Orioles: some baby birds who could be big in 2013

This week, ESPN.com senior writer David Schoenfield unveiled his list of the “All-Time Top 25 Players Under 25.” Topping his list is the 1996 season of then-20 year old Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez. Regarding Rodiguez, Schoenfield quotes current Orioles GM Dan Duquette, ”The way he’s going, someday he might bat .400 and hit 60 home runs. He’s the best young talent I’ve seen in years.” – Red Sox GM Dan Duquette, summer of 1996. While Alex has never hit 60 home runs in a season (he came close in ’02 with the Rangers, he hit 57), there’s no doubt that Duquette wasn’t far off the mark in his comments.

The only Oriole to make Schoenfield’s list was Cal Ripken at #13.

Here’s what Schoenfield writes:

On June 22, 1982, Earl Weaver moved a 21-year-old rookie from third base to shortstop in a game against Cleveland. The Orioles lost 8-6 and the kid moved back to third base. On July 1, Weaver started the rookie again at shortstop. He’d spend the next 14 years there — starting every game.

In his first full season at shortstop, Cal Ripken’s Orioles won the AL East (and went on to win the World Series) and Ripken captured MVP honors with his strong year at the plate — he led the AL in runs and finished second in total bases — and surprising defense up the middle. Maybe he didn’t have the speed of other shortstops, but his arm strength allowed him to play deep and he had a quick first step.

Ripken’s bat never really developed from where it was as a 22-year-old — he only had two more seasons that compared, offensively, to 1983 (1984 and his second MVP season of 1991) — and while too much attention was paid to his ironman streak, he remained a power-hitting shortstop with underrated defense.

September 6, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Cal Ripken throws out the first pitch after the Orioles legends ceremony prior to a game against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Reading Schoenfield’s article got me thinking about the Orioles. So much of what was said about them in 2012 was in amazement that Buck was able to piece together veterans looking for a career rebirth with rookies/young players who played the game with no fear. I went through the Orioles website & noted all the players on the active roster who are under 25 as of today: Xavier Avery, Luis Exposito, LJ Hoes, Tommy Hunter, Manny Machado, Brian Matusz, Dylan Bundy, Steve Johnson, Chris Tillman, & Zach Britton. That’s a pretty great list, but check out who I couldn’t include because, in this case, they’re too old? Jake Arrieta, Wei-Yin Chen, Pedro Strop, Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Ryan Flaherty, & Adam Jones. All of those guys were born in either 1985 or 1986. It’s clear that the Orioles have a strong nucleus of young players, but which of the under 25 guys is poised for a breakout 2013?

Oct 7, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado (13) at bat in the second inning of game one of the 2012 ALDS against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Yankees defeated the Orioles 7 – 2. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

The first is obvious, Manny Machado. He only appeared in 51 games in 2012, but he hit 7 homeruns with 26 RBIs. Bigger than that, though, was his defense. People often forget that Manny is not a natural 3rd baseman, but much like Earl moved Cal over back in 1982, the Orioles coaches recognized how his untapped potential fit with their dire need to plug the defensive hole at 3rd. Living in California, I’m not able to watch a lot of Orioles games, but during the playoffs, I heard many of the commentators comparing Manny to A-Rod, so it seems like his career is off to a pretty great start. It will be interesting to see how he handles his first full season in the bigs.

Brian Matusz was a member of the rotation for most of last season, but somewhere, he seemed to lose his starter mojo. Buck sent him to the bullpen, and instead of getting down on himself, he became a completely new pitcher.

Oct 8, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles pitcher Brian Matusz (17) throws in the seventh inning during game two of the 2012 ALDS against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park Camden Yards. The Orioles defeated the Yankees 3 – 2. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

His overall stats may not reflect it, but his 1.35 ERA in 18 relief appearances came during the Orioles crucial end of season stretch as they strived for the playoffs. Brian’s heaters baffled the Rangers & the Yankees in the postseason. He’ll hopefully be fully recovered from the surgery he had to repair his torn rectus abdominis (your upper ab muscle-ouch!) in time for 2013 spring training.

Sep 19, 2012; Seattle, WA, USA; Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Dylan Bundy (left) and manager Buck Showalter (right) prior to the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Baltimore Orioles at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Please excuse me if the fact that Dylan Bundy & Manny Machado are this talented at their age kind of blows my mind, since they’re both younger than my 20 year old sister! Anyway, Bundy hasn’t seem much major league action, appearing in just 2 games in 2012 (he allowed a hit & a walk, in case you were wondering) but he seemed poised for continued success in 2013. It’s hard to tell right now what position management takes on Bundy’s progress. Because of his lack of experience, my guess is that he’ll start the season at AAA Norfolk, but if he continues to impress the way he did at AA Bowie, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see him on the hill in Camden Yards by the end of the year.

Add these guys to the core of Jones, Wieters, & Markakis, and the Orioles have the making of a strong, young team oozing with potential. Anyone else already excited for Spring Training?! PS. Go Ravens! ;)

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