The last few weeks have been highly eventful in Birdland. The sale of the franchise to billionaire David Rubenstein and the acquisition of Corbin Burnes from the Milwaukee Brewers have seen the offseason turn from an utter disappointment into a booming success. There could still be more moves to come, but even if there aren’t, it’s hard to argue that the Orioles are not in an excellent position to repeat as AL East champions. 

So, with spring training underway, it’s time to look internally at some of the players within the organization. While newcomers like Burnes and Craig Kimbrel will get the majority of the attention in Sarasota, there are also plenty of returners who will be interesting to watch. Let’s take a look at some of the top bounceback and regression candidates heading into the 2024 season. 


Dillon Tate 

Coming off of a season in which he failed to make an appearance at the major league level, Tate has nowhere to go but up. Arm injuries plagued the right-hander throughout 2023, limiting him to just 10.2 innings of minor league ball. However, the 29-year-old is still just one year removed from a breakout 2022 campaign that saw him emerge as one of the best arms in Baltimore’s bullpen while posting a 3.05 ERA and a .991 WHIP. The underlying metrics suggest that his fastball was one of the top pitches in all of baseball (97th percentile in Run Value) and his walk rate, barrel rate, and average exit velocity against all landed in the top 20% of major league pitchers. There are still plenty of question marks regarding Tate’s health, but if he can return to his 2022-self, he could play a significant role in a bullpen that will be missing two of its biggest pieces from last year in DL Hall and Felix Bautista. 

Colton Cowser 

Cowser’s first stint in Baltimore was filled with far more downs than ups. The highly-touted prospect slashed just .115/.286/.148 in 61 at-bats at the MLB level while recording more than three times as many strikeouts as hits. He continued to look unbalanced and uncomfortable at the plate after returning to Triple-A, perhaps due to a lack of confidence thanks to his shortcomings in The Show. That being said, major media outlets like Baseball America and MLB Pipeline remain confident in the outfielder’s ability, placing him among the top 35 prospects in all of baseball this winter. There’s no guarantee that Cowser breaks camp on the 26-man roster, but if his career minor league OPS of .909 is any indication of what he is capable of, the sky is still the limit for the former first-round pick. 

Cole Irvin 

Hopes were high for Irvin after the Orioles sent promising infield prospect Darell Hernaiz to Oakland in order to acquire him during the 2023 offseason. He earned the third spot in the starting rotation thanks to a solid showing at spring training, but after a disastrous first few weeks of the regular season, he lost his place on the roster altogether. The left-hander split his time between Norfolk and Baltimore throughout the rest of the year, showing flashes of the potential he displayed with the Athletics but never finding a consistent role. However, given that both John Means and Kyle Bradish are expected to miss the start of the 2024 season, Irvin has a golden opportunity to redeem himself and prove his worth out of the gate this spring. His statline from the second half of 2023, which boasts a 3.40 ERA with a 1.08 WHIP and more than four times as many strikeouts as walks, suggests that he could be a valuable asset as both a starter and a reliever. The key to his success will be finding a way to extend those numbers over the course of a full season, something he did multiple times before coming to the Orioles.  

Jorge Mateo 

Mateo’s 2023 campaign was one of the strangest recorded by an Oriole in recent memory. He got off to a blazing start, batting .347 with 6 home runs and 10 stolen bases over the first month of the season, before falling completely off the face of the Earth (and out of the starting lineup) early in the summer. The advanced analytics suggest that April was more of an anomaly than any real indication of his batting prowess. In fact, he has ranked in the bottom third of MLB hitters in average exit velocity, barrel rate, chase rate, and expected batting average in each of his two full seasons in Baltimore. Still, given his speed and defensive capabilities, a slight improvement at the plate could be all it takes to turn the shortstop into a 2 WAR player. Furthermore, if the reports that he has been working on becoming more comfortable in the outfield are true, he could become a versatile chess piece for Brandon Hyde to turn to as a late inning substitution.  


Austin Hays 

Much like Mateo, Hays got off to an excellent start to 2023, slashing .314/.355/.498 in the first half of the year and earning his first ever All-Star game nod. The second half told a different story, however, as he posted a measly .667 OPS over the final 66 games of the year. It’s worth noting that injuries almost certainly played a role in Hays’ late season regression, but the dramatic difference between the numbers he posted in April, May, and June and those he posted in July, August, and September is concerning nonetheless. Even more concerning is the fact that he has failed to exceed the 60th percentile in any of Baseball Savant’s offensive metrics over the past three seasons. Given that he is one of the only right-handed hitters in an outfield that is likely to include at least three left-handers in Cowser, Cedric Mullins, and Heston Kjerstad, he should still play a significant role in Baltimore this year. That being said, I can’t help but wonder if the once-top-prospect has already reached his ceiling and if further regression may be on the way.  

Danny Coulombe 

The acquisition of Coulombe just before opening day last season went largely unnoticed throughout Birdland, but he quickly emerged as one of Hyde’s most reliable options out of the bullpen. The left-hander lowered his career ERA from 3.92 to 3.69 over the course of the year while tossing 50 or more innings for just the second time in his nine year career. His underlying metrics were even better as they included an expected ERA, average exit velocity against, chase rate, and hard hit rate all above the 90th percentile of major league pitchers. Still, it’s difficult to imagine Coulombe having the same amount of success this season. Not only did he have worse second half splits after more data surrounding his pitch mix became available, but he also plays the most volatile position in all of baseball as a relief pitcher. Coulombe will get no shortage of opportunities thanks to the recent departure of Hall, but whether or not he will be able to carry over his success from 2023 and cash in on them remains to be seen.  

Ryan O’Hearn 

O’Hearn was one of the best stories of the 2023 season as he went from being left off the opening day roster to becoming a mainstay at the top of batting order. Putting on his best “2014 Steve Pearce” impression, the first baseman slashed .289/.322/.480 with 14 home runs and 60 RBIs in 112 games. He also played very solid defense, finishing in the 82nd percentile in outs above average despite being considered a well-below average defender throughout his first few years in the league. Unfortunately, similar to Coulombe, O’Hearn still has a long way to go to prove that 2023 was more than just an aberration. His career OPS is still just .714 and the fact that he struck out more than five times as much as he walked last year suggests that he could be in store for some batted ball luck regression in 2024. Don’t be surprised if he sees his role decrease by midseason, especially if Kjerstad and Ryan Mountcastle are able to stay healthy.  

Kyle Bradish 

It feels a bit unfair to include Bradish on this list given that it was recently revealed that he is dealing with a UCL sprain, but regression felt inevitable for the right-hander well before that announcement took place. Despite most of his advanced metrics landing between the 40th and 70th percentile of major league pitchers, the second-year starter was able to battle his way to a dominant 2.83 ERA with a 3.81 strikeout-to-walk ratio last season. It wasn’t always pretty, but he found ways to be successful day in and day out, regardless of whether he had his best stuff. That being said, it feels like he is destined to take a step backwards as opposing offenses have an entire offseason to study his stuff. While he was always thought of as a capable prospect, Bradish was never pegged as a future ace throughout his time in the minor leagues and though there are cases of young arms flipping a permanent switch once they arrived in the majors, there are many more of players recording one spectacular year before regressing back to the norm. That isn’t to say that Bradish can’t serve as a reliable number two starter at some point this season. I just wouldn’t bank on him posting a sub-3.00 ERA and finishing in the top five of Cy Young voting again any time soon.  

Luke Rollfinke
Luke Rollfinke

Luke Rollfinke is a student at Vanderbilt where he is pursuing a career in sports journalism. A recent graduate from the Friends School of Baltimore, Luke has spent his entire childhood in Charm City and is a devoted Orioles fan. In the past, he has written for SB Nation and has worked closely with Ravens columnist John Eisenberg. From nights at Camden Yards to Sunday afternoons watching NFL Redzone, Luke eats, sleeps, and breathes sports. He is excited to bring his perspective to BSL.