2013 MLB Season Preview: Baltimore Orioles

Ultimate Sports Talk February 23, 2013 Comments Off

baltimore-oriolesLeading up to the 2013 MLB regular season, Greg Kaplan will be taking a close look at all 30 teams, division by division. Along with previewing each team heading into the season, Kaplan will try to predict which teams will be playing baseball deep into the October playoffs, and which teams will be playing golf come that time of year.

American League East

Third Place - Baltimore Orioles

Fourth Place – New York Yankees

Fifth Place – Boston Red Sox

Starting Line-Up

C – Matt Wieters (26) – 144 games, .249/.329/.435, 23HR 83RBI, 67 runs, 27 doubles, 107 OPS+ – 2012 All-Star, Gold Glove winner

1B – Chris Davis (27) – 139 games, .270/.326/.501, 33HR 85 RBI, 75 runs, 20 doubles, 121 OPS+

2B – Ryan Flaherty (26) – 77 games, .216/.258/.359, 6HR 19RBI, 15 runs, 33 hits

3B – Manny Machado (20) – 51 games, .262/.294/.445, 7HR 26RBI, 24 runs, 8 doubles, 3 triples

SS – J.J. Hardy (30) – 158 games, .238/.282/.389, 22HR 68RBI, 85 runs, 30 doubles – 2012 Gold Glove winner

LF – Nolan Reimold (29) – 16 games, .313/.333/.627, 5HR 10RBI, 10 runs, 6 doubles, 154 OPS+

CF – Adam Jones (27) – 162 games, .287/.334/.505, 32HR 82RBI, 103 runs, 39 doubles, 16 stolen bases, 125 OPS+ – 2012 All-Star, Gold Glove winner, 6th in AL MVP voting

RF – Nick Markakis (29) – 104 games, .298/.363/.471, 13HR 54RBI, 59 runs, 28 doubles, 126 OPS+

DH – Wilson Betemit (31) – 102 games, .261/.322/.422, 12HR 40RBI, 41 runs, 19 doubles, 101 OPS+

The Good News –

There is serious power in the heart of the Baltimore line-up, and that’s before taking into account the players who had down years and the players that missed significant time due to injury in 2012. The Orioles feel as though they found gold in Chris Davis, a player that has always had immense power, but finally put it all together at the plate in 2012 to emerge as an All-Star caliber slugger.

Even if Davis takes a step back next year, Baltimore is more than equipped to absorb that type of blow. A fully healthy Nick Markakis would go a long way to taking pressure off of Davis’ shoulders. Markakis is one of the most underrated outfielders in all of baseball, constantly hovering around .300 each year and hitting around 15-25 home runs, not to mention that he’s a former Gold Glove winner in right field as well. Having him back and healthy in the line-up is the equivalent to, say, the Cincinnati Reds trading for Shin-Soo Choo.

As for the three players that will draw the most headlines in Baltimore this year, look no further than their two All-Stars and their phenom rookie. Starting with Manny Machado, the Orioles won’t lose a step defensively with him replacing Mark Reynolds at the hot corner. Offensively, Reynolds hit a lowly .221 with 23 home runs. If you extrapolate Machado’s 51 game debut out to a full 162-game season, he would’ve hit 22 home runs with 83 RBI, all while hitting a much more robust .262 average. All experts around the game that Machado’s ceiling is much higher than even that line, but even if he only matches those totals in his first full season, the Orioles would see a substantial improvement from that part of the field.

Now, the All-Stars. Catcher Matt Weiters has played at an All-Star level the last two seasons, and has the talent to improve on his 2012 campaign. While his batting averaged dipped from .262 in 2011 to .249 in 2012, his on-base percentage actually jumped a point to .329 thanks in large part to a much more patient approach at the plate. He had the exact same amount of hits the two seasons, one more extra base hit and 12 more walks. As long as Weiters continues his upward trend, he’ll quickly become one of, if not the best catcher in all of baseball. Then, there’s Adam Jones. At this point, what else is there left to say? He’s without question one of the premiere center fielders in baseball, and every time he steps to the plate, Seattle Mariners fans everywhere fight back tears. The only teams in baseball that wouldn’t take Jones as their center fielder in a heart beat have guys by the names of Trout, McCutchen and Harper already entrenched there. That’s it. I’d gladly take Jones over anyone else in the league, and I don’t think a logical argument can be made for anyone else.

The Bad News -

Health seems to be the only thing standing in the way of sustained Baltimore offensive success. I think it’s safe to classify Nick Markakis’ injury-riddled season in 2012 as more bad luck than trend, as he had played in at least 160 games four of the last five seasons. J.J. Hardy saw his batting average slump back down to the .230s, though he managed to continue to produce strong power numbers. As mentioned before, Chris Davis seems primed for some form of slide backwards, and we’re yet to see what a full year of Nolan Reimold really means.

Still, the success of the Orioles comes down to Matt Weiters, Adam Jones and Manny Machado. As long as those three can pull the chariot along for the course of the season, everything should be fine. I’d be shocked if one of the following three things didn’t happen: Hardy’s average comes back up towards the .250-.260 range, Chris Davis hits another 30 home runs, even if his batting average takes a step backwards and the unheralded trio of Ryan Flaherty, Nolan Reimold and Wilson Betemit at least play at a replacement level.

It’s a solid, if not spectacular line-up. The real question for Baltimore comes from the 27 outs they have to get, not the 27 outs they’d potentially make…

Starting Rotation –

Ace – Jason Hammel (30) – 20 starts, 118.0 IP, 8-6, 3.43 ERA, 113 Ks (8.6 K/9), 2.69 K/BB, 1.24 WHIP

#2 – Wei-Yin Chen (27) – 32 starts, 192.2 IP, 12-11, 4.02 ERA, 154 Ks (7.2 K/9), 2.70 K/BB, 1.26 WHIP – 4th in AL Rookie of the Year voting

#3 – Chris Tillman (24) – 15 starts, 86.0 IP, 9-3, 2.93 ERA, 66 Ks (6.9 K/9), 2.75 K/BB, 1.05 WHIP

#4 – Brian Matusz (26) – 16 starts (34 games total), 98.0 IP, 6-10, 4.87 ERA, 81 Ks (7.4 K/9), 1.98 K/BB, 1.56 WHIP

#5 – Jake Arrieta (27) – 18 starts (24 games total), 114.2 IP, 3-9, 6.20 ERA, 109 Ks (8.6 K/9), 3.11 K/BB, 1.37 WHIP

The Good News –

There’s something to be said for having a strength in numbers. In their times of need last year, the Orioles did not hesitate to use some creative patch-work approaches to their starting rotation until they found a winning combination. At the top, Baltimore may have found an absolute gem in Jason Hammel, who they acquired last year straight up for former rotation mainstay Jeremy Guthrie. Removed from Coors Field, Hammel, typically a fly ball pitcher, struck out more hitters and induced more ground balls than ever before in his career. Should he continue that trend, he will continue to be a borderline All-Star candidate in Baltimore.

As for some of the younger pitchers, rookie Wei-Yin Chen proved that he’d be able to apply his success in Korean baseball over to the United States. He pitched much better than his 4.02 ERA would indicate, which was largely inflated for a few poor starts towards the end of September. And while other younger pitchers faltered when given the opportunity, Chris Tillman stepped up to the plate and finally cemented his place in the heart of the Balitmore rotation. Many around the Orioles organization believe truthfully that Tillman and Chen are more than capable of taking the next steps in their developments and improving on last year’s success.

The Orioles also made some prudent, yet under-the-radar moves in the off-season to continue to add to their depth, bringing in veterans like Jair Jurrjens and Mark Hendrickson to compete with youngsters currently in-house. Not to mention, Baltimore has two of the hottest starting pitching prospects in baseball in Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman (we’re getting there) waiting in the wings for their chance at the show.

The Bad News –

Well, there is a reason why the Orioles trotted out so many starting pitchers last year. It’s because so many of their young starters continued to fail when given the opportunity. If not for their stellar bullpen last year and their powerful line-up, there’s just no way the Orioles would’ve come close to their 93-wins they compiled last year. While Brian Matusz was light-years better than the 10.69 ERA he maintained after 12 starts in 2011, he was still too inconsistent as a starter that the Orioles finally moved him to the bullpen until he could regain some confidence and command.

Same goes for Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton, two once-highly touted prospects that haven’t been able to put it all together when in the Majors. It’s nice to have the type of trade chips the Orioles have with these young pitchers that if they wanted to make a significant move to help one area of team, but the longer they hold on to the pieces, the more time they’re giving them to lose value.

Basically, if the Orioles want to replicate their 90+ win total from 2012, they’re going to need Chen and Tillman to take the next step in their developments, one of Matusz, Arrieta or Britton to finally put it together and become a reliable starting pitcher, and then one of the other two or Jair Jurrjens to be good enough to hold their own until Dylan Bundy is fully ready. The odds of all three of those steps lining up in sync is small, but so was the chance of Baltimore winning 90+ games last season. They have power in numbers, now these just need those numbers to add up.

Bench -

OF Nate McLouth (31) – 89 games, .241/.314/.380, 7HR 20RBI, 39 runs, 14 doubles, 12 stolen bases (w/ Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles)

C Taylor Teagarden (29) – 22 games, .158/.226/.316, 2HR 9RBI, 4 runs, 3 doubles

IF Brian Roberts (35) – 17 games, .182/.233/.182, 0HR 5RBI, 2 runs, 12 hits

IF Alexi Casilla (28) – 106 games, .241/.282/.321, 1HR 30RBI, 33 runs, 17 doubles, 21 stolen bases (w/ Minnesota Twins)

The Skinny –

The Orioles may not have made significant moves in the off-season, but they did make smart moves in keeping Nate McLouth and importing Alexi Casilla to help shore up their bench. Both players have had extensive runs as starters for other teams, with McLouth being a former All-Star in that regard (though that feels like a completely different player than the one we see currently). McLouth has the ability to play all three outfield positions and add a little pop to the line-up when given a start as well. Casilla seemingly was always fighting for a starting job in Minnesota, but will be asked to play the Robert Andino role for the Orioles this year; a speedy, super-utility infielder that could plug a hole towards the bottom of a Major League line-up and score some runs in front of their bigger bats.

As for Brian Roberts, we’re just at an unfortunate place in his career. It’s felt like decades since Roberts performed at his All-Star level, and most of his skills have diminished as a direct result from his chronic injury problems. It seems as though the Orioles are finally prepared to move on from relying on Roberts being a 80+ game starter. Basically, the organization feels whatever they can get from Roberts this season will be seen as a bonus. It really is a shame Roberts couldn’t stay healthy, though.

Bullpen –

Closer – Jim Johnson (R) (29) – 71 games, 68.2 IP, 2-1, 2.49 ERA, 51 saves (Led MLB), 41 Ks (5.4 K/9), 2.73 K/BB, 1.02 WHIP - 2012 All-Star, 7th in Cy Young voting

Set-Up Man – Pedro Strop (R) (27) – 70 games, 66.1 IP, 5-2, 2.44 ERA, 3 saves, 58 Ks (7.9 K/9), 1.57 K/BB, 1.34 WHIP

Middle Reliever – Darren O’Day (R) (30) – 69 games, 67.0 IP, 7-1, 2.28 ERA, 69 Ks (9.3 K/9), 4.93 K/BB, 0.94 WHIP

Middle Reliever – Luis Ayala (R) (35) – 66 games, 75.0 IP, 5-5, 2.64 ERA, 1 save, 51 Ks (6.1 K/9), 3.64 K/BB, 1.28 WHIP

Middle Reliever – Zach Britton (L) (25) – 12 games (11 starts), 60.1 IP, 5-3, 5.07 ERA, 53 Ks (7.9 K/9), 1.66 K/BB, 1.54 WHIP

Middle Reliever – Troy Patton (L) (27) – 54 games, 55.2 IP, 1-0, 2.43 ERA, 49 Ks (7.9 K/9), 4.08 K/BB, 1.02 WHIP

Long Reliever – Tommy Hunter (R) (26) – 33 games (20 starts), 133.2 IP, 7-8, 5.45 ERA, 77 Ks (5.2 K/9), 2.85 K/BB, 1.41 WHIP

The Skinny –

Where the starting rotation was in flux last season, the back-end of the Baltimore bullpen found immense success. All that success landed in the lap of closer Jim Johnson, who led the American League in saves last year with 51. Johnson is a rather unconventional closer, as in he doesn’t pile up a large number of strikeouts and doesn’t light up the radar gun every night. That doesn’t stop him from slamming the door on his opponents, posting saves in all but three opportunities given to him. In the fives seasons Johnson has been used as a reliever, three times he’s posted ERAs lower than 2.70, indicating that his success is likely to stick around than be a flash in the pan.

While Johnson landed the headlines, it was the work of Darren O’Day, Pedro Strop and Troy Patton that provided the often unbalanced bridge between starters and closer. Both Strop and O’Day emerged from obscurity to become two of the best set-up men in the American League East. How both pitchers handle new expectations placed upon them will determine how successful the bullpen will be in 2013.

I refuse to give Luis Ayala any credit whatsoever. I’m sorry. I can’t do it. 2008 is still much too fresh for me as a Mets fan to pretend that his success last year was anything more than smoke and mirrors. I’ve already said too much about the man.

Top 10 Prospects (courtesy of MLB.com)

1. RHP Dylan Bundy - Expected to start 2013 in AA

He’s expected to start the season in either AA or AAA, but odds are he won’t be hanging around there too long. Bundy is currently rated as the second-best prospect in all of baseball, and easily the best pitching prospect the game has to offer. The kicker? Bundy didn’t turn 20 until November. He made a brief MLB cameo in his first season as a professional, and absolutely annihilated the Minor Leagues. The only thing that will keep him out of the Majors to start the season is a potential innings limit. Either way, Bundy will be the ace at the top of the Baltimore rotation much sooner rather than later.

2. RHP Kevin Gausman – Expected to start 2013 in High-A

The Orioles made Gausman the fourth overall pick in the 2012 Draft, and he’s not too far behind Bundy in terms of getting into the Baltimore rotation. Gausman was without question the top college pitcher available last June, and his two best pitches, his fastball and change-up, could play in the Majors right now. Should his curveball continue to develop as it has been, and it won’t be long until Bundy/Gausman will be the 1-2 combination atop the Orioles rotation.

3. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez - Expected to start 2013 in High-A

Joining Gausman in High-A at least to open the 2013 season will be another hard-throwing 19-year old, this time from the left side in Rodriguez. Rodriguez made his full season debut last year, and has a bit more work to do than both Bundy and Gausman. However, he projects as strong, middle-of-the-rotation starter when all is said and done, though that still may be another two years.

4. 2B Jonathan Schoop – Expected to start 2013 in AA

Schoop spent all of last season at AA as well, showing strong defense at multiple infield positions and a surprising amount of pop with his 14 home runs. However, he still has work to do at the plate, as evident by his .245 batting average. There is an opening for him awaiting in Baltimore at second base, but he’ll first need to full master the Minor Leagues before he moves anywhere.

5. 1B Nick Delmonico – Expected to start 2013 in High-A

Delmonico slugged an impressive .411 in his first action of full season baseball, being fueled by his 33 extra base hits. He missed the majority of the second half due to a knee injury, but is well on his way to making some sort of impact at the Major League level. Like Rodriguez, he has a bit of a way to go before reaching Baltimore, but there seems to be the development of a serious Major Leaguer with Delmonico.

6. OF L.J. Hoes – Expected to start 2013 in AAA

Hoes may never develop into an All-Star at the next level, but he has all the ability to become a better-than-average Major League starter in the near future. A converted infielder, Hoes has the speed to play all three outfield positions and has developed a very solid approach at the plate. He hit a combined .287 across the two highest levels in the Balitmore organization last year, even hitting .300 in his first exposure to AAA. He runs the bases very well and has an incredible approach at the plate that allows him to work counts and draw tons of walks. Should Nolan Reimold or Nick Markakis be lost for an extended period of time again, Hoes may get his chance in 2013 to find some starts in the Majors.

7. OF Xavier Avery – Expected to start 2013 in AAA

Avery may get another chance before Hoes to prove he’s a capable MLB outfielder, but he has much more to prove this year than Hoes does. Avery has all the skills and potential in the world, but has yet to translate those into success in the batters box. He has plenty of speed, but only hit .223/.305/.340 in his 32 game MLB debut last year. He’ll need to go back to AAA and prove he’s truly graduated before Baltimore gives him another call up.

8. RHP Brandon Kline – Expected to start 2013 in Low-A

How fast Kline moves through the Orioles organization after being taken in the second round of last June’s draft will directly depend on the role Baltimore chooses to pitch him in. He was both a closer and a starter while in college at Virginia, and will obviously move faster should the Orioles see him as a reliever in the long run. For now, he will be worked as a starting pitcher, and has the chance to be a decent MLB starter one day.

9. RHP Matt Wright – Expected to start 2013 in AA

Wright flew through the Orioles organization last year, reaching AA in his first full season as a pro. Questions remain if his secondary offerings will be good enough to play in a Major League rotation, but an outside chance remains that Wright finds himself in the pros at some point this season, mostly on the back of his powerful fastball.

10. OF Glynn Davis – Expectd to start 2013 in High-A

An undrafted free agent making his cut in the Orioles system, Davis’ true gift is his blazing speed that lets him play a strong defensive center field and a real nuisance on the bases. Odds are he’ll never develop a significant amount of power, so his way to the Majors is continuing to define his ability to make contact, raw speed and patience at the plate.

In Summary –

Last year, the Orioles had the element of surprise at their disposal. Now, the question will stop being are the Orioles for real and will transform into can the Orioles back up their success from 2013. Since Buck Showalter arrived in Baltimore, he has found new and creative ways to find wins out of seemingly nowhere.

Entering 2013, Baltimore has the line-up and the bullpen to compete with the absolute bests in the American League. Depending on how you view their ranks in the starting pitching department will determine exactly how high the Orioles can climb within their own division. When trying to forecast the 2013 Orioles season, I see their starting pitching problems from 2012 becoming no worse in 2013. If last year wasn’t rock bottom for the struggles of some of their young starters, it was damn near close. Even if Hammel, Chen and Tillman only replicate their numbers from 2012, the smallest amount of improvement from their other starters makes their rotation more stable.

Admittedly so, where I have one of the more negative views on the Yankees, I’m probably overly positive on the Orioles, and may be aiming too high on them as far as what they could accomplish. Baltimore took pages straight out of the Tampa Bay Rays almanac of success, and used it to their disposal last year. I see more of the same in 2013. I said earlier that I expect three teams out of the East to make the playoffs in the American League.

I see Baltimore as one of those three teams.

Season Prediction – 90-72, third in American League East, second Wild Card team in the American League

Check out other great articles at The Waiver Wire.


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