It's been a long time since the Orioles have been competitive on a regular basis. It's been nearly as long since their farm system has produced winning squads.
And while the merits of a winning squad in the minor leagues doesn't seem to hold much value to some, there's no denying the impact that the Orioles' miraculous 2012 campaign had on the players on their 40-man roster.
The O's 2012 minor-league campaign was largely dominated by the presence of Dylan Bundy. His starts dominated social media and kept the organization in the limelight for most of the year. His promotion to the big leagues at age 19 was just the cherry on top.
This year, however, is a different ballgame. Bundy has yet to make an appearance due to forearm tightness that shut him down late in spring camp.
His absence has opened the door for others to make their presence known, and several players have emerged during the first month of the season, including a few that are unknown to passionate Orioles fans.
Let's take a look at who the O's top performers have been over the first three weeks of the season, while also examining those who haven't been up to par.
Bundy has yet to make an appearance for any of the Orioles' affiliated clubs in 2013.
He's currently at the club's extended spring training facility in Sarasota, doing strengthening exercises, although the hope is to get him on the mound for some light throwing soon.
Bundy experienced some tightness in his right forearm late in spring training, but the team has consistently maintained the belief that there is no serious damage to his arm.
According to the team's director of player development, Brian Graham, Bundy is pain-free but the O's see no need to rush the 20-year-old, who last season became the first teenager to debut for the Orioles in 45 years.
It's too bad a shin contusion put Caleb Joseph on the shelf for an indefinite amount of time.
The 26-year-old was enjoying the finest start of his professional career before a collision at first base caused an untimely exit from the Baysox's April 16th tilt.
In 49 at-bats, Joseph had racked up 16 hits, nine of which went for extra bases. At the time of the injury, he was leading the Eastern League with 16 RBI. And with a .327/.358/.592 line he was finally proving he might be ready for a promotion out of Bowie, where he has spent chunks of the past three seasons.
Joseph went 6-for-11 in his final three appearances, with two doubles, a home run and six RBI.
Once envisioned as the future backup for Matt Wieters at the big-league level, Joseph has bumped around and now calls first base home.
Unfortunately, injuries have always been a problem for the former seventh-round pick (2008). He's failed to appear in more than 107 games in any of his five professional seasons.
Very few people saw right-hander Josh Hader as a top prospect in the 2012 MLB draft. The Orioles used a 19th-round pick on him, selecting him out of Old Mill Senior High in Millersville, Md., in the hopes that he would prove to be another "organization guy."
Of course they'll never tell anyone that.
Just months after signing with Baltimore, Hader experienced an increase in velocity and set about a scorched-earth campaign in both the Gulf Coast League and the New York-Penn League. In 17 appearances, spanning 28.2 innings, Hader racked up 48 strikeouts, compared to just nine walks, and held batters to a .146 average.
That was enough to convince the O's to try him out in a starting role and promote him aggressively to Low-A Delmarva to start the 2013 season.
Two starts in, he's looking just as comfortable.
In his debut, he tossed six innings of one-hit ball, allowing an unearned run, while striking out six and issuing just one walk. In his second start, he allowed just three hits and one earned run in five innings.
Through two starts, batters are hitting .111 off of the 19-year-old, while lefties are 0-for-7 with three strikeouts.
Already 27 years old, Russ Canzler doesn't get a lot of love. Less than a month into his ninth professional season with his fourth organization, Canzler is doing what he does best. Rake. Through Norfolk's first 14 games, he's hitting .346/.407/.635 with eight extra-base hits and 13 RBI. He's racked up multiple hits in four of the team's last six contests.
Over the past three years, Canzler has averaged 20 homers and 76 RBI to go along with a .289 average. In that same period, however, he's received only 96 at-bats at the big-league level, most of which came with the Indians last year.
Should the O's need to recall a bat from Triple-A, Canzler figures to be one of the first to make the trip to Baltimore.
While L.J. Hoes showed flashes of brilliance last year for Norfolk, he's shown little in 2013. Through 11 games he's hitting a meager .209. He's currently mired in a 1-for-12 slump. Fortunately, the 23-year-old has continued to impress with plate discipline often described as "beyond his years," drawing more walks (six) than strikeouts (five).
Hoes hit .300/.374/.397 in 82 games at Triple-A last year and he's widely regarded as the most disciplined hitter in the organization, so it shouldn't be too long before he snaps out of his funk.
Another top prospect, Jonathan Schoop, has also fallen on hard times. Granted, an aggressive promotion of a 21-year-old to Triple-A often breeds poor results, but Schoop's .149/.231/.234 line is discouraging nonetheless, especially after he performed so well in spring training and at the World Baseball Classic.
Time is most definitely on Schoop's side, however, and his track record in four pro seasons foretells him breaking out of his slump.
One has to give credit where credit is due, and right-hander Devin Jones certainly deserves his fair share. The 22-year-old has risen through the ranks since being selected in the ninth round of the 2011 draft. It's really only been since his conversion to starting that he's truly bloomed. He went 7-1 with a 2.80 ERA in nine starts for High-A Frederick in 2012, and after one solid start (6 IP, 1 ER, 3 K) for the Keys this year he got a bump to Double-A Bowie, where he's looked sharp in two outings.
His debut with the Baysox went as well as could be expected, with Jones giving up four hits and two runs in six innings. While he struggled in his second outing (5 IP, 6 H, 3 ER) he's established himself as one of the organization's most reliable starting pitchers. On the season, Jones is 1-0 with a 3.12 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 17.1 innings.
Outfielder Xavier Avery has looked sharp in 14 games, hitting .333 with six doubles and 15 runs, although some of the enthusiasm he's generating has to be tempered by 18 strikeouts in 60 at-bats. Avery got the short end of the stick and ended up at Double-A Bowie due to the glut of outfielders with big-league experience at Triple-A Norfolk.
The Baysox entered the year confident about their rotation, which was scheduled to include uber-prospects Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, as well as seasoned vets Mike Wright and Eddie Gamboa, and up-and-coming youngster Jacob Pettit.
Three weeks in, that plan isn't looking so great. Bundy has been shelved with forearm tightness, while Gausman has been hot (18:0 K:BB in 16 IP) and cold (20 H, 10 ER in 16 IP) and Wright (7.30 ERA) and Pettit (5.51 ERA) have struggled out of the gate.
The Sox bullpen hasn't done them any favors either, with David Walters (8.53 ERA), Zech Zinicola (9.00), and Clay Schrader (9.82) all experiencing a lot of adversity.
Nick Delmonico was putting together an incredible campaign for Low-A Delmarva last year when he suffered a knee injury that limited him to just 95 games. Still, finishing the year with 22 doubles, 11 homers and 54 RBI, to go along with a 47:73 BB:K, is quite an impressive feat for a 19-year-old in his first professional season.
This year, Delmonico has been even better against better competition, hitting .333/.467/.611 in 10 games for Frederick. He's got four doubles, two homers and nine RBI and has once again shown incredible plate discipline, drawing more walks (nine) than strikeouts (eight). And he's been an absolute beast with runners in scoring position, hitting .455 with eight RBI.
Delmonico's production is all the more impressive when you consider that he's one of three lineup regular's hitting above .241.
Left-hander Tim Berry has been sneaking up on people for a couple of years now, but this might be the year that he explodes. Through three starts, Berry has racked up 21 strikeouts in 17 innings, ranking him second in the Carolina League. In his most recent start, which was arguably his most inconsistent, he struck out 11 batters in six innings in a losing effort.
In his two previous starts, the former 50th-round pick (2009) allowed just two runs in 11 innings while getting 10 punchouts.
Berry checked in at No. 12 on MLB.com's list of the O's top 20 prospects before the year.
The transition of Brian Matusz from historically-bad starting pitcher to top-notch reliever has opened the eyes of several O's prospects and given hope to many who thought they were destined to be forever stuck in what baseball people call the "AAAA" zone. Former seventh-rounder (2011) Trent Howard is getting the jump on the process before that becomes his fate, making the move to the bullpen this year and like Matusz, the results have been brilliant.
In three appearances, spanning six innings, Howard has yet to allow a run and has surrendered only three hits. He's got nine strikeouts and has issued just two walks. It's still early, but Howard has the look of a loogy (lefty one-out guy) who could help the O's as early as this year.
It's not often that one sees a experienced Vanderbilt product struggle so mightily in the big leagues, especially one who was as prolific as Jason Esposito was for the Commodores. Still, since signing as the team's second-round pick back in 2011, Esposito has underwhelmed dramatically. Coming off a season in which he hit .209/.260/.277 in 123 games, the 22-year-old is back at it, hitting a paltry .194 with 10 strikeouts in 36 at-bats.
And that speed that allowed him to steal 66 bases in three seasons for Vandy has been nowhere to be found, resulting in just eight steals, including none this year, in 132 games for the organization.
Few pitchers in the organization are thought of as highly as 22-year-old Jesse Beal, so much in fact that he was the one tabbed to make a impromptu start late in spring training for the Orioles. That game went badly for Beal. Unfortunately, the season so far has gone worse.
In four appearances, all in relief, Beal has been shelled. All of the damage has come in the last two outings, which have included 11 hits, three walks and nine earned runs in 4.1 innings.
Beal, a former 14th-round pick (2008), made the full-time conversion to relieving last year and while he looked good at times he did give up a fair share of hits (71 in 59.1 IP).
These days, the Shorebirds' offense runs through Joel Hutter. A 10th-round pick in last year's draft, Hutter has carried over the momentum he built playing for short-season Aberdeen in 2012, and has emerged as Delmarva's top hitter.
Through 14 games, Hutter has 20 hits in 55 at-bats (.364), and has nine RBI. Before an 0-for-3 performance Wednesday night, he had hits in 11 of his last 18 at-bats. With runners on base, Hutter is hitting an even .500.
Drafted out of Dallas Baptist, Hutter hit .338 with 11 homers and 72 RBI during his senior season, in which he helped lead the Patriots to their second consecutive NCAA regional appearance.
The Shorebirds' other shortstop, Adrian Marin, has also been a force for the team, hitting .344/.389/.469 with two doubles, a triple and two stolen bases.
Marin was a highly touted prospect in the 2012 draft, and the O's were able to sway him from accepting a scholarship to Miami. They had to shell out close to $500,000 to sign him, but he's a potential five-tool player who should be able to stick at shortstop.
Right-hander Parker Bridwell has been consistently inconsistent the past two years for Baltimore, producing ERAs of 5.26 and 5.98, although he appears to be rounding into form in his third go-around with Delmarva.
Through three starts, Bridwell has a 14:5 K:BB ratio and a 2.30 ERA in 15.2 innings. He's gone at least five innings in each of his three starts and has yet to allow more than two earned runs in any of his outings.
Like Marin, Bridwell came with a high price tag ($625,000), one that enticed him to give up football and a scholarship to Texas Tech.
Tabbed as a guy to keep an eye on before the season, Gregory Lorenzo hasn't shown much in 13 games with the Shorebirds, hitting .157 with 18 strikeouts in 51 at-bats.
Lorenzo opened some eyes last season, hitting a combined .323 at three levels, including .333 in 19 games with Delmarva. The performance prompted some to opine that he could be the first impact player out of the Orioles scouting efforts in the Dominican Republic.
It's still too soon to tell, but the early results in full-season ball are not encouraging.