Watching players you aren’t familiar with play for a team who isn’t trying to be competitive at the major league level can be hard for even the biggest Oriole fans. While we should all be excited for the future, 2020 is a big step in the rebuild. Here are 12 storylines to follow throughout the 2020 season to stay invested in the behind the scenes of the rebuild and give you more reasons to watch the big league team.
How fast can Adley Rutschman rise through the minors?
Rutschman appeared in 20 games at Short Season Aberdeen before he was moved up to Low-A Delmarva for their playoff run last season. Limiting his innings at catcher before he gets to the majors will be key. Mike Elias says he believes Rutschman’s defense at catcher is close to major league ready, so expect him to see extended time at first-base or DH. There, he can improve on the offensive side and possibly grow at a second position, something that can help Rutschman potentially continue to produce at a high level as he ages.
Where do Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall finish the year?
The top two pitchers in the minor league system, Rodriguez, 20, spent all of last season at Delmarva, while Hall, 21, did the same thing at High-A Frederick. Rodriguez, MLB’s #44 highest ranked prospect, was named organization co-pitcher of the year last season with a 2.68 ERA in 20 starts while leading the Shorebirds to the playoffs. The left-handed Hall will likely spend most of this season at Double-A Bowie as he targets a 2021 major league arrival. Rodriguez’s 2020 should be spent mostly in Frederick, with possibly some time in Bowie to close out the season with a 2022 major league ETA.
Baltimore will have the 2nd overall selection in Mike Elias’ second draft with the team. Our own Tyler Jennings just released his “Way Too Early” 2020 mock draft, where he has the Orioles selecting right-hander Emerson Hancock from Georgia, who Jennings calls “the highest rated pitcher in this class”. Read the entire mock draft here.
Can Cedric Mullins bounce back?
Mullins may have one of the most interesting and confusing last two seasons of any Oriole. He started 2018 in Double-A, and after a breakout minor league season found himself overtaking Adam Jones‘ spot as the every day center-fielder. With Jones gone in 2019, Mullins was set up to be the center-fielder of the future. That’s where things went wrong. After just 22 games and 6 hits in 64 at-bats, Mullins was demoted to Triple-A and then back to Double-A three months later.
Mountcastle was added to the 40-man roster this offseason ahead of the deadline to protect minor leaguers from the Rule-5 Draft. A rumored September call-up last season did not come to fruition, but Mountcastle’s chances of being on the major league roster some point early in 2020 are likely. His future role in the majors is still unknown, as he will likely receive an opportunity to be the DH/1B. In a rebuilding year, don’t be surprised to see him get extended looks at the corner-infield and corner-outfield spots as well.
Harvey was once considered a failed prospect after multiple major injuries and surgeries, but a move to the bullpen last season revitalized his track to the majors. Harvey struck out 11 batters in 6 innings across 7 games after a September call-up. A small sample size, but it doesn’t take much to get Oriole fans excited these days.
What to do with Chris Davis
We’ve been thinking this year was the year for Davis for a while now, and this one probably won’t be any different. After leading the league in home runs in 2013 and 2015, Davis has failed to produce a league average OPS+ or a positive WAR in a season since 2016. There is little to no chance any team takes on Davis in a trade, so cutting ties with the former All-Star, who is signed through 2022, may soon become a real possibility as he will begin to block younger players (Mountcastle) from establishing a role on the team.
Does Trey Mancini get traded?
Mancini trade talks were at their height at the trade deadline last season, with the Rays, Astros, and Rangers all rumored to be linked in negotiations with the team for the 27 year old. Mike Elias has continued to speak highly of him, saying, “he’s an attractive guy to have around” but also admitting the team and Mancini have not engaged in extension talks just yet. Mancini had by far the best season of his young career, posting career highs in home runs (35), OPS+ (135), and WAR (3.5). Look for the young star to build upon last season, improve his trade value (if the team wants to go that route), and hopefully be the Orioles All-Star representative along the way.
Can Hanser Alberto and Anthony Santander build off their breakout years?
Alberto was claimed off waivers by the team last March, and since then has become one of the best hitters in all of baseball against left-handed pitchers. He led the MLB in hits and finished second in average at .398 against lefties. He also placed higher than superstars Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger, and Mookie Betts with a .414 OBP, had the 4th lowest K% in the AL, and a 147 OPS+ facing lefties. Santander, a Rule-5 selection in 2016, spent some time on the IL and in the minors before finally establishing himself as an everyday corner-outfielder and middle-of-the-lineup bat last season.
Who takes advantage of extended playing time to stay on the roster long term?
Alberto and Santander proved last year they can stick around. This year, keep an eye on Austin Hays. The former top prospect burst onto the scene in 2017 as he skipped Triple-A to join the Orioles that September. Injuries in 2018 delayed his development quite a bit, but he was able to rejoin the major league club this past September. In 21 games, he slashed .309/.373/.574 with a 147 OPS+ all while playing above average defense in center-field. Coming into the year healthy, this will be Hays’ first real opportunity to establish himself in the Orioles outfield.
Brandon Hyde’s second year as manager
Hyde did everything he was asked to do and more last season, leading one of the worst rosters in the MLB to 7 more wins than the year before, a team that featured Manny Machado for half the season. Hyde seems to be well liked and respected by his peers, players, and fans. His straight-forward and no-nonsense attitude is a breath of fresh air after years of Buck Showalter.
Is 2021 the year?
Sadly, probably not. 2021 is likely the year some of the organization’s top prospects, including Rodriguez, Hall, and Rutschman, are either getting their feet wet in the majors or are knocking on the doorstep. The coming years will be the most interesting of the rebuild, as we will start to have an idea of what the Dan Duquette regime left behind and some of the early marks Mike Elias has made.
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