Delay in start of 2020 season could hurt Orioles badly -

Spring Training

Delay in start of 2020 season could hurt Orioles badly

Photo Credit of Ryan Mountcastle: Joy R. Absalon

The pandemic that’s about to shorten the 2020 season won’t help anyone. It might hurt the Orioles more than any other team.

Every team is used to judging its players on a 162-game season, but that possibility ended this week when the Center for Disease Control and Prevention cautioned against crowds of more than 50 over the next eight weeks.

The season is frozen, and guesswork is everywhere.

Let’s say the season began in late May or early June. The roster that begins the season would consist of players the team evaluated in February and March.

There would be another training period, but probably a short one. As eager as teams are to make up games, the training time might be as short as the 11 days left in the original spring training. Would general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde make their judgment on what they’d seen perhaps two months before?

Some of the top Orioles prospects who were with the team early in camp — Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Adley Rutschman — had already been sent to minor league camp when the suspension of activities began. Yusniel Diaz, Ryan Mountcastle and Bruce Zimmermann remained, but wouldn’t start the season with the major league club.

The guess here is that a shortened season hurts a young, non-established club like the Orioles, and hands another advantage to a veteran club, say the New York Yankees.

Even if teams are allowed to play with a few extra players, at least initially, that could help a team with a deep talent system more than a developing one. The Yankees’ 27th and 28th players should be better than the Orioles’.

Last season, the Orioles had winning percentages of below .300 in April, May and June, and perked up somewhat the rest of the way, actually achieving a .500 July at 12-12, the first non-losing month since August 2017. Their August and September records weren’t great, but better than in the season’s first three months.


The Orioles had some better performances from Anthony Santander, Hunter Harvey  and Austin Hays later in the season, but the team struggled early and ended up using a team-record 58 players.

Except for John Means, the team’s starting rotation was expected to be comprised of Alex Cobb, Wade LeBlanc, Asher Wojciechowski and perhaps Tommy Milone. It still might.

The Orioles were hoping that Cobb could return from two challenging years and establish a market value in the third season of his four-year contract. That has to wait.

If the season doesn’t begin until June 1, does Cobb have enough time to show a contender that he could help them? Even if the trade deadline is advanced past July 31, would a team give up much for Cobb or Mychal Givens with just a month or two of the season to base their judgment on?

Oriole fans hoped to be seeing Kremer, who showed well in 5 1/3 innings without an earned run this spring, late in the season. Zimmermann was scheduled to start the March 12 game at Fort Myers against Minnesota before spring training was halted.

Zimmermann, who was going to start so Cobb’s blister could be more closely monitored in a simulated game, had a 4.70 ERA in 7 2/3 innings, and struck out nine. He was likely going to be reassigned to minor league camp after his outing as Akin was two nights before.

Now, the plans for Akin, Kremer and Zimmermann must change. They’ll need to develop in Norfolk, especially Akin, who allowed 13 hits in 9 2/3 innings.

Elias won’t want to rush their ascension to the big leagues. If they were going to be promoted past the midway point of the 2020 season in late July, that would be earned on more than three months of play. He wouldn’t want to move a player to the big leagues based on a month or two in Triple-A.

Diaz, who has yet to play in Triple-A, had only 24 plate appearances because of a shoulder injury that delayed his spring debut.

Mountcastle is a different story. He started off well at the plate, but struggled later. The Orioles wanted to see him play a creditable left field and develop some plate discipline.

He still needs more reps in left, and in 34 plate appearances in Grapefruit League games, Mountcastle struck out nine times without drawing a walk.

Rutschman is probably going to begin the season at High-A Frederick. The delay most likely won’t change the Orioles’ plans for him, but last year’s overall No. 1 draft pick played in only 37 games.

Elias’ plans for Rutschman are a state secret, but a two-month delay in the minor league season might force him to spend more time with the Keys and less with Double-A Bowie in 2020, perhaps setting back his development temporarily.

Because amateur baseball is also on hold, the June draft might be held later in the summer, and that hurts the Orioles, too.

They have the second overall pick and could be choosing from among several players, some from high school and others from college. We can assume Elias and top scouts have seen the candidates play already, but since this year’s pick might be trickier than last year’s choice between Rustchman and Bobby Witt Jr., more information is helpful.

It’s true that all teams have to deal with the same handicaps, but the Orioles need their draft to be more fruitful than do the Yankees or Dodgers.

Last year, the Orioles traded Andrew Cashner in early July, but didn’t make any other deals. The Boston Red Sox, who acquired Cashner, had more than three months of looks at him. That same opportunity won’t be there for the Orioles this year.

These are all obstacles that Elias should be able to overcome, but fans hoping to see a quick move in the standings might have to be more patient than they were originally.

While fans can joke about a shorter schedule reducing the chances for the Orioles to lose 100 games, those 100 or 110 games played in 2020 are crucial to the Orioles’ rebuilding plans.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB



  1. Orial

    March 18, 2020 at 8:39 am

    Solid points Rich. Yes there’s more to it than just the stoppage and resuming of play. Different teams have different agendas. The O’s definitely will be hurt in the development area. Even the draft pick will probably have to be based on 2019 stats and potential. But other teams face their own dilemmas. The Twins and Astros seem built for now,the Yankees have youth but Lemehue(*) a future FA,Dodgers wasting time with Betts. Orioles can’t even field the young talent at a camp to keep them fine tuned. A shame.

    • The Cartoon Bird

      March 18, 2020 at 8:46 am

      Good points Orial. My additional concern is financial. Reading the estimates of lost revenue in the NBA, big-market teams can withstand that. Especially considering the MASN revenue stream that could help the Orioles during this time goes instead to another big-market team, the long-term implications of the product on-field is worrisome.

      • Jbigle1

        March 18, 2020 at 3:39 pm

        The orioles have a sub 50 million dollar payroll. They jettisoned Bundy and Villar’s deals before the season started. The orioles are fine when it comes to money.

    • Rich Dubroff

      March 18, 2020 at 10:57 am

      Thank you, Orial.

  2. ClayDal

    March 18, 2020 at 9:07 am

    In hindsight, the Orioles should have held on to Bailey and Rucker. At least until the end of Spring Training. With a shortened season and most likely an expanded roster, they could have been able to have kept them all year and send them to the minors next year.
    Not having the minors operating really hurts the Orioles. Their top prospects are going to be held back without being able to play. The college and high school closings also will hurt the Orioles in the draft. Can see a lot of high school players deciding to go to college, at least junior college, to improve draft position.

    • Rich Dubroff

      March 18, 2020 at 10:58 am

      I think holding onto them now seems prudent. I was surprised they were jettisoned so quickly.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        March 18, 2020 at 12:56 pm

        I agree Rich. I’m not sure why they didn’t keep 1 or both of them at least for a while. I know most around here have a disdain for the Rule 5, but frankly, I think it has served the O’s pretty well in the past going back to Flaherty all the way to Santander. Sure they weren’t all gems, but what do you lose when one doesn’t work out?

  3. willmiranda

    March 18, 2020 at 9:52 am

    I get all your points, but the O’s problems are self-inflicted by the the path of rebuilding they
    have chosen. Yes, the shortened season was not predictable, but the narrow necessity of
    all things lining up just-so has always been there. And remember, 2020 was supposed to be
    a season of temporizing until prospects matured. The temporizing is still there, even more so.
    Extended playing in sub-MLB leagues for prospects is really all that has to be made up. Extended
    minor league seasons or winter ball could do this. After all 2021 was going to be another rebuilding
    year. It still will be.

    • Rich Dubroff

      March 18, 2020 at 10:59 am

      In my mind, Will, 2021 was and perhaps still is going to be the year fans saw that things were turning around.

      • willmiranda

        March 18, 2020 at 3:46 pm

        I don’t disagree, Rich My point was that 2020 was not the year planned for concrete, noticeable progress, so the shortening of the season will not make a great noticeable difference. Some regarded it as something to be endured; in that case, the shorter, the better. When I wrote “another rebuilding year,” I did not mean a repetition but a step forward.

    • ClayDal

      March 18, 2020 at 4:22 pm

      The key to the Orioles in 2020 was the progress that the young players were making. That would include the players in the majors ( Hays, Harvey, Means, Santander) and those in the minors ( Rutschman, Rodriguez, Wells, Kremer). So not having the majors and the minors shut down for at least two months will slow down the Orioles rebuild. Rutschman might not be here until 2022 at the earliest as opposed to 2021. And it will have a negative effect on the draft. Scouts won’t be able to track the progress of college players since they won’t be playing

      • willmiranda

        March 19, 2020 at 10:08 am

        I think a great part of the young players’ progress will be physical and personal maturing, which simply takes time, no matter what they are doing. More focused baseball activities would be a plus, but keeping healthy and growing normally is the most important thing. I don’t think missing a couple months should put them a year behind in their development or greatly change the expectations for 2021. One plus is that, were they playing, they might risk injury. Lots of variables, but fun to speculate.

  4. Bancells Moustache

    March 18, 2020 at 11:30 am

    The good news is that this is affecting the entirety of the league, so when play does resume we could see absolute chaos this year with certain teams better prepared than others. Joe Gibbs rode all the way to the Hall of Fame on the back of preparation during work stoppages. Plus with an abbreviated season, every game will shape up to be a dogfight. 2020 should be a wild ride.
    Honestly, with the Birds looking to suck this year anyway, I suppose it’s best to have this happen now. Would you rather see the season disrupted if you were one of the teams with a closing Championship window, or a team that’s years away from even cracking .500?

  5. CalsPals

    March 19, 2020 at 6:00 am

    Is MLB really thinking about forgoing the draft this yr, big mistake on their part, ANY positive news for them would be a +….go O’s…

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