With the Super Bowl in the rearview mirror and pitchers and catchers starting to report across MLB, it is officially baseball season in Baltimore! It also happens to be Valentine’s Day, meaning it’s not only time for love to spring anew for our friends and family, but also for your favorite Orioles. And yet, every new season also brings the opportunity to develop new baseball crushes. Last season saw Birdland collectively fall in love with the sight of Adley Rutschman in black and orange. We all became enamored with the rise of players like Gunnar Henderson and Felix Bautista, while renewing our infatuation with one Tony Taters.
While there’s still plenty of room in our hearts for all of our previous Orioles love stories, the 2023 season also asks us to make room for new significant Others. Here are the three Orioles we’re sure you’ll fall in love with in 2023.
The 6’5”, flame-throwing Texan is the 2023 answer to Adley and Gunnar from last year. He’s the pitching prospect our hearts have been yearning for what feels like decades. You have to go back to 2010 to find the last time Baltimore had a top-10 prospect play a significant role in the O’s rotation. With his arrival at Camden Yards seemingly delayed by last season’s lat injury, Rodriguez is poised to play a big part in this season’s rotation. And while absence has seen him drop to the second-best pitching prospect in baseball, Orioles fans have only grown fonder of Dan Duquette’s final first-round pick.
While erasing the pain of past disappointments like Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Zack Britton (the starter) and Dylan Bundy is a tall order for the rookie, Rodriguez certainly has the goods to deliver on that promise. It’s not often that an elite pitching prospect throws a fastball that touches triple digits while comfortably sitting in the upper-90s—and it’s not even his best pitch.
That honor belongs to Rodriguez’s changeup, a pitch that has such late life that many evaluators have often called it a change-screwball hybrid. Not only did MLB executives vote it the best secondary pitch among all pitching prospects, but it’s also garnered favorable comparisons to Pedro Martinez’s famed offspeed offering. And if the last two super-prospect debuts are anything to go by, Rodriguez will give plenty of reasons for Orioles fans to love him in 2023 and beyond.
While not a new member of this Orioles roster, Stowers seems like a prime candidate to take on a bigger role in 2023. The 2019 second-rounder out of Stanford was perhaps a surprise early debutant for the O’s in 2022, but it wasn’t until late in the year that he really cracked the everyday lineup. The love for Stowers last year seemed to grow and grow the more he played, and I expect that trend to continue into 2023.
After making his MLB debut as a replacement for Anthony Santander on an early season road trip to Toronto, Stowers seems like the best candidate to replace Santander as an everyday outfielder. That’s not to say Santander is going to the bench. However, after being one of the worst fielders in baseball last year, it’s clear that the Orioles need to explore moving him to a near-full-time DH role. Stowers should be first in line to take over that starting role in the outfield. It’s easy to envision Birdland’s admiration for the second-year outfield bursting forth every time he makes a play Santander routinely missed.
Worst Defenders of the 2022 Orioles, by Defensive Runs Saved— OriolesMuse (@OriolesMuse_) February 4, 2023
1. Robinson Chirinos, -10
2. Rougned Odor, -9
3. Anthony Santander, -5
Is it time that Santander becomes a primary DH? pic.twitter.com/ydDkM1op7Z
There are also enough reasons to believe that Orioles fans could fall in love with Stowers for his offense as well. After hitting a measly .226 throughout cameos in June and August, the lefty with the golden locks saw a noticeable uptick in production a near-everyday player in September. With a triple slash of .267/.313/.450 over the final month of the season, Stowers already showed an ability to handle big-league pitching at an above-average level. If he can continue to grow at the plate—and not fall off against left-handed pitching—Stowers could prove to be a big boost for this season’s ballclub. But really, just hit well enough to stay in the lineup and keep Santander out of the field, and everyone will love you, Kyle.
If Santander was frustrating to watch in the field, watching Robinson Chirinos was downright heartbreaking at times in 2022. That defensive deficiency meant that Chirinos got the boot in the offseason, and McCann steps into his role as Adley Rutschman’s primary backup. While almost any catcher would be viewed through rose-colored glasses when compared to Chirinos, McCann represents a massive upgrade as a pitch framer.
Last year, as the Mets’ primary backup catcher, McCann posted 2 catcher framing runs—a whopping +16 runs better than Chirinos. The Pythagorean Winning Percentage theory suggests that those 16 runs could be worth an extra three wins over 162 games—the difference between the O’s making and missing the playoffs last year. That number was also good enough for 19th in all of baseball, meaning the Orioles now come into 2023 with two of the 20 best-framing catchers in the league. Are you feeling the love yet?
The other upside of having McCann in the lineup is his historical success against left-handed pitching. His career OPS of .777 against lefties would have ranked 11th amongst all catchers last season. More importantly, if McCann can put up similar numbers to his career splits, he offers a major upgrade against lefties over what we saw from Adley in 2022. While the face of the Orioles’ franchise hit righties at an elite rate, he was well below league average against lefties. McCann will now allow Brandon Hyde to rest Adley more often against left-handers—while also perhaps being good enough to DH against lefties when he’s not catching. Given the Orioles’ overall struggles against last year, McCann should be a match made in heaven for the backup catcher role.