John Lepore | October 16th, 2019
The Baltimore Orioles didn’t come into the season with delusions of grandeur. They knew they were at the beginning of a rebuild. While the season went pretty much as expected, they finished with the second-worst record, there are a few bright spots and things to build on. Let’s take a look at the 2019 Baltimore Orioles.
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What Went Right
When you are 54-108 it’s easy to say not much. There were a few players on the Orioles who did have solid seasons. Trey Mancini is certainly one of the guys who is coming into his own. In his third full season in the majors, Mancini set career highs with 35 HRs and a .899 OPS. There are reasons to believe he will continue to be a productive force in the Birds’ lineup. His BB/K rate has improved each year, going from 0.24-0.29-0.44 since 2017. He hit the ball in the air at a 31.9% rate this season and increased his LD% to 22.2%, both career highs. He also had a HH% of 37.1 this season compared to 33.6% last year. Better plate discipline, hitting the ball harder, and putting it in the air are all reasons why the 27-year-old Mancini is just hitting his prime.
Jonathan Villar continues to improve. The 28-year-old increased his BB rate (6.9%-8.0%-8.5%) each of the last three seasons while decreasing his K Rate (30.3%-26.8%-24.6%) over the same span. Villar also hit a career-high 31.3% FB rate which backs up his 24 HRs. With continued strides, the switch-hitting infielder could see 30-40 next season with a solid .800-.850 OPS. He is set to be a free agent at the end of 2020. The Orioles should consider signing Villar long-term. He has a solid power-speed combo, is improving his plate discipline, and is only 28. He also gives the Orioles flexibility as Villar can play shortstop or second base.
What Went Wrong
The pitching was downright atrocious. The Orioles gave up 305 HRs, a Major League record. While HRs are up everywhere, as we just saw the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees jack over 300 of them, it is important to keep the ball in the ballpark a little better than that. John Means had a decent season for a rookie, but the jury is still out on if his 3.60 ERA is sustainable. Andrew Cashner was the one guy who kept the ball in the yard yielding only 11 HRs in 96 innings. Unfortunately, he only made 17 starts before being traded to the Boston Red Sox for two minor leaguers. Former first-round pick Asher Wojciechowski showed flashes of quality stuff but was unable to sustain it for more than a couple of starts in a row. The bullpen was supposed to be handed over to Mychal Givens, Richard Bleier, and Miguel Castro. They didn’t exactly do their best impression of Zack Britton, Brad Brach, and Darren O’Day. The previous three relievers combined for 191.2 innings and had a 4.84 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, and gave up 29 HRs while striking out less than a batter per inning. As a whole, the Orioles’ pitching staff was last in the AL in just about every meaningful category:
ERA: 5.59 Last
HRs: 305 Last
Saves: 27 Second-to-last
Ks: 1,248 Third-to-last
Hits: 1,544 Second-to-last
Impending Free Agents
Mark Trumbo is the only Oriole hitting the free-agent market. Baltimore is undoubtedly not going to sign him after they paid him $37.5 million for the last three years of virtually nothing. To be fair, Trumbo missed a significant amount of time with a knee injury. He will be 34 in January and has been said to be mulling retirement. If the two sides could agree to a short-term deal, say 1yr/$3 million maybe with an option, then it could be a fit. Otherwise, the Orioles should just let the kids play.
Players to Watch For
Ryan Mountcastle – Although his plate discipline has been slow in developing, Mountcastle had a solid full season at AAA Norfolk. He slashed .312/.344/.527 with 25 HRs and 35 doubles in 127 games. Where he will play is the question. With Trumbo all but gone and Chris Davis still a shell of his former self, the Orioles could look to have Mountcastle man first base. With service time manipulation being what it is, you could see Mountcastle up later in April. He will almost assuredly be in the middle of the Orioles lineup by May.
Austin Hays – In his cup of coffee this season, Hays showed he belongs in the Show. In just 21 games, he had a .947 OPS with four homers and even chipped in a couple steals. Hays’s skills play in right field with his decent speed and an above-average arm. He will most likely be there from the start of the season, and it will be exciting to see what he can do in a full year at the big league level.
Hunter Harvey – Soon to be 25 years old, the Orioles decided that the oft-injured Harvey would be better in the bullpen. In his short time with the club this season, he didn’t disappoint. After being drafted in the first round in 2013, Harvey has had myriad injuries including Tommy John Surgery. When he finally made it to Baltimore, Harvey made seven appearances, walked four, and struck out 11. He only surrendered one run, a solo shot off the bat of another Hunter…Dozier of the Kansas City Royals. There is plenty of room for improvement in Baltimore’s bullpen, to say the least. If Harvey can stay healthy, he could find himself pitching at the back end in no time.
The rebuild won’t be completed overnight. A few of the Orioles top prospects like Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez, and D.L. Hall likely won’t see the majors until 2021 or 2022. The Orioles need to fix the pitching somehow, at least to the point of adequacy, and let their kids play. 2020 will be an evaluation season to see a few things: Do they actually have something in Means or Wojciechowski? Will Hays and Mountcastle complement Mancini and Villar? Can anyone in that bullpen close a game?
A smart move by the Orioles would be to sign a couple veteran starters/big bats looking for a comeback and then trade them at the deadline for more prospects to build up that farm. Along with any players they get from there, Baltimore will have the second overall pick in this year’s amateur draft to hopefully bring another stud into the organization.
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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images