Baltimore Orioles 2020 Season Preview

         There were two things about 2019 than were good for the Orioles. They drafted Adley Rutschman first overall in June, and they didn\’t finish last in the MLB. The Tigers beat the Orioles to the first overall pick this June, while Baltimore will pick second. Despite moving up in the standings one place from 2018 to 2019, the Orioles\’ rebuild is not even close to being over. They have some good players in Trey Mancini and John Means, but it isn\’t guaranteed that they will still be decent players by the time the Orioles ever turn it around. It is all about helping the minor league teams now.

          Offseason additions: SS Jose Iglesias, LHP Wade LeBlanc, RHP Kohl Stewart, LHP Tommy Milone, SS Richard Urena, RHP Travis Lakins, RHP Cole Sulser, IF Andrew Velazquez, IF Pat Valaika, C Bryan Holaday.

          Offseason subtractions: IF Jonathan Villar, RHP Dylan Bundy, RHP Dan Straily, OF Joey Rickard

The Orioles had just one player finish the season with the team with at least 10 innings pitched that had an ERA under 4.00. That was John Means, a 26 year old rookie with an elite change-up, but not the strikeout stuff. Means struck out just 121 batters in 155 innings with a 3.60 ERA. The rest of the rotation is a big question. Former Rays second starter Alex Cobb started the season on the IL with the a groin strain, then suffered a lumbar strain and later a hip impingement, which required surgery, ending his season after three starts. Cobb struck out eight batters and allowed 15 earned runs in 12.1 innings. He also somehow allowed nine home runs. He should be healthy for Opening Day. The Orioles signed 2013 4th overall pick Kohl Stewart to a major league deal. In 17 career games (six starts), Stewart has a 4.79 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 62 innings. Even as a AAA starter last year Stewart had a 5.14 ERA. Another former first rounder, Asher Wojciechowski, is more of a wild card. In 82.1 innings last year, Wojciechowski struck out 80 batters and allowed just 80 hits. However, 17 of those hits were home runs, helping inflate his ERA to 4.92. The Orioles gave Wade LeBlanc a minor league deal. A journeyman with a 3.72 ERA in 162 innings for Seattle in 2018, LeBlanc struggled last year, with a 5.71 ERA in 121.1 innings, and lost his spot in the rotation. Now on a much worse Orioles team, LeBlanc gets another shot. LeBlanc\’s Mariners teammate Tommy Milone is also in camp. Milone pitched 100 innings last year, the first time he\’s done that since 2015. Rule 5 pick Brandon Bailey had a 3.30 ERA with 103 strikeouts in 92.2 innings for AA Corpus Christi (Houston). Another Rule 5 pick, Michael Rucker, struck out 93 batters in 79.2 innings in AA and AAA in the Cubs system.

Closer Mychal Givens failed to pitch 70 innings for the first time since his first taste of the MLB in 2015. His 4.57 ERA was over a half run worse than his previous career worst. He saved only 11 games, but his 86 strikeouts in 63 innings led to a career high 12.3 K/9. Richard Bleier never had a season with an ERA over 2.00 entering 2019, but after the season, his career ERA went all the way up to 3.05. A lefty with a career 4.3 K/9, Bleier allowed six home runs in 55.1 innings, six more home runs than he allowed in 2018. Even though he won all three of his decisions, Bleier had an awful 5.37 ERA. Hunter Harvey, a 24 year old first rounder in 2013, finally debuted late in 2019, allowing one run while striking out 11 in 6.1 innings (1.42 ERA). Harvey looks like the potential future closer. Speaking of potential future closers, Toronto thought Miguel Castro was exactly that, when he had four saves in his first 13 career games in 2015. However, he saved his first game since then last season. His K/9 went from 5.9 in 2018 to 8.7 in 2019. However, his ERA raised from 3.96 to 4.66. Lefty Paul Fry allowed lefties to have an .839 OPS, but righties had just a .679 OPS. The Orioles claimed Travis Lakins from the Red Sox. He didn\’t have good AAA numbers, but he had a respectable 3.86 ERA in 23.1 innings last year. It was his MLB debut. Shawn Armstrong had a 5.74 ERA in 58 innings, striking out 63. With limited bullpen spots, Armstrong, Lakins or one of the Rule 5 picks will not make the team. Just based off of stats, Armstrong would be the odd man out. Based of seniority and Rule 5 picks not being able to go to Baltimore\’s farm system, Lakins would be sent down. Tanner Scott, Dillon Tate, David Hess, Evan Phillips and Cole Sulser will all likely play in the majors in 2020, but also ride the AAA-MLB shuffle.

The Orioles picked up Pedro Severino from the Nats in Spring Training, and he was not bad offensively. He hit 13 home runs with a .740 OPS, okay for a catcher. He also had a 1.2 bWAR. Chance Sisco, once a decent catching prospect, hit eight home runs, but had a weak .210 average and .729 OPS. Sisco has a career .203 batting average. Veteran catcher Bryan Holaday is a non-roster invitee. He hit a career high four home runs in 43 games for Miami last year. He had a solid .278 batting average and a .779 OPS.

Former 53 home run hitter Chris Davis was usurped by Jeff Mathis as the worst hitter in baseball. Davis was still terrible in 2019, with a .179 average and .601 OPS. It is probably best for the team to move Trey Mancini down from right field to play first. Mancini had a breakout season, hitting 35 home runs with 97 RBIs, a .291 average and .899 OPS. The Orioles took a chance on second baseman Hanser Alberto, and he hit 12 home runs with a .305 average. He hit .398 against lefties, ranking among the league\’s best. The Orioles traded away Jonathan Villar, who was at one point the team\’s best player. His replacement is Jose Iglesias, a good defender who hit 11 home runs with a .288 average for the Reds last year. Rio Ruiz hit 12 home runs, but his other offensive numbers weren\’t good. Richie Martin, a Rule 5 pick last year, spent the whole year with the team, hit .208 with a .581 OPS. He can play shortstop, second and third base. Renato Nunez can play corner infield, but he is more of a DH. He hit 31 home runs in his first year with the team.

Switch hitting outfielder Anthony Santander hit 20 home run in 93 games after hitting one home run in his previous 46 games. He also had a .773 OPS. Austin Hays was called up in September and hit four home runs with a .309 average and .947 OPS. 2015 first rounder DJ Stewart had a weak .698 OPS, but will get a good chance to be the left fielder. Dwight Smith Jr. had a .241 batting average with 13 home runs. Stevie Wilkerson can play all over the field. Playing mostly center field, Wilkerson hit 10 home runs but had a .225 average and .286 OBP.

                 Projected Opening Day Lineup
2B Hanser Alberto (R)
RF Anthony Santander (S)
1B Trey Mancini (R)
DH Renato Nunez (R)
LF DJ Stewart (L)
C Pedro Severino (R)
CF Austin Hays (R)
SS Jose Iglesias (R)
3B Rio Ruiz (L)

                 Projected Rotation
John Means (L)
Alex Cobb (R)
Asher Wojciechowski (R)
Kohl Stewart (R)
Wade LeBlanc (L)

                  Projected Bullpen
Mychal Givens, closer (R)
Richard Bleier (L)
Miguel Castro (R)
Hunter Harvey (R)
Paul Fry (L)
Brandon Bailey (R)
Michael Rucker (R)
Travis Lakins (R)

                   Projected Bench
1B Chris Davis (L)
SS Richie Martin (R)
OF Dwight Smith Jr. (L)
C Chance Sisco (L)

                  It\’s going to be a rough next few years in Baltimore. Every other team in the AL East is far superior to the Orioles, and so is every team in the league besides the Marlins and Tigers.

Published by carterhud SI Kids Kid Reporter, Prime Time Sports Talk writer

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