With a team as young as the Baltimore Orioles, choosing a key player for the shortened 2020 MLB is tough.
Teams with expected aces or key batters make it easy to decide who has to perform at the top of their game, but with the Baltimore Orioles, the team effort might just be their key to success.
The answer to who the most important player on the team is would be incredibly easy if Trey Mancini weren’t on the IL for the season. He’s become the face of the team and his intensity on the field is contagious.
But without him, there are only a few who can fill his leadership shoes. But, I’m going to pick two who will be key to the Orioles success in 2020.
Most Important Pitcher
The first is John Means. After his rookie success in 2019, all eyes will be on the Orioles “ace” as he heads into his sophomore season. This is a lot of pressure to put on a 27-year-old in his second “full” season in the MLB, and hopefully the long rest through the spring and early summer will give him what he needs to succeed.
The Orioles don’t have much in the way of veterans pitchers. Alex Cobb pitched one inning in the first spring training of 2020, so hopefully he will be back and good to go for the season. The rest of the rotation should include Asher Wojciechowski who threw a career best 4.92 ERA in 16 starts in 2019.
The rest of the rotation is uncertain, with possibly Kohl Stewart or maybe a prospect or two, and Wade LeBlanc with a minor league contract. Although it is a bit unlikely, the O’s could decide to sign a starting pitcher when teams can begin signing freeze ends at noon on Friday. There’s a few out there, and many can be had for low, low prices.
Most Important Position Player
It would be safe to say that Chris Davis will be important this year, but it’s time for the younger players to become leaders. Veteran Jose Iglesias will have pressure on his, but as the newest member of the Orioles, he won’t be the most important player either. The player who will need to step up and become a leader is Hanser Alberto.
In 2019, he led the Orioles with a slash of .305/.329/.422. No other daily starter had a batting average in the .300s. His consistency at the plate can make him a leader as he pushes the rest of team toward the same goals. He had only 50 strikeouts, and a measly 60 walks. With the all-important second base as his spot, he can show his glove skills, too.
His performance at second base will be important, too. Orioles fans are used to seeing middle infielders who can make the tough plays look easy. Eyes will be on him after Jonathan Villar moved on to Miami.
Like Means, Alberto is 27-years-old. The two are just entering the MLB prime years, and they could use this season to become leaders together. With only 60 games, there isn’t much time, so they will need to establish themselves early. Unlike Means, Alberto is on his second team, and performed better with the Orioles in one season than he did with the Rangers in three. Sometimes, a change of scenery is good for players, and it looks like Alberto was a wise waiver pick by Mike Elias.
I like to think of another player who needed a change of scenery to turn around his career: J.D. Martinez. While I’m not saying that Alberto hits like Martinez, their stories have some similarities. Martinez was a nobody with less-than-stellar numbers in Houston. They released him in 2014 and the Tigers snapped him up, where he shocked the fans with his hitting prowess. He’s gone on to be one of the best hitters in the game. Martinez was the same age as Alberto when he signed with the Tigers and turned around his career.
Alberto seems an unlikely hero. But alongside Means and the rest of the Orioles, he could be the guy who makes a difference in 2020. The year has been full of surprises already.