Pitchers and catchers have already reported to camp to begin their spring training, and before you know it major leaguers will be lacing up their cleats for another exciting season.
After last year's upsetting, yet invigorating, finish, the Baltimore Orioles should have high spirits and be very optimistic for the start of the 2013 season.
Although the Blue Jays reinvented their lineup and solidified their starting rotation this offseason, the Birds still have a great opportunity to be one of the better teams in the league.
But winning the AL East is another story.
As the Orioles continue to put together their Opening Day roster, they have some very intriguing prospects preparing themselves for possible major league action this season to help the team toward its playoff goals.
Everyone is aware of the hype that Dylan Bundy created after he debuted with the Birds last season, but there are some other future major leaguers who have been excelling in the minors and are almost ready for the big leagues. Check out my top five Orioles prospects who could see the majors before the September call-ups.
Of course, we have to start with right-handed pitching phenom Dylan Bundy, whom everyone is still talking about after his debut vs. Boston this past September.
"Based on what he did last year, it is certainly reasonable that he will be in the big leagues at some point this season," Baseball America's Jim Callis told MASNSports.com (h/t Baseball Nation). "For all the Orioles did last year, I don't think they have five locks for the rotation."
Baseball America ranked Bundy as the No. 1 pitching prospect in the minors and the second overall prospect in America.
Bundy will likely return to the minors to start the 2013 season at Double-A with the Bowie Baysox, where he left off in 2012. At the minor league level in 2012, before being called up, he went 9-3 with an impressive 2.08 ERA.
The fourth overall pick from the most recent MLB draft will be one of the future stars of the Orioles' young starting rotation. He just needs some time to develop.
Buck Showalter and the organization brought him up this September to get his feet wet and see how he would handle it. By no means will he be on the Opening Day roster (barring injuries to the expected starters, anyhow), but I think he will officially get the call to the majors come the middle of the season, depending how he fares to start 2013.
This entire offseason, I've been talking about the Orioles' questionable starting rotation, and many diehard fans are probably hoping he will make the Opening Day roster. However, most likely the front office and Showalter will start him at either Double-A or Triple-A, and he will work his way up to the majors from there.
There's no doubt that he will make it to the majors at some point next season; the question is not if but when.
The second overall prospect who will debut for the Birds at some point next season is Kevin Gausman, who was the fourth overall pick of the 2012 MLB draft by the Orioles.
Prior to the 2012 draft, the 22-year-old right-hander was drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he chose to attend LSU instead. He was an All-American in his final season with the Tigers.
With the Low-A Aberdeen Iron Birds he started two games, surrendering just one base hit and no earned runs over six innings, with five strikeouts.
However, with his second team in the organization, the Frederick Keys (High A), he struggled a bit. In three starts, the 6'4" Colorado native gave up 10 hits and six earned runs over nine innings while striking out eight.
Although he did not enjoy the type of success he did with his first team, that's a small sample size, and there's no doubt that he will have an impact at the major league level. He just needs more time to learn how to control his pitches and more experience.
Baseball America ranked him the 26th overall prospect in America, and Scouting Book called him "a solid pitcher with a big fastball and promising (though inconsistent) breaking stuff who could develop quickly."
Of course, Bundy will be the first of the two to make it to the majors, but Bundy has a bit more experience in the minor leagues. There's no way to tell where Gausman will begin this season, but there is a good chance we will see the young right-hander in an Orioles uniform at some point before September.
The third Orioles prospect who could possibly reach the major leagues at some point this year before September call-ups is 21-year-old Curacao native Jonathan Schoop.
Last season he spent the entire year with the Double-A Bowie Baysox, and although he did not hit for a high average (.245), he continues to develop more power at the dish and is getting more comfortable in the organization.
Said Scouting Book about Schoop:
A high-contact hitter with developing power, Schoop is still adding bulk, which should help some of the 24 doubles he hit in 2011 turn into future homers. As it is, he still looks near ready for the bigs, with only another year or so of eyeball-training remaining.
Schoop compiled 119 base hits, including 24 doubles and 14 home runs, in 124 games in 2012. He is a second baseman by trade, but he can also play second base or third base. The Orioles have three options at second base right now (Brian Roberts, Alexi Casilla and Ryan Flaherty), but I think he might see some time on the other side of the diamond.
Of course, Hardy and Machado will be the everyday shortstop and third baseman, respectively, but depending on how he begins his season in Double-A, I think he could make his major league debut at some point before September.
Scouting Book says he will need another year under his belt in the minors, but there is always a possibility that the Orioles will need someone to fill in on the left side of the infield.
Who knows how well Roberts will do in his return since he hasn't played a full season since 2009, and although they went out and got the utility infielder Casilla, he might have to be the everyday second baseman.
It seems as if Schoop is the next Orioles infield prospect who will make it to the majors, and I think this season when he will make his debut.
The fourth Orioles prospect who has a chance at making his debut in time is the soon-to-be-20-year-old Venezuelan LHP Eduardo Rodriguez.
However, the scouting report on this young southpaw is very promising. Said Scouting Book:
Rodriguez isn't a strikeout artist, at least not yet, but his excellent control and quality slider do seem to inspire poor contact from hitters, giving him excellent ground ball ability. His fastball, which can touch 95mph, is good enough thanks to its natural movement, but his changeup isn't special yet.
In his first full season with a minor league team with the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds, he posted a 5-7 record with a 3.70 ERA in 2012. In 107 innings pitched, he surrendered just 103 hits, including 56 earned runs and 73 strikeouts.
The Venezuelan-born lefty is young and needs more experience, but after getting his feet wet with Bowie this year, there is a shot for him to make his debut in the bullpen by the end of the season.
He is the third and final pitching prospect on this list, and I added more pitchers than positions players because that's what I think the Orioles need as of right now. They are building a young rotation, and I think Showalter will be curious to see what this young southpaw can do, either as a spot starter or a lefty out of the pen.
There is no doubt he has the talent and drive to be a major league pitcher; the only question will be how well he will do with the Double-A team to start the year. I think there is a good possibility we will see him before September.
At some point, L.J. Hoes will be a major impact player for the Orioles as an outfielder. However, he could have a tough go at it over the next couple of seasons.
Showalter summed things up to MASNSports.com: "We think L.J. at some point has a chance to impact us and help us. It's more than just letting him get his feet on the ground and taking a look at him in this environment."
That said, Showalter isn't asking Hoes to be the key piece that gets the Orioles into the playoffs.
"I'm not going through it with rose-colored glasses," Showalter said. "Every player we have and every manager, every coach, has faults and strengths. He deserved to come up here in the capacity that we needed."
No question Adam Jones and Nick Markakis have their positions set for next year, and Nate McLouth was one of the key components in the Orioles' excellent September. So next year may be a more likely possibility, as they won't likely call him up unless he can get playing time.
Hoes will almost certainly be called up for extended playing time at some point before September of 2014, but when is the question. For this year it depends on how well McLouth and Nolan Reimold do in left field and how healthy the outfield stays overall. Over the last couple of seasons, Reimold has been in and out of the lineup due to numerous injuries.
In the minor leagues between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk in 2012, Hoes batted .287 with five home runs and 20 stolen bases, with a .759 OPS. There’s no doubt he can cause havoc on the bases and is a great defender.
Although I do not see the 22-year-old making the roster out of the spring, Hoes will likely be part of the 2013 Orioles in some capacity. He will probably spend at least half of the season in the minors and get the call in July or August, unless he is needed beforehand due to an injury.
Last season the 22-year-old made it into two games in the outfield and as a DH and made one plate appearance.
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