After Sunday’s 22-7 loss to the Blue Jays, which gave Toronto 44 runs in 23 innings, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde explained the final weeks of the 2021 season.
“It’s mid-September,” he said, “and we’re in evaluation mode … A lot of these guys are appearing in the big leagues and don’t have many appearances … This is just part of it, seeing what we have and letting them get experience in the big leagues and seeing how they react, how they deal with some adversity.”
Hyde is aware many of the players on the 28-man and 40-man rosters won’t be back in 2022.
Let’s examine some of the questions facing the Orioles in the final 19 games.
Are we seeing the rotation for 2022?
The Orioles appear to have have many candidates for the 2022 rotation — Keegan Akin, Mike Baumann, Chris Ellis, Dean Kremer, Zac Lowther, John Means, Bruce Zimmermann and Alexander Wells.
Other than Means, who has a 4.1 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and a 3.42 ERA, none of the others is a sure thing for 2022.
Next spring training, the Orioles also could consider candidates at Triple-A Norfolk. Kyle Bradish and Kevin Smith are the likeliest names. They also might look at Cody Sedlock, the team’s first-round pick in 2016, who has a 2.75 ERA in 19 2/3 innings at Norfolk.
Top prospects Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall don’t appear to be candidates to start the season with the Orioles but should see extensive time with the team in 2022.
What will the bullpen look like?
The guess here is that while many of the starters to begin 2022 are likely to be familiar, that won’t be true for the bullpen.
It appears that Tyler Wells will enter 2022 as a late-inning guy, although he was one of many who got rocked by the Blue Jays. Jorge López, whose season ended early because of a sprained right ankle and is eligible for arbitration, seemed to be a better fit for the bullpen than the rotation. He, too, might be considered for late-inning relief.
Cole Sulser and his 3.15 ERA should be back, as should Dillon Tate, whose potential still seems to outweigh his inconsistency.
The two biggest question marks are left-handers Paul Fry and Tanner Scott.
Fry was sent to Norfolk after a horrible August in which he allowed 17 earned runs and 16 walks in seven innings for a 21.86 ERA. Scott, who has a 9.82 ERA since the All-Star break, appears to have lost his command and confidence.
Both are eligible for arbitration, and the team might not want to offer it to them. Their trade value, which appeared to be high in July, has fallen dramatically.
Hunter Harvey, who showed outstanding promise in a small sample size in 2019, is on the 60-day injured list and has thrown just 23 2/3 innings in his three partial major league seasons. It’s likely the Orioles will keep him, but they won’t depend on him because he hasn’t been able to remain healthy.
Some starting candidates could end up in the bullpen. So could Conner Greene, even though he has a 5.40 ERA in 15 innings.
The bullpen is an area where the team could spend in free agency. With so many vacancies, it makes sense to target a veteran reliever or two. While they might consider starters out of their price range, relievers could be more cost-effective.
Who’s going to back up Rutschman?
It appears to be a given that Adley Rutschman will be the starting catcher in 2022. It also seems unlikely that Pedro Severino will be his backup. He’s making $1.83 million, and he could get a $3 million contract in arbitration.
Severino hit .220 with a .619 OPS in the first half of the season. Since the All-Star break, he has hit .273 with a .785 OPS. The Orioles probably will try to trade him before a contract must be offered. He’d be an attractive free agent as a backup to an established catcher, and the Orioles seem to have a solid backup in Austin Wynns. While he doesn’t have a strong bat (.184 average in 37 games), Wynns probably would embrace the role as Rutschman’s backup.
Who has impressed in the infield?
The Orioles have discovered that Ramón Urías could be a useful player, whether it’s at shortstop, second base or as a utility man.
Jorge Mateo’s speed intrigues them, although it’s not clear which position is his best. He’s been slowed by a bad back but is still hitting .280 with a .748 OPS.
Kelvin Gutiérrez has been give regular time at third base, and while his glove has been solid, he’s hitting just .187 in 28 games.
Rylan Bannon got hot in mid-August, but he doesn’t have an RBI since August 24th, is hitting just .173 at Norfolk and hasn’t earned a promotion.
Jahmai Jones’ speed and athleticism intrigued the team, but in the 17 games he has played at second base since his recall he’s compiled a -.6 WAR. His .164 average and 20 strikeouts to two walks ratio hasn’t been impressive, and his play at second base remains a work in progress.
Richie Martin remains on the team and should get some more starts at shortstop in the final weeks of the season, though he also has a -.6 WAR.
A year from now, Jordan Westburg, who has jumped two levels this season, could be in the big leagues at either short or third, although he’s hitting .only 179 in 23 games at Double-A Bowie.
The Orioles have drafted a number of infielders in the past three drafts, but none seems ready to begin next season with the team.
A name to watch is Terrin Vavra, who was obtained from Colorado as part of the Mychal Givens trade last August. Vavra missed much of this season because of a back injury and is hitting .248 at Double-A Bowie, but he has a .388 on-base average.
The combination of Trey Mancini and Ryan Mountcastle at first and designated hitter has worked well.
Are any new outfielders likely to join the team?
Cedric Mullins has had an All-Star season in center field and is on the verge of a 30-30 season (home runs and stolen bases).
Austin Hays, who has been facing a steady diet of left-handers recently, had a 17-game hitting streak and has pushed his average up to .253, though he’s hitting only .221 against right-handers (.297 against left-handers). After two stints on the 10-day injured because of sprained ankles, Hays has managed to stay healthy and has played in 112 games. His 18 homers and 60 RBIs have proven he’s capable of being an everyday outfielder if he can improve his hitting against right-handers.
Anthony Santander also missed time because of a sprained ankle, is hitting .249 with 17 home runs and 49 RBIs. In the past week, he has three homers and eight RBIs. In the 60-game 2020 season, Santander was a finalist for the American League Gold Glove in right field. This year, he has an -.8 WAR.
Ryan McKenna has been a useful addition at all three outfield spots, and he’s likely to be back, as is DJ Stewart. Stewart is a liability on defense with a -1.2 WAR. His offensive numbers aren’t great (.205 average, .708 OPS), but he does draw walks and there’s no one pushing him at the moment.
The Orioles had hoped Yusniel Diaz would be in the major leagues by now but his .169 average at Norfolk won’t earn him a trip to the majors. Robert Neustrom, who was the Orioles’ fifth-round draft choice in 2018, is hitting .252 with the Tides and has an .812 OPS. He could be added to the 40-man roster.
Kyle Stowers, who was the Orioles’ second-round pick in 2019, has 27 home runs at three levels, two for Norfolk. He doesn’t need to be added to the 40-man roster for another year.
It is possible that the Orioles will sign a major league veteran for outfield depth and an upgrade.
Notes: The Orioles have promoted infielder Gunnar Henderson from High-A Aberdeen to Double-A Bowie. Henderson, who hit .312 at Delmarva, hit .230 with the IronBirds, but drew 40 walks in 65 games and has a .343 on-base percentage.
Aberdeen is out of the playoff hunt, and Bowie is fighting for a postseason berth. The promotion could give Henderson some extra at-bats this season.