If you’re going to measure the Orioles’ 2020 season by how many promising players they’ve found, it’s a success.
A year ago, the Orioles were happy to find that John Means was an effective starter, that Anthony Santander was a power-hitting rightfielder and that Austin Hays was a major league centerfielder.
Means, who more than any other Oriole starter was handicapped by the shortened season, experienced arm fatigue to begin 2020 and then lost his father, who was only 57.
In his last two starts, he’s pitched well and likely has two starts remaining. Means, Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer appear to give the Orioles a base for their 2021 rotation.
Santander had 11 home runs and had played well in right field before his season-ending oblique injury.
Hays, who has missed nearly a month because of rib fracture, could return this week, and there’s little he has to do to show manager Brandon Hyde that he’ll be a key component in 2021.
“I’m not looking to really evaluate,” Hyde said. “I’m looking for him to just play. I believe in the player, and I like the player a lot. I don’t think he get off to the start that he had in mind. He finished the year so well last year.”
Before he was placed on the injured list, Hays hit .203 in 19 games. In 2019, when he played the last three weeks of the season for the Orioles, he hit .309 with four home runs and 13 RBIs in 21 games.
“I think he’s extremely talented,” Hyde said. “I like him defensively. I like him offensively. I like that he’s able to hit the ball to all fields. I think he’s got some juice where he can really drive the ball to the opposite field. I’m not looking for him to put pressure on himself to play well these last couple of weeks like he’s getting evaluated.
“I just want him to go play. I think the organization is really high on him. I think he’s going to be a really good major league player.”
The Orioles like what they see in the outfield. They won’t have Hays, Santander and Ryan Mountcastle playing together this year, but they’ve discovered that Mountcastle is a competent leftfielder and that DJ Stewart also brings a power bat to right.
Cedric Mullins has played well in center field and, suddenly, the Orioles seem to have a surplus of outfielders.
“It might be crowded, but it seems to always work out,” Hyde said. “I think we’re excited about our outfield corps.”
The Orioles also have Ryan McKenna, who accompanied the team to New York on the taxi squad, and Yusniel Diaz, who’s at the Bowie alternate site. McKenna is on the 40-man roster.
Last year, Stewart missed most of the season because of an ankle injury that required surgery. Mullins had a 6-for-64 start with the Oriole, and was sent to the minor leagues in April, never to return.
“Stewart and Mullins … the improvement they’ve made from last year, it’s incredible,” Hyde said.
Stewart, who didn’t have a hit in his first 17 at-bats this season, is hitting .250 with six home runs.
“It’s confidence,” Hyde . I think that there’s a little bit more upright in his setup. He’s more on time with the fastball than I’ve ever seen him.”
One of the more puzzling Orioles is catcher Chance Sisco. In 28 games, Sisco has a .230 batting average but a .380 on-base percentage. In 92 plate appearances, Sisco has walked 14 times and been by a pitch four times.
“I think Chance is only going to improve,” Hyde said. “He’s improved a lot from last year, and I think that’s going to continue. I like the swing mechanic changes that he started this past offseason. I think that’s going to continue to get more comfortable. I think you’re going to see more power and drive …
“What makes Chance different than a lot of others is the ability to really not chase out of the strike zone. We talked about that a little last year when he first got here, the ability to take a walk, the ability to get in hitter’s counts, lay off borderline pitches, not chase. Because of that tool that he has, and as his swing continues to improve, I think you’re going to see a guy that’s always going to have a high on-base and hit with a little higher average.”