The modest, nebulous goal of the Orioles’ 2022 season is to show signs of improvement. Turn the future into the present with notable promotions, field a more competitive roster, and prove to the fanbase that the years of rebuilding are about to pay off. Although there are nearly five months remaining in the campaign, the team appears well on they way to doing just that.
This improvement is not evident in their win-loss record, a fact that a certain national writer likes to remind us of with regularity. Through 42 games, the team is 17-25, well outside of the playoff picture and in the cellar of the American League East. That is identical to where they found themselves at this same point a year ago.
But context matters, and there is no denying that this Orioles team does “feel” better than last season’s rendition.
Trey Mancini told MLB.com about it just a week ago.
“It’s something that’s hard to explain, but it’s definitely there,” Trey Mancini said this week. “I mean, everybody feels it.”
As that blog points out, it’s a combination things. The pitching is competitive, the team has some fun antics (home run chain, on-base binoculars), and there are finally several massive prospects at or near the major league level.
The promotion of Adley Rutschman is a significant leap for the organization, and it cannot be overstated. While prospect analysis isn’t perfect, there is a reason he has long been viewed as one of—if not the—absolute best young players in the sport. This guy is extremely good.
MLB Pipeline released a list of their best number one overall prospects of the last 20 years back in March. Rutschman was ahead of all-stars like Corey Seager and Alex Bregman, Cy Young winner David Price, and future Hall of Famer Joe Mauer. There is no guarantee the catcher reaches or eclipses what those others have done in their careers, but it is evidence that he possesses league-altering talent.
Of course, Rutschman cannot do things on this own. Fortunately, the makings of an impressive supportive cast are developing all around him. Austin Hays is healthy and playing like an all-star (134 wRC+). Ryan Mountcastle is hitting the ball harder than ever. Cedric Mullins is heating up and proving that 2021 wasn’t a fluke. And that’s before you even dip into the minors, where Gunnar Henderson is on fire in Double-A and Kyle Stowers has a .565 slugging percentage in Triple-A. It may take some time, but the offense has a bright future.
There is plenty to be excited about on the mound as well. The team’s bullpen has come out of nowhere to be one of the best (and deepest) units in MLB (3.12 ERA, 1.7 fWAR). Meanwhile, the rotation feels like an experiment to find out who can stick long term. Kyle Bradish made his big league debut and already has an 11-strikeout outing on his resumé while Bruce Zimmermann has featured a changeup/slider combo that sure looks like the arsenal of a viable rotation arm. And oh yeah, the organization also has the minors’ best young arm Grayson Rodriguez working away at their highest affiliate with a 13.71 K/9 and a 2.70 ERA.
No wonder things feel so different. Finally, for the first time in years, there is hope around the club. The big league team is intriguing while minor league reports promise further improvement sometime soon. That is worth celebrating!
Obvious hurdles remain. Promising prospects need to turn into productive big leaguers. Those that are playing well in Baltimore right now need to hang onto that form while the young players get acclimated. Injury luck has to be there. There are going to be holes on the roster to be filled through trades and free agency. And it would also be nice if the rest of the AL East wasn’t an absolute juggernaut every single summer.
Ultimately, the Orioles do need to convert “good vibes” into wins. We aren’t after moral victories or being an also-ran every single season. The only way that this lengthy rebuild and the almost weekly ridicule from around the sport will be worth it from the fan’s perspective is if it turns into perennial success and a World Series title.
But it’s also OK to slow down for a moment, realize how far this team has come, and appreciate that—for right now at least—it’s fun to be an Orioles fan.