Who will step up for the 2015 Baltimore Orioles?


cc Sep 16, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles players celebrate after clinching the AL East title after a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles defeated the Jays 8-2. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Though it may not feel like it with the recent string of winter weather many of us have endured, Spring Training is indeed nearing and it is time to start getting excited about baseball!

Unfortunately, the off-season never really wen’t the way most Baltimore Orioles fans had envisioned after winning their first AL East Division title since 1997. They lost Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller to free-agency, and nearly lost their prized general manager, Dan Duquette.

The flurry of minor additions made by the front-office and the expectations for returning players such as Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Matt Wieters may be enough for some, but there are still plenty of fans out there that need convincing that the Orioles will remain competitive in 2015.

I happen to be one of the fans that still sees the Orioles as the team to beat, and it has to do with two players I believe will carry the load left by loss of several key players.

Manny Machado

Aug 11, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado (13) doubles in the first inning against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Manny is coming off yet another knee injury. The Orioles still made it to the 2014 ALCS without him, but they will look for big things from him if they expect to go that far in 2015. I happen to believe that is the direction he is trending.

In 2013, Manny had 51 doubles. I, along with others, predicted some of those doubles to start turning into home runs as he gained some muscle. In 82 games last season, he slugged .431 (down just one point from 2013). His power really started taking off toward the end of his season, as he slugged .565 in July (17 games) and .511 in August (11 games). Given that trend, his loss was painful to the Orioles’ hopes at a World Series run.

Recent updates on his recovery from knee surgery have been very promising, having him even claim that he has never approached spring training feeling healthier than this season. After his gloom feelings of his recovery last spring, that is definitely good to hear.

2015 should be the year Machado takes off (assuming he doesn’t have another serious injury on the horizon).

The trends observed prior to his injury in 2014, combined with his experiences around the league, would suggest bigger things for the young man (will turn 23 in July) in 2015. I see a 20 home run season and a healthy batting average to go with it.

Kevin Gausman

Oct 14, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Kevin Gausman (39) throws a pitch against the Kansas City Royals during the sixth inning in game three of the 2014 ALCS playoff baseball game at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

I would have to imagine that the constant demotions and promotions weighed on the young righty in 2014. Clearly, the decisions to frequently remove him from the 25-man roster paid off for the Orioles, but it must have been frustrating for Gausman.

Going 7-7 with a solid 3.57 ERA at the age 23 is pretty impressive. When you throw in the fact that he would essentially pack his bags for Norfolk every time Buck took him out of the game, it seems even more impressive.

Gausman, like Machado, saw great success in the tail-end of 2014. In the month of September, Gausman held batters to a .221 AVG., and struck out 29 batters in 31.1 IP. His 2.87 ERA for the month represented his stride forward, as it was his best month of the season.

Now, not to say that one month means he is going to flourish in 2015 (refer to Ubaldo Jiminez’s entire 2014 campaign), but his attitude, combined with statistical trends and youth makes me very excited to watch him pitch in 2015.

Buck Showalter has not confirmed Gausman’s presence in the five-man rotation as of yet, but I would be shocked to see him left out in favor of Jiminez or even Dylan Bundy. I do think those three will wind up battling for the fifth spot in spring, leaving a spot in the bullpen for one of them.

There are other players I see picking up the slack as well. I think Chris Davis will bounce back (not at the rate of 2013), and I think Travis Snyder has the makeup to succeed in Camden Yards. But it is Machado and Gausman who I think have the potential to make the Orioles even better than they were in 2014.

Who do you think will carry the 2015 Orioles this season? Comment below with your thoughts!