Fans are getting used to a competitive Orioles team with real talent.
I have an honest question for Orioles fans: do you remember who Chris Owings is? I don’t blame you if you have forgotten, but Owings has for played for five different MLB teams, including Baltimore this season. He had 68 plate appearances in 26 games this year as a bench infielder and is now a minor leaguer in the Yankees organization.
I bring him up because Owings was on the Opening Day roster, and it is almost absurd to imagine that someone with a .397 OPS made the team out of Spring Training, and now the Orioles have a winning record in September. I say almost, because Robinson Chirinos is still on the roster as the backup catcher. Before Mike Elias called up Adley Rutschman, Chirinos was the starting catcher with a .552 OPS to this point, and the backup was Anthony Bemboom.
Roster spots 25 and 26 are not the only ones that look comically different. In the Opening Day lineup against the Rays, Kelvin Gutierrez started at third base. DJ Stewart pinch hit, and Owings pinch ran. Paul Fry was the last pitcher on the mound for the Orioles. John Means was the starting pitcher, and he only played two games this year due to injury while the rest of the rotation has done an admirable job covering innings.
Nine guys on the active roster did not play for the Orioles in April. Before calling up top prospects like Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, Terrin Vavra, Kyle Stowers, and Kyle Bradish, the April Orioles still look like a team pushing through the rebuild slog. They are not the team we recognize in September.
Now, the players at the beginning of the year are not totally different. The first seven hitters from that game in St. Pete are all everyday starters, and Trey Mancini is the only one no longer on the Orioles because he has played well, not poorly. The same is true in the bullpen, where Bryan Baker, Cionel Perez, Dillon Tate, and Jorge Lopez each pitched on April 8th.
Many of the usual suspects were expected to be good, but to some extent it is surprising how many are still around. Ramon Urias and Jorge Mateo were the middle infield starters because they had good showings down the stretch in 2021, but it was no guarantee they would hold onto their jobs for all of 2022. Baker, Perez, and Joey Krehbiel were bargain bin finds who could have been short-term O’s like dozens of other pitchers over the last four years.
Since nearly everyone in the world expected the Orioles to lose 100+ games this season, the front office entered 2022 acting like it was another rebuild year. They were still throwing things against the wall to see what would stick. A competitive team was reaching the horizon but not in the immediate future.
Now with many ranked prospects in the Majors, the outline of the next championship team is visible. The jury is still out on whether Vavra, Stowers, and DL Hall will stick around, but Rutschman and Henderson certainly will. The same can be said of Cedric Mullins as a core member, while Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle, and Anthony Santander might stay a while or get traded. Dean Kremer and Bradish are cementing rotation spots while Austin Voth and Tyler Wells could be successful swingmen next year with the arrival of Grayson Rodriguez and a high-end free agent.
Every season there are a number of forgettable Orioles who only play a few games for the team. But I think that truism applies to this year’s crew more so than the past few since this season has been so memorable. We will talk for decades about how a catching prospect turned around the franchise, but the man he replaced will be the answer to an obscure trivia question.