He guessed a 24-36 record from the 2020 Orioles, and as we know, they ended up finishing 25-35.
Select expert/computer projections
Over/under win total from sportsbooks: 64.5. 538 and me are the only ones here taking that under.
The wild predictions
Mark: At the end of the season, Ryan Mountcastle will be the Orioles home run leader.
Andrea: Anthony Santander gets traded at the All-Star break. I don’t love it, but the idea has been floated just too many times at this point...
Paul: I’ll predict that Adley Rutschman will be in the majors this year earlier than expected, maybe by July. Mike Elias usually slow-plays his prospects, but Rutschman is a special case who should advance quickly.
Harrison: The O’s will have a rookie pitcher who wins 13+ games.
Stacey: Adley Rutschman will debut and wow us all. (Editor’s note: Can you tell that Stacey and Paul are married?)
Alex: The Orioles will have more than one All Star.
Out of all of these things, I think I would be most excited by Stacey and Paul’s prediction of a surprise (but not to them) call-up of Adley Rutschman. One thing that the Orioles rebuild project has lacked so far is a big “The future is coming!” moment at the MLB level. If the 2021 season is able to start to bring us a few of those even if the team is still bad, I think Orioles fans could feel like this season was a success.
What about you? What are you thinking heading into the season? Make your predictions in the comments below, so that when they come true by season’s end you can point and tell everyone how right you were.