In another season where the Baltimore Orioles can not contend; what is there to watch?
If you are an Orioles fan, dig in.
2021 is an extremely important year for this organization.
Here are some things we will be keying on.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Are Mancini, Means, and Santander Orioles When 2021 Ends?
I don’t believe there is a definitive answer here. Each of those three players could remain Orioles at year end, and each of them could plausibly be traded.
Mancini is under contract through ’22. He’s healthy, so the expectation should be he’ll be productive.
He just turned 29, so he’s a bit older than the rest of the core you are building, but not too old that he can’t be a part of your next 4-5 years if you want to extend him.
As with Mancini, Means is a bit older (28 on April 24th) but can also be a piece going forward. Unlike Mancini, he and Santander are both under team control through the ’24 season.
Orioles GM Mike Elias figures to gauge the market on each. There is the axiom that nobody is untradeable, and that’s basically true for everyone, and certainly true for this trio – but none of them have to be moved. With the team control the Orioles have with Means, and Santander; Elias won’t be giving them away. Someone would have to be sending Elias back something he really covets.
Mancini is a little different. The Orioles will need to make a decision there sooner than later in my opinion. If the Orioles decide to move him, he’s going to bring back more in ’21 than he will in ’22, as the obtaining team would get that additional year of control. I’m not going to be surprised if we see an extension for Mancini in the near-term.
The Defense – An Issue This Spring – Will Be Pretty Solid
If you’ve been following the box scores this Spring, you’ve noted the Orioles have been committing a lot of errors. Orioles Manager Brandon Hyde has mentioned several times the need for the Orioles to tighten things up defensively.
The defense should actually be pretty good.
As the season begins, it seems like the OF is going to be Hays, Mullins, and Santander from Left to Right. Hays and Mullins both cover a lot of ground, and Santander (a Gold Glove finalist last year) is at-least adequate in RF, and showed good progression in the field last year. I suspect at some point Diaz will take over LF, with Hays locking down CF; and that will be a very capable OF as well (with Diaz, Hays, and Santander all having quality arms).
Sanchez is a former Gold Glover, and perceived as above-average at 2nd.
Galvis will be steady at SS. Franco will be steady at 3rd.
Mancini is out of the OF, and will be at-least average at 1st.
Mountcastle can be livable in LF or 1st, but I think will spend most of his time at DH.
The weak spot defensively is behind the plate with Severino and Sisco; but you can live with that knowing a plus defender in Rutschman is on the way soon.
The Orioles aren’t going to be good, but it would be surprising to see them booting the ball over the park and beating themselves with an inability to field.
The Starting Pitching Is More Interesting Than You Probably Think
Please don’t confuse what I’m saying here. The Orioles ’21 rotation will be below average. It’s not ready to be good. However there is more useful depth than we’ve seen in sometime, and it should become a pretty interesting group over the course of this season.
Means is the ‘grizzled’ leader at this point, with his 37 combined starts the past two years. He’ll be solid enough, and there is some optimism he’ll be a true front-end starter.
I don’t have any hope of Hernandez providing the Orioles anything this year, but Harvey is beginning the year in the rotation. With him maintaining his velocity, I have some hope of him finding his ’18 form with Cincinnati and being a league average 5th – but when I’m talking about interesting or depth, I’m not talking about him or Lopez. They’ll give you what they give you, and if it’s poor, the Orioles will move on quickly. If it’s good, that’s an unexpected benefit.
When I’m talking about being interesting, I’m talking about Kremer, Zimmermann, Akin, Lowther, Baumann, Wells, and Smith (Group of 7); each of whom I think will get ML starts this year. Each of those Group of 7 arms is interesting. Each of them have questions. Each of them might flame out, and never be anything of significance. Each of them could become viable back of the rotation starters, and a couple of them have the upside to be more than that. If you ultimately get 2-3 productive starters from that group, and a couple of useful relievers making nothing and under long-term team control; that’s going to be awesome. In ’21, I’m going to enjoy watching them and seeing how they handle the opportunities they earn. Each of them will have ups and downs, and be dealing with adjustments. Akin going back to the Minors to start this year is an example that development isn’t linear. A step forward, a step back. Each of them will be dealing with the shortened ’20 season, and there will be questions about how many innings each of them can throw here in ’21. But I think it’s a group with talent, and I think they are going to push and compete with each other, and ultimately make the Orioles better. I also think that even if they aren’t ready to be ‘good’ in ’21, they’ll be good enough collectively to make more games interesting than we saw in the last full seasons of ’18, and ’19.
Just as a reminder, in ’18 the Orioles were 30th (last) in MLB with a 5.18 team era. In ’19, the Orioles were 30th again with a 5.59 era.
In ’18, the Orioles had 43 games started by David Hess, Yefry Ramirez, Jimmy Yacabonis, Ryan Meisinger, Josh Rogers, and Luis Ortiz.
In ’19, the Orioles had 82 games started by Asher Wojciechowski, David Hess, Aaron Brooks, Gabriel Ynoa, Dan Straily, Yacabonis, Thomas Eshelman, Ty Blach, Chandler Shepherd, Ramirez, Ortiz, and Sean Gilmartin.
I don’t know how many starts and innings the Group of 7 will provide the ’21 Birds, but they’ve got markedly more talent than the guys the O’s were forced to use in those ’18 and ’19 seasons.
It should be noted that the Orioles had improvement in ’20, moving up to 16th overall, with a 4.51 era. I think the extended rosters, and the short season helped the Orioles in that regard. If the O’s are going to stay around those numbers in ’21, it will largely be because the Group of 7 produced. Either way, I’m going to enjoy watching their progression and how their individual seasons unfold.
Is Mountcastle Going To Be The 2021 AL ROY?
The Orioles haven’t had a Rookie of the Year, since ‘The Otter’ Gregg Olson won in 1989. Mountcastle has the ability and opportunity to win that hardware in ’21.
All the projection systems like Mountcastle to be productive this year, but each are only projecting him to play 125-134 games. Barring injury, expect him to be penciled into the Orioles lineup 150+ times this year.
Who Do The Orioles Draft With The 5th Pick Overall In the 2021 Draft?
They’ll grab someone with plenty of ceiling.
June still a far way off. Who rises, who falls? Do one of the Vanderbilt starters (Rocker or Leiter) unexpectedly fall to the Orioles?
What Does The End Year Roster Look Like?
The season is starting, so the focus is on the Opening Day roster. More interestingly is to think about what the roster could look like at the end of ’21.
I’m picturing something like:
Catcher (2): Adley Rutschman, and Chance Sisco
First Base (1): Trey Mancini
Second Base (1): Jahmai Jones
Shortstop (1): Freddy Galvis
Third Base (1): Maikel Franco
Outfield / DH (6): Ryan Mountcastle, Yusniel Diaz, Austin Hays, Anthony Santander, Cedric Mullins, DJ Stewart
Utility (1): Pat Valaika
Starting Pitchers (5): John Means, Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin, Zac Lowther, Michael Baumann
Bullpen (8): Tanner Scott, Dillon Tate, Hunter Harvey, Shawn Armstrong, Isaac Mattson, Jorge Lopez, Alex Wells, Bruce Zimmermann
If the Orioles resemble that team in September, they’ll be fun to watch, and a pain in the ass to everyone they play. They’ll also be set-up well for the Winter, and a Free Agent class which will match their strongest long-term needs (SS and 3rd). And if your immediate thought is the Orioles will never spend on premier FA talent; take another look at the possible roster above. It’s a team without payroll commitments and future obligation. The Orioles will absolutely be in position to add a significant FA piece if they so choose.
- Is Means a solid rotation piece, or does he have front-end upside?
- Can Hays stay on the field for 150 games?
- Is Santander an ancillary piece that is moved? On the verge of stardom? Somewhere in-between?
- Can Mullins build off of his ’20 season? Does him quitting switch-hitting improve his offense?
- How good is the Group of 7?
- I like Diaz to force his way to the Majors after the Orioles gain the additional year of control; does that happen?
- Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall figure to begin their ’21 seasons at AA. With strong years, they’ll be on the verge of joining the Orioles in early ’22. How well do they perform? How many innings do they accumulate?
- The positional talent in the Minors has greatly increased since Elias has took over the helm. Kjerstad, Henderson, Westburg, Mayo, Vavra, Servideo, Haskin. Watching the boxscores, and reports on them will be fun.
- What other arms emerge? Rom, Bradish, Stallings, Baumler? You’ve got the Group of 7, you’ve got the excitement of Rodriguez and Hall; now it’s about developing that next wave.
- Harvey is starting the year on the DL. Again. When his 60 day DL stint is up, can he quickly join the Orioles, and perform?
- Just how good is Scott? Can Tate give you 60+ appearances? Will Hyde regularly use him in higher leverage situations?
- Has Davis played his last game as an Oriole? As a professional?
- Stewart is starting the year on the DL, and that’s cutting into maybe a last opportunity to show he can be a regular. Is there a scenario (maybe a trade of Mancini?) where he can still find regular ab’s?
- Do you end ’21, seeing a core of guys you can move forward with?
Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, CBS 1300, Q1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. He has also been interviewed by The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Business Journal, and PressBox (TV). As Owner, his responsibilities include serving as the Managing Editor, Publicist, & Sales Director.