Baltimore Orioles: Finding Small Bright Spots In 2020
By Nick Stevens
It’s going to be a long season for the Baltimore Orioles, but there will be worthwhile storylines to follow.
For Baltimore Orioles fans, the 2020 season isn’t going to be a lot of fun. That isn’t news to anyone around Birdland, but the majority of fans seem to be on board with the direction of this rebuild and understand that things have to get worse before they get better in Baltimore.
Despite a major league roster that will look very similar to last year’s 108-loss team, minus Jonathan Villar and Dylan Bundy, there are a small handful of players who will be fun to watch closely in 2020. Finding an impact player on a winning Orioles team among the current crop of options isn’t that likely, but there are key players who showed something in 2019 and could develop into role players down the road.
As I mentioned in a piece yesterday about J.J. Hardy, everyone watches baseball for different reasons. I love watching sound defense and pitchers carve their way through a lineup in a classic pitcher’s duel. I also really enjoy following young players and watching their adjustments throughout the season as they try and find their niche in the major leagues.
While I won’t get the opportunity to watch a lot of highlight-reel defense or must-watch pitching performances, this roster will provide plenty of opportunities to watch young players develop in year two of Mike Elias’ system, which he’s still in the process of installing in Baltimore.
I was excited to see if Dylan Bundy could continue to show improvements after making some adjustments in his pitch usage as the 2019 season progressed and more positive results followed. Unfortunately, he’s now in Los Angeles after being traded earlier this winter for four pitching prospects.
However, we still have John Means and Hunter Harvey on the roster and both could become mainstays on the roster for years to come.
Means is coming off a fantastic rookie season that saw him finish second in American League Rookie of the Year voting after a 12-11 record, 3.60 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 31 total appearances. But can he repeat or even better his 3.0 fWAR rookie season? Some of his numbers suggest yes, while some suggest a regression.
While Means posted a 3.60 ERA through his 155 innings of work, he owned a 4.41 FIP and 5.48 xFIP. That’s one of the biggest differences among starting pitchers in baseball. There’s also his below-average whiff rate and high number of flyballs allowed in a hitter-friendly park against dangerous American League East lineups.
On the other hand, Means’ HR/FB rate of 9.9% would have ranked among the top three lowest marks in the majors, if he had enough innings to qualify. His hard hit rate of 27.5% also ranked among the best in the big leagues, while his 6% walk rate makes up for his lack of strikeouts, somewhat.
Will Means continue to trend upwards and outsmart the rest of the league, who now has a full season’s worth of tape and data on? A lot of his numbers suggest so and it’s going to be fun watching him again in 2020.
As for Hunter Harvey, has he finally arrived? After years of injuries and setbacks, the former first-round pick finally made his major league debut last season, in one of the more memorable moments of 2019.
The 25-year-old found himself a home in the bullpen with the Bowie Baysox and Norfolk Tides before getting the call where he struck out 11 hitters in 6.1 innings of relief work as an Oriole. With a fastball that averaged 98 mph and hit triple digits a few times, Harvey has the stuff and mentality of a successful late-inning reliever, if he can continue to stay healthy.
There will also be intrigue surrounding the debuts of prospects like Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer, and maybe even Bruce Zimmermann, who may have some upside as a reliever. Say what you will about Rule 5 picks, but Brandon Bailey is certainly someone worth keeping an eye on in spring training and beyond.
It won’t always be pretty, but the Orioles will have a more intriguing group of arms than last year’s group of Gabriel Ynoa, Aaron Brooks, and others.
As for the offensive side of things, I’m going to spending a lot of time looking in the outfield. I love Hanser Alberto, but no one in the infield is contributing to the 2024-2025 Orioles. You can try and sell me on Chance Sisco all you want, but I’m not buying.
I am, however, anxious to see if Anthony Santander of 2020 is the Santander who posted an OPS of .872 in July with a 124 wRC+ and an OPS of .854 and wRC+ of 118 in August or is he the guy who hit .155 with a wRC+ of 23 and a strikeout rate of 30% in September?
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He should see everyday playing time while DJ Stewart works his way back from ankle surgery and the Orioles play service time games with Ryan Mountcastle, so a hot start to the year will go a long way for the 25-year-old switch-hitter.
Lastly, give me Austin Hays in the lineup every night in center field. It’s difficult to take away much from September success on a 100+ loss team, but Hays hit .309 with four home runs (146 wRC+) in 21 games to close out 2019 and was worth 0.9 fWAR during his very brief amount of time in the majors. That was good for fourth among all Orioles hitters last season. Oh yeah, and that glove work. I still get fired up just thinking about that home run robbing grab of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Like Harvey, the biggest concern with Hays is his health. As long as he can stay on the field, Hays will be one of the few reliable options in the lineup and while he may not be an everyday center fielder in the major leagues for the rest of his career, he will make the outfield defense better in Baltimore, for now.
We can sit here and complain for the next year about how terrible the Orioles are, and we will, but we can also make the most of it by finding storylines of interest to follow throughout the season.