Welcome to Bat Flips & Nerds, Graham Muncie…
It was D:Ream that so famously sang ‘Things can only get better’ all the way back in 1993 (if you are not heading towards middle age like I am and have no idea what I am talking about give it a search on YouTube or Spotify it’s a cracking tune) and while I am not sure if it hit the heady heights of the charts over in the states as it did here if anyone in the picturesque warehouse at Camden Yards remembers it then surely it has to become the anthem for the Charm City men in 2022.
The last few years have been painful on the field for the Orioles an organisation that has been built on ‘The Oriole Way.’ That being hard working, blue collar led success as epitomised by the likes of hall of famers Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray and of course the Ironman himself Cal Ripken Jr.
That has not been the way in recent years though as a full blown rebuild after a spell of joy if no glory has led to loss totals of 110, 108 and 115 in the last 3 full seasons. As you would expect with a combined winning % of approx. .315 over that spell there has been embarrassment after embarrassment on the field leading to a discord with the fans and lower and lower attendances at what is still one of the most aesthetically pleasing stadiums in the big leagues.
There are shoots of hope though, that the dark days may not be around for too much longer and there could be light at the end of the tunnel.
As you would expect with losing on the field comes high draft picks and while there have been some questioned decisions and some health issues for some of these selections the Orioles do still currently boast the top ranked farm system in the game according to MLB.com’s rankings with 5 players ranked in the games top 100 prospects and that is before this year’s draft where the Orioles have the number 1 pick also.
Leading the charge from the farm system will no doubt be the number 1 overall pick from the 2019 draft and current no1 prospect in all of baseball Adley Rutschman. The Oregon born backstop is coming of a stellar season in the Minor leagues split across double and triple A Rutschman posted a .285 average alongside 23 homers and 75 runs batted in (in 120 games). Add this to a defense that many scouts said was big league ready before he was even drafted and if all goes to plan the Orioles expect to have a perennial all-star and potential MVP candidate behind the plate for years to come.
60 feet 6 inches away from Rutschman will be Grayson Rodriguez the no8 ranked prospect overall and no1 ranked pitching prospect in the game. Rodriguez boasts a 99mph fastball and at only 21 years old blitzed to a 9-1 record between single and double A in 2021 with an era of 2.36 and a remarkable 161 strikeouts in 103 innings.
While the intricacies of the service time rule (dependent on how they look after the new collective bargaining agreement is hopefully reached sooner rather than later) means neither of these two will start the year in the Majors Rutschman at the very least is expected to hit ‘The Show’ before seasons end.
Once the likes of Rutschman and Rodriguez make their way to Baltimore they will join a club that despite it’s woeful win totals of late is not totally bereft of talent from which to build on.
There were some good news stories in 2021 that surprisingly you did not need to look that hard for despite that horrific 52-110 record. These being very neatly coming in the form of the 4 M’s (a title I have made up just now)
Trey Mancini was the feelgood story of the entire league returning from missing the 2020 season with colon cancer to post a respectable .255 21HR 71RBI line on his way to winning the MLB comeback player of the year award.
Cedric Mullins was an absolute revelation after ditching his switch-hitting ways to bat solely left-handed. Mullins become the Orioles little engine that could putting up a 5.7 war figure alongside a 30HR and 30 steal season atop the O’s line-up. Add to this stellar centerfield defense that left many dumbfounded as to why he wasn’t at least a finalist for the Gold Glove, and it looks like the heir to Adam Jones has been found.
Ryan Mountcastle is another big bat the Camden Yard faithful will be hoping to cheer on for years to come as he finished as the Players Choice Rookie of the Year for the American League after a strong second half to the year that saw him set the franchise record for the most home runs by a rookie (33)
Finally, from the quartet and perhaps thankfully when you look at the rest of the names mentioned, and their respective positions is starting pitcher John Means. Means undoubtedly gave the Orioles the highlight of their season back on May 5th as he threw the team’s first no hitter since 1991. Means was as close as you could ever be to a perfect game without achieving one as the only batter to reach base did so on a passed ball by catcher Pedro Severino rather than a walk issued by Means. This was the highlight of a strong season for the 28-year-old as he posted a 3.62 era across 146.2 innings and was the leader and some would say the only MLB calibre pitcher on what was a historically bad rotation.
So, as you can see there is reason for optimism in Baltimore with a small but fully home grown and under team control core ready to be added to by promotions from a stacked farm system once they are ready.
Further to this while the Orioles will no doubt still have a bottom five payroll money has been freed up by the retirement of Chris Davis. Davis was on the books for $17m in 2022 and while he will still receive this as his retirement was forced by medical issues this will be picked up by insurance leaving the Orioles to spend this adding some more major league calibre talent to the roster so at the very least a modicum of respectability can be gained.
No one at Camden Yards is expecting miracles and a last to first surge in the year ahead but with the building blocks now in place there is reason for optimism again and as that aforementioned chart topper goes “I’m singing it now; things can only get better. Only get better. If we see it through.”