It's February, which means it's time for baseball. Pitchers and catchers will report to spring training in two weeks and the rest of the players will follow less than a week later. The Baltimore Orioles have had a slow start to the new year having little activity in free agency and the trade market, but they may have just made the biggest splash of any team when they announced the team was being sold. The sale is not yet final and still needs to go through the standard approval process, but spirits are very high in Baltimore.
Even though the O's haven't made any major acquisitions this off-season, they are returning virtually all the major role players from their 2023 AL East championship team. This team is ready to win now and will be looking to take the next step this year and transition their regular season success to postseason success. There are high expectations for this team and the individual players. Here are some bold predictions for the Baltimore Orioles this season.
John Means wins 20 games
In 2019, John Means forced his way into the Orioles starting rotation and had a very good season, ultimately finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting. He had been the team's ace ever since, but never had the benefit of a strong supporting cast around him. The O's showed signs of life in 2022 but Means was already on the IL with an elbow injury that ultimately required Tommy John surgery.
Means finally returned to Baltimore in September of 2023 and looked great in his four starts but was shut down before the playoffs. Means is now back to full health and ready to give the Orioles a full season. He may no longer be the team's number one, but Means will remind everyone that he is still an ace pitcher and will reap the benefits of pitching on one of baseball's best teams becoming the first Oriole to win 20 games since Mike Boddicker 40 years earlier.
Felix Bautista returns this season
Oriole fans collectively held their breath as Felix Bautista walked off the mound in late August with an apparent elbow injury. A sigh of despair was released the following day when he was put on the IL with a UCL injury and maybe even a tear or two fell when it was announced that Bautista would be having Tommy John surgery and would likely be out for the 2024 season.
It takes most people well over a year to recover from the surgery, but Bautista isn't most people. Listed at 6'8 and 285 pounds, The Mountain has refused to accept that he will miss the season. It was reported by MASN's Roch Kubatko in mid-January that Bautista won't rule out his return for this coming season. If Bautista can make it back, he could be a huge late-season addition to a bullpen that should already be considered a strength.
Samuel Basallo makes his debut
On many teams in baseball, Samuel Basallo would be the future face of the franchise. The O's number two prospect (#17 overall) is just 19 years old and already entering his fourth season of pro ball. Basallo had a breakout campaign in 2023 that saw him rise from low-A Delmarva up to double-A Bowie.
He slashed .313/.402/.551 and compiled 26 doubles, seven triples and 20 homers across those three levels. There may not be a lot of room on the major league roster for Basallo right now, but if he can repeat or improve upon his performance from last season the Birds will find a spot for him as a September call-up.
Orioles make major deadline trade
With the new ownership in place, the Orioles will no longer sit idly as all of their competitors get better. David Rubenstein should be firmly in control as the deadline approaches and he will unleash GM Mike Elias to do what is needed to help the Birds end their World Series drought.
The needs of the team will change as the season goes on, based on injuries and other unexpected situations, but pitchers are usually the most sought-after at the deadline. There is still some time but even if the Orioles don't add a big time starter before the season, don't be surprised to see them finally pull the trigger on a trade mid-season.
Orioles win the 2024 World Series
This may not be the boldest of predictions right now, but it sure was when I first said it back in 2020. The Orioles stuck with the game plan and ended their five-year plan as division champions. The talent has continued to develop and the O's established themselves as a true force in baseball.
The majority of their projected lineup and the top pitchers on the team are all homegrown. They have continued to improve every year and this is the year Orioles fans have been waiting for. The Orioles will continue to be a leader in baseball's best division and the above mentioned deadline move or moves will put the Orioles over the top and bring the World Series back to Baltimore for the first time since 1983.
Gunnar Henderson joins the 40-30 club
Gunnar Henderson will follow up his Rookie of the Year campaign with an even bigger showing. Henderson tied for the team lead last season with 28 homers and that was after he got off to a slow start. He's going to hit the ground running this season and the power will be on full display.
Henderson also displayed his speed last season on a limited basis. Per baseball savant, Gunnar's top sprint speed is 28.8 feet per second, good enough for the 85th percentile. Henderson had 10 stolen bases last season but was caught stealing in a big playoff situation. It may not have been a straight steal but you know it left a sour taste in his mouth and Henderson will show off the wheels all season long.
Jackson Holliday wins Rookie of the Year
Stop me if you've heard this before, the Orioles feature the top overall prospect who will make the opening day roster and finish the season with the top rookie award. Jackson Holliday will follow in the footsteps of Gunnar Henderson and be the American League's Rookie of the Year.
We all know how successful he was across four levels of minor league baseball last year, but do you remember his spring training? Holliday hung around with the Orioles for 16 games and slashed .429/.556/.500 with a double, two stolen bases and a 4:4 K:BB ratio. He got a lot of experience in his first full season with the franchise and if he has another spring training like that, he could be on the opening day roster. Holliday has been successful at every level and that won't change this season in the majors.
Adley Rutschman wins AL MVP
The Orioles go as Adley Rutschman goes. That has been the way it's been since he debuted in 2022 and it will be Rutschman who leads the Orioles back to the promised land. Rutschman is entering his third season with the Orioles and at age 26 he should be hitting his prime. He was seeing pitches very well last year and made big improvements on his batting average and on-base percentage.
We all saw the power that he possesses in the home run derby and those two things will come together. Rutschman will bat close to .300 and hit 30 homers in the heart of a potent Orioles lineup. His defense has always been stellar and he will improve upon his caught stealing percentage which went down a bit last season. When it's all said and done, Rutschman will be the first Orioles MVP since Cal Ripken Jr in 1991.
Baseball is about as predictable as the lottery and there's no telling what will actually happen this season, but I'm excited to see how it all plays out.