Baltimore Orioles 2009 Season Preview: A Team in Transition
Isaac Barrow is an editor and columnist for Sports Guys Blog.
Today, I attended FanFest located at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore. There, Orioles players - current and past - signed autographs for thousands of O's fans. Since the season is just two days away, I will give my preview of the O's season.
Additions: LHP Mark Hendrickson, RHP Koji Uehara, C Gregg Zaun, SS Robert Andino, SS Cesar Izturis, 3B/1B Ty Wigginton, OF Ryan Freel, OF Felix Pie.
Best addition: In my mind, there are two additions that improve the O's the most. The signing of Ty Wigginton and the signing of Cesar Izturis. Wigginton is a power hitter who has the potential to hit 30 homers a year if he gets the at bats. In just 386 at bats with Houston in 2008, he slugged 23 homers. Last year, the O's ran through many shortstops. Luis Hernandez, Alex Cintron, Brandon Fahey, Fred Bynum and more. This year, O's fans will finally be able to sleep at night knowing they have a great defensive shortstop in Cesar Izturis. He has Gold Glove written all over him and while he won't blow you away offensively, he can hit .270 and steal 20 or more bases.
Worst addition: I don't think any of these additions hurt the team, but the liability of this pack is southpaw Mark Hendrickson. With the Florida Marlins in 2008, he was 7-8 with a 5.45 earned run average. He is 34, so he's not young. He was signed to a one year, $1.5M deal. Hendrickson is obviously not in the O's long-term plans. I think this year, he'll be used as a middle reliever and he'll pitch in 30 games or more. This is the addition O's fans didn't fall in love with because of the struggles he has dealt with throughout the years.
Losses: LHP Garrett Olson, 1B Kevin Millar, RHP Daniel Cabrera, SS Brandon Fahey, SS Alex Cintron, C Ramon Hernandez.
Most devastating loss: None of the players the O's lost were a centerpiece of their future. However, a great clubhouse guy is needed for any successful team. The guy who provided that was Kevin Millar, the first baseman who bombed 20 homers last year. He was a clubhouse leader in his time in Baltimore and it's unfortunate the team had to part ways with him. However, the O's have some other good clubhouse oriented guys like center fielder Adam Jones, pitcher Jeremy Guthrie and utility man Ryan Freel.
The most "don't let the door hit you on the way out" loss: Of all the disappointing prospects in O's history, Daniel Cabrera has to be up there as one of the most stressful. He was never able to live up his potential. Out on the mound, he never truly used his mind. He would always use his fastball, but nothing else. He was horrible at mixing pitches, holding runners and keeping his poise. Bye bye, Daniel.
Top Five Orioles Prospects (Per BA Prospect Handbook):
- Matt Wieters, C: Since Peter Angelos has taken over the team, the O's have been a team on the decline. One of the main reasons O's fans follow the team nowadays is the bright future they have ahead of them. The brightest player in the O's farm system is catcher Matt Wieters. Wieters is a 6'5", 230 pound switch-hitting catcher who batted .355 with 27 home runs and 91 RBI between Single A and Double A. He will start this year in Triple A and will work his way up to the majors.
- Chris Tillman, P: In the famous Erik Bedard trade, the O's built up on pitching. The most encouraging young man they received was Chris Tillman, a 20-year old right hander. Going into 2008, Tillman was very mediocre. In 2008, he was the complete opposite, going 11-4 with a 3.18 ERA for Double A Bowie. He was great at mixing pitches and catching hitters off guard.
- Brian Matusz, P: Two years in a row, Orioles president Andy MacPhail has drafted gems. Both Wieters and Matusz are elite prospects and respected throughout the minors. Matusz has been compared to great Phillies ace Cole Hamels, who was 14-10 last year and won the World Series MVP. Matusz was 12-2 as a senior for San Diego and like Wieters, will begin his pro career in Single A Frederick.
- Jake Arrieta, P: One of the underrated O's prospects is right handed fireballer Jake Arrieta. Arrieta was 6-5 with a 2.87 ERA last year for Frederick and will likely begin the season in Double A Bowie. The encouraging thing about the O's farm system is that they have three legit pitching prospects, all in the Top 100 in baseball. Also, any of the three could be the future ace. It could even be Arrieta.
- Nolan Reimold, OF: One of the most impressive performances put together in Spring Training was by young outfielder Nolan Reimold. He hit .321 with four homers, eight RBI and slugged a whopping .750. This, was of course, in 28 at bats, but it was nonetheless impressive. Reimold appears to be the left fielder/DH of the future. If Felix Pie does pan out, Reimold will be the designated hitter. If not, Reimold will be slated in left field.
C - #9 Gregg Zaun
1B - #17 Aubrey Huff
2B - #1 Brian Roberts
SS - #3 Cesar Izturis
3B - #6 Melvin Mora
LF - #18 Felix Pie
CF - #10 Adam Jones
RF - #21 Nick Markakis
DH - #30 Luke Scott
Notes: This lineup should be raided by youth throughout the year. The main guy I'm looking out for is Felix Pie. We know Huff, Roberts, Mora, Markakis, Scott are going to have productive years, but I'm interested in seeing whether Pie will finally pan out. He never had a legit chance in Chicago, and he has it now. Hopefully he can seize it. The main breakout candidate in this group is Adam Jones. He was a "changed man" in Spring Training, and he showed it in his production, batting over .360 with three homers. I'm not expecting a power surge, but a 15/80/.290 season is expected. Lastly, Juan Samuel has been working with Markakis and Jones, expect an increase in their stolen base totals.
1B - #23 Ty Wigginton
UT - #2 Ryan Freel
C - #54 Chad Moeller
Notes: This is a pretty good bench. Ty Wigginton is obviously productive when he gets his chances. He seems to follow O's DH Aubrey Huff everywhere, as he has played in Tampa Bay, Houston and now Baltimore - all former destinations for Huff. Stalkerism aside, Wigginton can hit. In 386 at bats with Houston, he slugged 23 homers. I want the O's to get him 425 at bats, and he can easily slug 30. No doubt about it. Freel is a reckless guy. He envied Pete Rose growing up, and plays like him - all out, all the time. That attitude showed last year when he missed almost the entire year due to injuries. Moeller hasn't officially made the 25-man roster, but is the best option at backup catcher, in my opinion, plus I did see him at Fanfest today, so that is some kind of indicator.
Five Burning Questions - and answers!
- Will Felix Pie pan out? I'm having a tough time answering this one. He has shown some encouraging signs in Spring Training. He's slowly, but surely, raised his batting average. He's shown the speed he was known for in Chicago. Pie has shown signs he can pan out with the O's, and he should. He's finally got the opportunity to succeed. I think he will. He has a good relationship with Terry Crowley, who has produced tons of great young hitters. I expect Pie to hit .265 with eight homers, 55 RBI and 17 steals. Not exactly an All Star, but finally coming through, at least.
- When will Matt Wieters arrive? The main guy experts and fans are watching for is catcher Matt Wieters. The Baseball America Player of the Year hit .355 with 27 home runs and 91 RBI. Wieters was impressive in Spring Training, hitting .333 with one home run, five RBI and a .513 slugging percentage. Wieters is going to start the season in Triple A Norfolk. With the poise Wieters showed me in Spring Training, I expect him to come up by May 5th - at the latest.
- When will Rich Hill come back and how will he fare? Rich Hill was an acquisition that some people questioned because of the injury troubles he has suffered over the years. He will start the season on the disabled list while he was scheduled to begin the year as the O's No. 3 starter. The No. 3 spot will instead belong to Alfredo Simon, who pitched brilliantly in Spring Training. I think Hill will return late April and there is no doubt that, when healthy, he is a good pitcher. I tihnk he can win ten games with the O's, lose seven and post a 4.20 ERA.
- How will Nick Markakis respond to a six-year extension? This offseason, the O's signed their 'Golden Boy', 25-year old right fielder Nick Markakis. I think we won't expect much of a jump in production despite a six year, $66.1M deal. You know why? Because it doesn't get much better. I expect Markakis to lead the league in walks and outfield assists. I also expect him to bat .300 with a .390-.415 OBP, 20-30 homers and 90-115 RBI.
- When will Brad Bergesen make the team? There were a lot of guys who impressed me in Spring Training. Brian Matusz, David Hernandez, Nolan Reimold, Justin Turner and Scott Moore to name a few. Brad Bergesen was perhaps the most impressive, posting a 3.09 ERA. Bergesen forced his way into contention as the O's No. 5 starter. However, he doesn't have experience above Double A and the O's don't want to rush him. With what he showed in Spring Training, he can easily work his way up by May.
No. 1 - #46 Jeremy Guthrie
No. 2 - #19 Koji Uehara
No. 3 - #58 Alfredo Simon
No. 4 - #25 Brian Bass
No. 5 - #56 Adam Eaton
Notes: Obviously, this may be the worst rotation in Major League Baseball. However, there is hope. Eaton could be in the rotation for one start. If Hill can get healthy soon, Eaton is as good as gone to victimize another club. Bass showed a lot of encouraging signs last year and even more during the Spring. Guthrie and Uehara aren't No. 1's or No. 2's anywhere else except here or in Texas, but they'll do. And next year when Tillman, Hernandez, Bergesen and possibly Arrieta and Matusz are in the rotation, it'll be encouraging. Simon pitched brilliantly in the Spring and is a breakout candidate.
Set up man: #34 Matt Albers
Set up man: #28 Danys Baez
Set up man: #27 Mark Hendrickson
Set up man: #43 Jim Johnson
Set up man: #45 Dennis Sarfate
Set up man: #52 George Sherrill
Set up man: #32 Jamie Walker
Closer: #37 Chris Ray
Notes: This is a pretty deep, solid bullpen. The reason for its struggles in recent years is due to the horrible skill of the rotation in those years. They had to follow up performances that lasted five innings or less. Albers, Baez, Johnson and Sarfate are coming back from injuries, but looked back to form during the Spring. Baez posted an ERA of six as a starter, but showed poise after missing an entire year. Albers was solid in relief as well, posting a 2.19 ERA. Hendrickson, as expected, was bad. He was 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA. Another thing I expect: this is Hendrickson's first and last year as an Oriole.
Jim Johnson was great in the pen in 2008, posting a 2.23 ERA. He did, however, post too many innings to handle, and got hurt late in the year. He struggled early in the Spring, but his last outing was encouraging. Sarfate, a fireballing right hander, has a respectable 3.38 ERA so far and if he can stay within the zone, nobody can deny he is a dominant seventh inning man. Sherrill had 31 saves last year, but lost the job due to the dominance of Chris Ray. Sherrill hasn't done anything to convince me he's fit to keep the closer role, as he has a 4.91 ERA. Jamie Walker is a guy O's fans didn't enjoy last year, posting a miserable 6.87 ERA. He is a hardworking man, and has worked to improve, and has put up a 3.72 ERA in nine and two thirds innings. The best story of Spring Training, in my opinion, is Chris Ray. After a solid 2006, he struggled in '07 and missed '08 due to an injury. So far in Spring Training, here's all he's done. He's pitched 12 and one third innings and struck out ten. I'll list the runs he has allowed. OK. I'm done. He has fought his way back into the hearts of O's fans and has earned the closers role back.
My prediction for the season:
I think the O's will win anywhere from 73 to 78 games. The team is definitely improved. While the pitching rotation is appalling, I'd take the 2009 O's rotation over the 2008 O's rotation that included Adam Loewen, Steve Trachsel, Adam Loewen and whoever else felt like stepping on the mound that given day. I expect a 75 win, 87 loss season. Another losing season, but improvement, nonetheless.
Previewing the Orioles Options for the 2009 Draft:
When I look at this year's draft, I obviously first look at pitching, as the O's need it. I look at Aaron Crow, the right handed pitcher who was drafted by the Nats last year. He did get drafted by the Nats, but didn't sign. Obviously, signability is a concern. However, signability is a concern with every first round pick, and the O's signed Matt Wieters minutes before the deadline. The O's don't have a clear cut future shortstop, first baseman or third baseman, so Grant Green (SS, USC), Dustin Ackley (1B, UNC), Bobby Borchering (3B, Bishop Verot HS), David Nick (SS, Cypress HS) and Mychal Givens (P/SS, Plant HS) come to mind. I think Green and Ackley won't even fall to the Orioles, as they will be top three picks, but Crow would be the best option. The O's have shown they are committed to rebuilding, and that includes throwing a $6M signing bonus at Wieters, a $3.72M bonus at Matusz, an $11M extension for Markakis and a $10M extension for Roberts. The O's should have no problem locking up Crow. If the O's can get Green, Ackley, Perez, Borchering or Nick, I say - do it!
I hope my preview was helpful, and I'm looking forward to the 2009 season!
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