2023 was a breakout year for the Baltimore Orioles. They won 100 or more games for only the sixth time in franchise history and claimed their 10th American League East division title (the AL and NL were not split into divisions until 1969). When the season was over, baseball recognized their efforts and awards and accolades came pouring in.
There are numerous awards handed out each season, but the most prominent awards handed out after each season are gold gloves, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and MVP. The Birds had multiple players that either received votes or were finalists for those awards, headlined by Gunnar Henderson winning the Rookie of the Year. Which Orioles could bring home these major awards in 2024?
The Oriole most likely to win the AL MVP is a toss-up between Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson. Both players have had great starts to their careers and should continue to get better. Henderson is seen by many to have the most talent of any Oriole. He was great on the left side of the infield in 2023 and had a combined 13 defensive runs saved (DRS) between shortstop and third base, but his offense is even better.
He got off to a slow start but began to heat up in May and once they let Gunnar get hot, he batted .277 with 23 homers, 61 RBI's and 82 runs scored over the last 4+ months of the season. Who could forget that colossal blast to Eutaw St? All of this led to Henderson finishing eighth in MVP voting and being named the Most Valuable Oriole.
Rutschman on the other hand stays consistent all season long, which is exactly what you want. His numbers for each month last season are very similar and that consistent production is what made Rutschman one of the leaders in most offensive categories last season among catchers. He was also among the catching leaders in fielding percentage and did not allow a passed ball all season long.
He has a young pitching staff that trusts him, which helps them to be better. Rutschman will be 26 years old next season and is entering the prime of his career. He finished ninth in MVP voting last season, but I believe he will take a big step forward this season and be the Orioles favorite to win MVP. He leads from the front and is a big reason the O's are 168-116 since he made his debut.
Baseball's most prestigious pitching award has made its way to Baltimore only six times (three times by Jim Palmer), and no Oriole has won the award since Steve Stone in 1980. Mike Mussina finished second to Pedro Martinez in 1999 but that is the closest an Oriole pitcher has come in 43 years.
Kyle Bradish did his best to end that streak last season but nobody was going to to Gerrit Cole. With all of the attention that the young Orioles hitters have gotten, people may have forgotten that like Rutschman, the 2023 season was also Bradish's first full year in the majors. Last season, Bradish came into his own and established himself as the ace of this staff, and with the experience that he gained last season, he should get some strong Cy Young consideration.
The Orioles have great defenders across the board. They are returning five gold glove finalists and Ramon Urias, the last Oriole to win a gold glove. Rutschman and Henderson are both great defensively, as we've already discussed, and they could certainly win gold gloves in 2024, but I think the best chance comes from the outfield.
Cedric Mullins has shined bright as a standout center fielder who has made highlight-reel catches a common occurrence for Birds fans, but below average arm strength holds him back from being the most likely Oriole to win a gold glove. That distinction goes to Austin Hays.
Hays has made left field his regular home for the last two years and in Camden Yards, it's a rather big home. O's fans have seen Hays make spectacular plays time and time again and he was perfect in the field in 2023 finishing the year with zero errors and six DRS. He also has one of the strongest arms in left field and other teams have learned the hard way that they should not run on Hays.
Rookie of the Year
According to a recent poll of MLB executives by MLB Pipeline, the favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year award is Evan Carter of the Texas Rangers, but the Orioles have a three headed monster chasing him. The easy pick for the Orioles here is Jackson Holliday, the #1 overall prospect in baseball.
In his first full season of professional baseball, Jackson flew up the prospect board even faster than he flew threw the minor leagues. Holliday began the year in Low-A with the Delmarva Shorebirds but finished the season with the triple-A National Champion Norfolk Tides.
At just 19 years old, Holliday proved he was ready to compete for a spot with the Orioles and with a strong spring training, he could find himself in Camden Yards on opening day. If he does start the year in the minors, he will likely be called up by May and still have a good shot.
The other members of the Orioles who could challenge Holliday are Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad, who both debuted last season. Cowser struggled offensively in the majors but that's not uncommon at the major league level, but make no mistake, he is very talented. Cowser is a well-rounded player who is just as good in the field as he is offensively.
He should earn plenty of playing time in a very gifted outfield. Kjerstad was as advertised in his MLB debut; a very good hitter with a ton of power. He didn't get much time in the outfield but he is likely to open the year as the O's primary DH and could see some time at first base. Both Cowser and Kjerstad could make a run at the Rookie of the Year award.
Opening Day in Camden Yards is March 28 and there are a lot of things that are yet to be determined. One thing is for sure, the Orioles will be a lot of fun to watch. See you at the Yard.