Orioles made progress in 2020; New challenges are in store for 2021 - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Orioles made progress in 2020; New challenges are in store for 2021

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

The season many thought wouldn’t be completed because of Covid-19 is over. As executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias inferred during his 25-minute session with the media on Saturday, it is hard for Oriole fans to feel happy about a losing record and failing to qualify for an expanded postseason.

With a rotation that included Wade LeBlanc, Tommy Milone and Asher Wojciechowski at the start,the Orioles finished the first third of the season with a 12-8 record.

Even though they had a 13-27 record in their final 40 games, there are reasons to feel positive.

If you extrapolate their winning percentage of .417 to a full 162-game season it equates to a 67-95 record in a year when many were fearing the worst.

“For the first 40 games, I thought we thought we played really well. We were right around a .500 club (19-21),” manager Brandon Hyde said. “They had the opportunity to win a handful of games more than that at that point, and then we ran into a little bit of a buzzsaw the last few weeks where we didn’t swing the bats really well and went through tough times offensively together. We just had a tough time getting out of that.”

Elias and Hyde inherited a team that lost 115 games in 2018. In their first year, they dropped 108, so there’s progress in the record.

Fans who saw the debuts of outfielder/first baseman Ryan Mountcastle and pitchers Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin and Bruce Zimmermann are hoping for contention in 2021, but that’s wildly optimistic.

The good news is that the Orioles have added a number of players who will be on the team next season. They’ll be joined by other players who showed signs that they could be part of the next good Orioles group.

“I thought a lot of guys took a step forward from last year,” Hyde said.

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Austin Hays, who missed a month because of a rib fracture and Cedric Mullins, who showed his defense, speed and hitting skills will be part of next year’s outfield class.

Tanner Scott’s relief work was stellar in his first full season in the major leagues and Dillon Tate showed flashes before his year ended in the season’s final week because of an injury to his pinky finger.

Hunter Harvey, whom the Orioles have waited patiently for, began the season on the injured list because of an elbow injury, and ended it with a 4.15 ERA in 8 2/3 innings after excelling late last season.

“We have some really good arms that have huge upside,” Hyde said of Scott and Harvey. “I’ll take my chances with those guys any day of the week because I really believe in their stuff, and I really believe in them as players and guys. I think they’re only going to improve. It’s going to be fun to watch going forward.”

The players who performed regularly for the first time in 2019 didn’t suffer a letdown. Even though rightfielder Anthony Santander missed the last 23 games because of an oblique injury, his power numbers and defense earned the Most Valuable Oriole award.

John Means struggled at the start after missing his Opening Day start because of arm fatigue and more time after the death of his father. But he rebounded and delivered four strong starts in September.

José Iglesias spent time on the injured list because of a quadriceps injury and missed three more games after his wrist was bruised when he was hit by a pitch. In the time he played, he had a team-leading .956 OPS and .373 batting average. The Orioles hold a $3.5 million option on Iglesias, and the shortstop is expected to return in 2021.

So should Trey Mancini, the Orioles’ best player in 2019 who missed the season after colon cancer surgery and chemotherapy.

Infielder Richie Martin’s absence after breaking a bone in his wrist was a surprisingly big loss. His solid play at shortstop could have helped when Iglesias was out.

Then, there are the question marks. Adley Rutschman isn’t going to be the Orioles’ catcher to begin 2021, and maybe not at all next season. Pedro Severino, who was hitting .325 on September 8, lost 75 points on his average and ended at .250 because of a 3-for-46 tailspin. His defense also suffered down the stretch.

Chance Sisco got to play an entire major league season for the first time, and his offense sputtered, too. He ended the season with a .214 average, although his defense improved.

DJ Stewart was hitless in his first 17 at-bats, hit six home runs in six games and finished at .193. He also struggled in the outfield.

“A lot of guys are disappointed in the last 20 games, and how they’re finishing up,” Hyde said before Sunday’s game. “That’s really them putting pressure on themselves, wishing they could have done more to help us in the last 20 games.”

The Orioles’ fielding also went south late in the season.

“I think as we started to struggle, swinging the bat, our defense wasn’t as good,” Hyde said. “We didn’t play as well the last few weeks as we did the first month of the season. I thought we played better team defense. I thought we made the routine play a lot more.

“I think the defense has fallen off the last few weeks, and I think that’s because of some frustration by our position players with the offensive frustration. I think that’s inexperience. That’s just not having a ton of veterans to help pick up the pieces.”

Since the Orioles don’t have any major league ready infielders in the high minors, Elias will be on the hunt for reinforcements, although Martin’s return will help. Perhaps he’ll search for another veteran catcher, although Bryan Holaday performed well in limited action.

Beginning 2021 with Means, Akin, Kremer, Zimmermann, Alex Cobb and Jorge López in a possible starting rotation appears to be a far better one than began 2020, but there will be difficult times for the young starters, too.

Kohl Stewart, who opted out for health reasons early in the season, could return and so could Thomas Eshelman, whose three wins tied him with Travis Lakins for the team lead.

Stewart and Eshelman could provide rotation and long relief depth, and Elias could go fishing in an uncertain free-agent market for more possible starters.

The bullpen was much better. Even beyond Scott and Tate, Paul Fry, who had a 2.45 ERA, and Shawn Armstrong, who had a 1.80 ERA despite missing a month with a lower back injury, fared well.

Then there was César Valdez, whom the Orioles rescued from baseball’s backwaters in Mexico. At 35, Valdez, reinvented himself with a changeup he called the “dead fish.” In a time when teams are obsessed with velocity, Valdez was an effective change of pace.

The feeling here is that 2020 was a success for the Orioles. Progress is being made, but next year might be just as challenging. Holes remain, the team is inexperienced and contention is unlikely until 2022.

But if the team can continue to move forward while building a foundation with young talent, the Orioles could be on the verge of some very interesting times.

Question time: Later this week, I’ll be answering your end-of-season Orioles questions. Please email me your questions: [email protected] or leave it in the comments section.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Wmcginnes

    September 28, 2020 at 8:45 am

    Did the prospects that weren’t at Bowie have any things they were suppose to do? I have been trying to follow Brennan Hanifee because he has family that lives in Kent County MD.

    • 33d St

      September 28, 2020 at 9:58 pm

      Good question. I would love to see some reports in the off-season with some detail on what went on with the prospects we didn’t see this year. Whether they were at Bowie or the non-Bowie guys.

  2. Orial

    September 28, 2020 at 8:51 am

    Excellent work Rich as this season concludes but it ain’t over–plenty ahead. I find it ironic that when the O’s did well in their first 40 games the pitching struggled but during the drop off in the final 20 the pitching rose. A few questions–people calling for a Gold Glove for Mullins but did he play enough games? Urias impressed in the final week–will he be solid 2nd base contender? Will Alberto be re-signed after arbitration? Why does it seem lefty pitchers(Scott,Fry) struggled more against lefty hitters? Why did Ruiz do better against lefty pitchers? Yes the errors did mount the last 20 or so games. What to do with the Nunez,Alberto,Severino trifecta especially if Mancini were to return(possibly effecting Nunez). Look forward to off season reports Rich.

    • Rich Dubroff

      September 28, 2020 at 12:12 pm

      Thanks Orial, will try to answer as many of these questions as I can later in the week.

      • Jerry Hairston Jr.

        September 29, 2020 at 9:10 am

        There’s an incredible logjam at 1b, DH, Corner OF…can prognosticate how that might be addressed? I think Davis is back…a shortened season would likely result in a reduced contract. My best guess is they try to move Nunez, though I think we’d be disappointed with the return.

  3. Birdman

    September 28, 2020 at 9:56 am

    My picks for most impressive, and most disappointing, Orioles in 2020:

    Most Impressive — Iglesias, Santander, Mountcastle, Mullins, Valaika, Hays, Means, Scott, and Tate
    Most Disappointing — Sisco, Stewart, Smith, Wojciechowski, Cobb, and (of course) Davis

    • ClayDal

      September 28, 2020 at 12:52 pm

      Surprises-Cedric Mullins after his return. Iglesias’s bat. Paul Fry. Surprisingly consistent and Bleier wasn’t missed that much

      Disappointments- expected nothing from Davis, so can’t say I was disappointed. Cobb was about as expected-unrealistic to expect someone recovering from hip surgery to revert to his old form immediately. Looked better at the end. As far as disappointments , after coming back from his latest injury, Hunter Harvey took a step back. Not his fault he keeps getting hurt, but thought he would be further along by now. Sisco faded with the bat again. Ruiz was a disappointment in the field. Needs to work on his throws.

  4. Bman

    September 28, 2020 at 10:11 am

    #5 pick in the draft. I wonder which direction they’ll go this year. Lots of SS and OF the last two years. Maybe a pitcher?

  5. Bhoffman1

    September 28, 2020 at 10:12 am

    I agree with everything you said but Bryan Holadsy hit 161, ok defensively but not to warrant a spot on this team next year. Also I expect to see Diaz next year in the outfield. Even if he has a great camp he may not start here but he will be here and it will be interesting how Hyde plays him with the abundance of outfielders. Urias could be given a shot at second base next year if he performs well in the spring. Is Alberto a free agent or is he signed for next year. The glaring problem is 3rd base. Ruiz is just to inconsistent

    • Rich Dubroff

      September 28, 2020 at 12:10 pm

      Bruce, I don’t expect Holaday to be retained on the 40-man roster. For most of the season, the Orioles kept him on the roster because it had two extra spots, which may not be there next year if they revert to 26. If you’ve been paying attention to Mike Elias the last two years, and i know you have, don’t expect Diaz to begin the season with the Orioles, but come up when Elias thinks he won’t have to return to the minors. Urias may also have a hard time staying on the roster since the Orioles have a number of younger players they have to add. Alberto is two years away from free agency, so he’s under club control, but again eligible for arbitration.

  6. Balt mp

    September 28, 2020 at 10:34 am

    This year overall is I believe a qualified success . I believe we saw two important things occur . First a winnowing if players that can play Santander Mountcastle etc and those that can’t. If you add Kohl Stewart you may finally be developing depth while waiting for Rodriguez and Hall . Secondly we saw that Elias does have significantly more power in this organization than any gm or evp has for this club in maybe the last 30-40 years . He has reshaped the development and use of Sabre metrics . More importantly he made several deals without ownership approval or permission . The Chris Davis situation for the good of the team must be dealt with this off season . Prior to this year he was really costing you just budgeted money but I’m guessing from here forward he will really begin to confuse and jam the roster with an unproductive unchanging player.

    • Bhoffman1

      September 28, 2020 at 10:46 am

      Elias said Davis still has a contract so he will honor it. I expect that was a sugar coating the situation and if Davis reports to Sarasota in the spring I will be very disappointed in Elias and the two brothers because he takes the spot of a emerging and more productive player and hurts the team morale

      • NormOs

        September 28, 2020 at 1:46 pm

        Again, you have to pay him but you don’t have to play him or keep him on the 25 man.

        • Phil770

          September 28, 2020 at 2:31 pm

          Understand NormOs; but that is why I asked Rich about the contract, there may be some language that makes it more costly.

    • CalsPals

      September 28, 2020 at 3:47 pm

      Nothing more costly than him being around our youngens w/ that albatross of a contract hanging around his neck…go O’s…

  7. Hallbe62

    September 28, 2020 at 11:22 am

    They were exciting at times, disappointing at times. Overall, I was entertained for 60 games. But I’m not so sure I can maintain that attitude for a 162 game schedule.

    I’d like to see Mounty & Boom Boom (if his health holds up) in the lineup everyday. 1 in LF & the other at 1B. Bring Diaz up and lets see what he can do in the OF. I don’t have much faith in Stewart. Hays, Santander, & Mullins (off the bench for late inning speed or bunt sacrifice) should round out the outfield. The infield should probably stand pat another year and the Pitching is what it is, unless ownership wants to spend a little to bring in a veteran starter to stabilize a young and inexperienced rotation.

    And DRILL the fundamentals in Spring Training. DRILL again. And DRILL some more. The lack of fundamental baseball is very frustrating because it takes little athletic talent to execute them and is the “learned” aspect of the game. No excuse for not knowing them or executing them when the need arises.

    Thanks for the 60 games of baseball this season Birds and come back at ’em HARD next year.

    • Bhoffman1

      September 28, 2020 at 1:37 pm

      If the infield stands pat next year it will be a disaster. Alberto’s hitting fell off and defensively he’s below average. Ruiz is too inconsistent to play everyday. Maybe Richie Martin can play SS and if it’s possible move Jose to third base

      • Hallbe62

        September 28, 2020 at 4:31 pm

        Yes, if the infield stands pat, it won’t be a top caliber one for sure. Iglesias at 3B and Martin at SS isn’t a bad idea. I’ve lost track of the youngsters (infield types) in the minors and feel pretty confident no quality free agents will be signed to shore up a lacking infield.

  8. Boog Robinson Robinson

    September 28, 2020 at 1:22 pm

    I’m expecting to see Rylan Bannon next season. And I don’t think we’ll have to wait until September.

    And it’s time to spend a little $$ on the bullpen.

    No reason we can’t win 80 next year. Time to build a winning culture Mr. Elias.

  9. Phil770

    September 28, 2020 at 1:35 pm

    Rich, nice summary piece on the season. I agree with nearly all of your assessments, especially the make-up of the 40-man roster. I was wondering, given the Zoom environment that MLB is in, is there any opportunity to talk with players one-on-one? I assume there is zero possibility of talking to coaches or the manager one-on-one.

    One last question, regarding CD. Are there any contractual reasons that CD could not be released? For example, a “change of venue” kicker, probably put in if he waived his no-trade clause. I am assuming that if he is released in the off-season, the O’s are on the hook to pay him for a full 2021 season and there is the possibility of a limited 2021 season if COVID-19 is still the issue that it is currently. Thanks again, Rich for all of your great reporting.

    • Rich Dubroff

      September 28, 2020 at 2:05 pm

      Thank you, Phil. Several readers have questions on Davis, and we’ll get to them
      later in the week.

      Before summer camp, there were some one-on-ones, and there be some in the offseason.

      But, group access was the norm this year, and I missed getting to know new players and catching up with the ones I knew. Same with coaches and Brandon. I missed chatting with Brandon and the coaches, too.

      • Bancells Moustache

        September 28, 2020 at 3:07 pm

        Oh please, no more questions about “that guy”. There is nothing else that could possibly be discussed about you-know-who. It’s the biggest contract disaster in the history of sports. That’s not hyperbole, that’s indisputable. No more, please.

  10. Bhoffman1

    September 28, 2020 at 2:44 pm

    Just wondering I spoke with Ferdi Gonzalez’s in WPB. Very personable guy. How did it work out with him and Hyde

  11. Jerry Hairston Jr.

    September 29, 2020 at 9:06 am

    How did the missed year impact Trey Mancini’s contract? Does he move a year closer to free agency? How will they determine his arb number?

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