Thursday, February 21, 2013

2013 Preview: Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles 

(2012: 93-69, 2nd Place AL East, Wild Card Berth)
(2013: FC Prediction: 4th Place AL East)

But Tommy, the Orioles won 93 games and made the playoffs last year, how can they finish fourth??  The answer is pretty simple here, the AL East is pretty tough.  The Rays and Yankees are always up there, while the Red Sox are improved and the Blue Jays are greatly improved.  While many expected them to be active this off-season, the Orioles stayed very quiet, perhaps allowing other teams in the division to pass them up.

The Orioles enjoyed kind of a perfect storm of success last year, and they rode that all the way to a wild card berth.  I just don't see the Orioles being able to repeat the success they had last year, especially with some question marks in the rotation.  The Orioles roster is almost exactly the same as is was for the team last year, but is the status quo good enough?  

Let's take a look at the roster and see if it is:

PITCHING:
The Orioles rotation is full of relative unknowns, and the an unknown is baseball is always a scary thing.  Jason Hammel is the ace of the staff, but he doesn't really have the stuff to be a top of the rotation starter.  Wei-Yin Chen looks to have a solid sophomore season after breaking onto the scene in 2012.  Former top prospect Chris Tillman should also have a rotation spot locked up.  The rest of the rotation should be interesting.  Miguel Gonzalez, Brian Matusz, Steve Johnson, Jake Arrieta, and Zach Britton should battle for the last two spots.  All have started in the past and have shown flashes of being solid Major League starters, but consistency is the name of the game with all of these guys.

Closer Jim Johnson established himself as one of the best in the league last year.  If he can be 75% of the pitcher he was last year, he still should have a successful 2013 campaign.  Righties Pedro Strop and Darren O'Day are very reliable relievers and should eat up plenty of innings this year, while guys like Tommy Hunter and Luis Ayala look to fill in nicely in the long and middle relief roles.

The Orioles have some very strong starting pitching in the minors.  I don't think there is any doubt the top prospect Dylan Bundy is up with the club at some point in 2013.  The number 2 prospect in all of baseball has great stuff and a great makeup.  He should be a front of the rotation starter for years to come.  2012 first round pick Kevin Gausman is also a quality pitching prospect, but he still doesn't have a full year of pro ball under his belt, so he is probably best off getting another year of seasoning in the minors.

LINEUP:
The Orioles have some thump in their infield, to go along with a couple solid average hitters.  Third baseman Manny Machado looks to continue to improve in his first full season in the big leagues.  The guy can flat out hit, and he proved that in his brief time with the Orioles in 2012.  First baseman Chris Davis and shortstop JJ Hardy both provide a ton of home run pop, and Hardy is coming off the best year of his career.  Second base will be shared by Ryan Flaherty and veteran Brian Roberts.  Flaherty has a history of a high batting average.  Roberts might not have a ton left in the tank, but he can still provide the intangibles this young club needs to repeat their 2012 success.

One of the stars of this team is young catcher Matt Wieters.  Wieters finally came into his own in 2012, hitting 23 home runs.  He still has a lot of untapped potential and should be able to improve upon the low batting average numbers he's put up in his career so far.  After Mark Reynolds moved on, the designated hitter role will be filled by long time journeyman Wilson Betemit.  Betemit is a great role player and should be able to fill in nicely in the short run.

The outfield features star center fielder Adam Jones.  Jones had a huge season in 2012, and while he might not reach the lofty numbers he put up last year, Jones is a flat out stud.  Right fielder Nick Markakis was able to stay healthy last year and his production improved because of it.  Markakis has always been able to hit for a high average and he plays great defense in right with a plus arm.  Left fielder Nolan Reimold was hurt last year, but he should bounce back nicely this year.  He has more power than he knows what to do with, so look for Reimold to hit a good number of homers in 2013.

The Orioles don't really have much in terms of hitting prospects in their system.  Second baseman Jonathan Schoop is the best of the bunch, although he probably won't be ready until 2014.  Look for him to possibly replace Roberts once he decides to hang them up for good.  Other names of note here are Nick Delmonico, who won't be ready until probably 2015, and outfielder Xavier Avery, who might be up with the club as a backup outfielder this year.

NON-ROSTER INVITEE TO WATCH
There are ton of quality names here.  Outfielders Chris Dickerson, Lew Ford, and Conor Jackson all have big league experience.  But given the relative unknowns in the starting rotation, I give the nod here to Jair Jurrjens.  Yes, he is far removed from his Cy Young quality season in 2009, and he has struggled to stay healthy, but Jurrjens might be able to put together a nice Spring and make the club.



PROGNOSIS:
The Orioles surprised a ton of people last year when they made the playoffs.  They won't be able to do the same this year.  The now on the radar Orioles will struggle to repeat their success in the tough and improved AL East.  If they can pitch, the Orioles have enough quality bats to be able to compete.  However, I don't expect them to get the consistent starting pitching that they did last year.  The bullpen doesn't have a ton of depth, so watch for overuse of Johnson, O'Day, and Strop, which could lead to late season struggles.

TWITTER ACCOUNT OF THE DAY:
The Orioles don't have a ton of tweeters, so I'll give the nod to top prospect Dylan Bundy.  Just over 13 thousand followers is not good enough for a top 5 prospect in baseball.  So follow him @Dylan_Bundy