The Orioles are probably going to be bad in 2020. Possibly very bad. Sportsbook BetOnline have their over/under win total set at 55.5, the lowest bar for any team (Detroit is second at 56.5), which isn’t shocking given that the team went 54-108 in 2019 and traded away one of their best players in Jonathan Villar in the off-season. The Birds are expected to be in the basement of the AL East, and it will be somewhat of a miracle if they avoid that fate.
Still, the Orioles may be one of the most entertaining teams in the league this season. You may say, “Why?” and “How?” and “They will be terrible, how is that entertaining? You are dumb.” And to that I say, The Room is an entertaining movie but by no means is it a good movie.
Okay, the Orioles won’t be “The Room” bad in 2020. That would equate to, like, 3 wins all season. In general, their bad-ness will not be what’s entertaining (unless you think a random Red Sox/Yankee player hitting 10+ homers by himself against the O’s is entertaining…this year I’m betting on DJ LeMahieu). What will be entertaining this season, and downright exciting if you’re an Orioles fan, is the amount of new faces that will make up the Orioles revolving door of a roster.
By entertaining and exciting new faces, I’m not talking about Wade LeBlanc (sorry Wade) or any random utility infielder the Orioles will bring in to play a handful of games before eventually being waived after struggling to keep up with the Mendoza Line. I’m talking about prospects! Yay, for the players that may actually help make the team good in a few years!
So, here are ten Orioles’ prospects to be excited about possibly seeing in the majors this year (Note: I’m excluding prospects that already have significant time in the majors [Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins] and prospects who likely won’t see the majors this season [Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall]):
IF/OF Ryan Mountcastle: If it wasn’t for service time purposes, the reigning International League MVP would have assuredly made his Orioles debut at some point last season. After a solid 2018 season in Double-A Bowie, Mountcastle slashed .312/.344/.527 to go along with 25 homers with Triple-A Norfolk in 2019, earning him league MVP. The problem surrounding the 36th-overall pick from 2015 is defense. Namely, where the hell is he going to play? He was drafted as a shortstop, but was never really projected to make the majors as one. He’s now seen time at 3B, LF, and 1B with speculation that he may see time in RF or even at 2B. The 23-year-old Mountcastle has a chance of making the team out of Spring Training as he was added to the 40-man roster this off-season. If he doesn’t, it’ll be because of his defense. Someone should tell the Orioles they’re in the AL not NL.
LHP Keegan Akin: A second-round pick from 2016, Akin spent the entirety of 2019 in Triple-A and is fighting for an Orioles’ rotation spot in Spring Training. While the 24-year-old had his struggles with Norfolk, amassing a 4.73 ERA and 4.9 BB/9, he did have a career best K/9 at 10.5 over 112.1 innings. Akin is currently on the 40-man and has a decent shot at starting the year with the big club. But with the Orioles signing veteran stop-gaps like Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone, Akin may have to wait until later in the season to make his Major League debut.
RHP Dean Kremer: Acquired as a piece of the Manny Machado trade, Kremer was a part of the fantastic 2019 Double-A Bowie Baysox rotation that led the Eastern League in ERA. After leading the entirety of the minors in strikeouts in 2018, Kremer pitched very well for Bowie in 2019. Although he only struckout 87 in 84.2 IP, the 24-year-old pitched to a 9-4 record, a 2.98 ERA, and lowered his BB/9 from the previous season. He struggled in four starts with Norfolk at the end of the season and will likely start the season there to adjust
to the juiced ball. He is already on the 40-man and will likely receive the call at some point in the middle of the season.
LHP Zac Lowther: A second-round pick in 2017, Lowther was arguably the best performer in that 2019 Baysox rotation. The 23-year-old lefty threw 148 innings over 26 starts, going 13-7 with a 2.55 ERA and striking-out 154. Despite his fastball only reaching the low 90s, it has good movement. Lowther has been dominant throughout his minor league career (2.26 ERA) and, while not yet on the 40-man, he’ll likely start the season with Norfolk to see how he adjusts to Triple-A.
LHP Alex Wells: The 23-year-old Aussie was yet another star performer of last year’s rotation in Bowie. A control pitcher, Wells won the Jim Palmer Award in 2017 as pitcher of the year in the organization. After a decent 2018 in Frederick, Wells shined in 2019 with an ERA under 3.00 and a 1.6 BB/9. Wells also only gave up 1 ER in 15.2 innings in the Arizona Fall League this off-season. He’s not on the 40-man roster and will likely start in Triple-A in 2020 (this is a trend if you didn’t notice).
LHP Bruce Zimmermann: Did you know Bowie’s rotation in 2019 was good? Have I mentioned that? Acquired in the Gausman-O’Day deal, the 25-year-old lefty had a 2.58 ERA and 101 Ks over 101.1 IP in Bowie in 2019 which earned him some time in Triple-A. He struggled in his time in Norfolk and will likely start there in the 2020 season as he is not on the 40-man. Still, add him to the list of pitchers with a potential 2020 call-up in their future.
RHP Michael Baumann: Something something Bowie’s 2019 rotation. To be fair, Baumann, a 3-round pick in 2017, started the year with High-A Frederick where his K/9 was 12.8 over 11 starts. He was then promoted to Bowie, where he was fantastic and threw a no-hitter in his third start. The 24-year-old finished with a 2.31 ERA with a WHIP under 1.00 in 13 starts with Bowie. His success earned him a share of the 2019 Jim Palmer Award (he was a co-winner with Grayson Rodriguez). Despite this, and the fact that Baumann has succeeded at every level of the minors, he was inexplicably not invited to Spring Training and remains off the 40-man. Still, even if he starts 2020 in Bowie, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Baumann reach the majors this year.
OF Yusniel Diaz: The main piece of the Machado trade, Diaz missed some time with injuries in 2019. Still, he produced in his 76 games with Bowie. finishing with an .807 OPS and remains a solid prospect despite falling down some prospect lists this off-season. The Orioles won’t rush him to the Majors and he’s not on the 40-man, but given the state of the Birds, a late season call-up looks enticing regardless of where Diaz begins the season.
IF Rylan Bannon: Another piece of the Machado trade, the 23-year-old struggled initially with Bowie when first acquired. However, Bannon did improve in 2019. He got promoted late in the year and was a force offensively in 20 games with Norfolk, hitting to a tune of a .893 OPS. Bannon split his time between 2B and 3B in Bowie, but exclusively played 3B for Norfolk, albeit not overly impressively (.912 fielding percentage). He’s not tall at a listed 5’7 (or 5’10…there are conflicting reports), but has decent power regardless. A late season call-up seems plausible.
CF Ryan McKenna: A 4th-round pick back in 2015, McKenna is a well-rounded outfielder with legitimate potential to make the majors in 2020. The 23-year-old’s 2019 numbers from Bowie don’t necessarily stand out (.232/.321/.365), but he does have speed, plays a solid center field, and possesses a strong arm. McKenna was added to the 40-man after the 2019 season to protect him from the Rule-5 Draft and, while not the favorite to win the centerfield job, he doesn’t have much blockading him from eventually reaching the big leagues in 2020.
Featured Photo Credit: Bowie Baysox (@BowieBaysox on Twitter)