The wait is over.
After a long, tough winter for Baltimore Orioles fans, the offseason has come to an end and spring training has officially opened up.
The Orioles have failed to make any significant moves so far this offseason and appear to be a worse team on paper than they were at the end of 2013. But that doesn't mean that there's zero chance for improvement from the club.
Thanks to one of the strongest cores in baseball and some key prospects, hope remains in Birdland. However, some "if's" still hover around.
Some of those prospects may be ready to help as early as the 2014 season. Some will be called upon in future seasons.
Whenever they arrive to the bigs, these guys are the top prospects in the O's system going into spring training.
Left-hander Tim Berry isn't a flashy pitcher. He allows hits and doesn't strike out a ton of guys.
But what makes him a bit of a promising arm is his ability to locate his pitches. The lefty has a fastball, curveball and changeup he can throw for strikes with no problem.
His career minor league ERA of 4.46 isn't a number to get excited about, but he did go 11-7 with an ERA of 3.85 in 27 starts over 152 innings pitched last year Single-A Frederick. He allowed 156 hits, struck out 119 and walked just 40 batters.
Berry will be just 23 in the middle of March, so even though he's about to enter his fifth professional season, he's still young with room to improve. And based on the last few seasons, he's only been improving, be it little by little.
Berry could become a solid back-of-the-rotation starter in the next couple of years or possibly a good lefty bullpen arm for middle relief. Either way, he projects to have value, and in the not-too-distant future.
Like Berry, Michael Ohlman is a young player who has been steadily improving throughout his minor league career.
The catcher spent 2013 in Frederick and compiled an impressive stat line over 361 at-bats while there: a .313 batting average, .410 slugging percentage, 13 homers, 53 RBI and even five stolen bases in 100 games.
At just 23 years old, Ohlman struggled with the bat during his first three pro seasons but has really gotten it going the last two. In 2012, he hit a combined .300 with an OBP of .400 for the Gulf Coast Rookie Orioles and Single-A Delmarva, but he had just three homers—though his 31 RBI over 200 at-bats is a nice number.
Obviously, as Ohlman has learned to be a more productive hitter the last two seasons, he's also learned how to hit for better power.
Ohlman is a big guy and projects as an all-around average defensive backstop who has good game-calling skills. He'll likely eventually put up a solid batting average and 15-20 home runs at the big league level.
Chance Sisco is an exciting young player for the O's.
Drafted out of high school in the second round of the 2013 draft, the catcher was able to get some at-bats in before the end of the season. Playing for the Gulf Coast Rookie Orioles, Sisco had 97 at-bats, hitting a massive .371 with a .468 OBP, one homer and 11 RBI. He also snagged five at-bats at Low-A Aberdeen, slapping one single.
The 18-year-old Sisco does have some work to do behind the plate as he's only been a full-time catcher for a short period of time, but he could be moved to a corner infield or outfield position if his bat were to progress much more quickly than his glove. He's an athletic guy who could likely make the change smoothly.
Because good left-handed hitting catchers are hard to find, Sisco's value is through the roof as long as he keeps hitting the way he does. Orioles fans would be wise to keep an eye on this young player.
As the 22nd overall pick in the 2013 draft and first pick for the Orioles, the team has high hopes for Hunter Harvey, a right-handed pitcher drafted out of high school.
The 19-year-old righty had an impressive first showing in the minors at the end of the 2013 season, pitching for the Gulf Coast Rookie Orioles and Low-A Aberdeen. He went a combined 0-1 with an ERA of 1.78 over 25.1 innings, walking only six batters and striking out 33 guys while facing 100 batters.
Striking out a third of the batters one faces is impressive at any level.
His fastball sits around 88-93 mph, but Harvey could end up hitting the mid-to-upper 90s range on a more consistent basis as he gets bigger and his mechanics smooth out. He has a good curveball that needs some work and a below-average changeup.
Harvey has a bright future ahead of him, as he projects to be a No. 2 or 3 starter at the big league level. But as there are a few good arms further along in the O's minor league system, the team would be better served taking their time with him as to not mess with his development.
Right-hander Mike Wright, 24, has been progressing through the O's system nicely.
Over three full minor league seasons, Wright has improved during each one. In 2011, the righty had an ERA of 5.72 in three stops; in 2012, he improved greatly over two stops to a 4.06 ERA; and 2013 was his best season yet as he went 11-3 and pitched to a 3.26 ERA in Double-A Bowie, then tacked on 6.2 scoreless innings at Triple-A Norfolk.
In 150.1 total innings in 2013, Wright walked just 39 batters (none during his one Triple-A start) and struck out 138 guys. He did allow 158 hits but managed to keep guys from scoring on a consistent basis.
Wright is looking more and more like he'll find success at the major league level, and he could arrive in Baltimore in the not-too-distant future. The O's surely would benefit from a pitcher as solid as Wright, assuming he can translate that success to the biggest stage in baseball.
Orioles fans got to see a small sample of Cuban outfield prospect Henry Urrutia last summer, and while he didn't dominate in his brief big league debut, he displayed an ability to hit major league pitching the other way and showed some promise with his bat.
Urrutia could use some work with his glove, but he has absolutely raked in the minors during his career. He hit .365 in 200 at-bats at Double-A Bowie in 2013 with seven home runs and 37 RBI, and stroked a .316 number at Triple-A Norfolk in 114 at-bats later in the year. Of his 109 total hits last year, 31 of them were of the extra-base variety, and his .406 OBP in the minors is fantastic.
And that doesn't even include the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .377 with three bombs and 15 RBI in 18 games, and went 2-for-3 with the bases loaded with one grand slam.
Yeah, Urrutia is an impressive hitting specimen, but can he translate that success to the major league level? The O's are likely to find out this year, as Urrutia could be used as the left-handed side of a DH platoon due to the team's inability to acquire any impact bats this winter.
Lefty Eduardo Rodriguez has really come into his own as a prospect for the Birds. The young pitcher has the potential and ability to be mentioned in the same sentence as fellow O's pitching prospects Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, yet isn't too well known among those who aren't Baltimore fans.
That's all right, though; those fans will know of Rodriguez soon enough. Just 20 years old (21 in early April), Rodriguez already has four years of minor league experience under his belt, pitching to a career 3.14 ERA in the minors. That's impressive, especially for a pitcher his age.
Rodriguez struggled some in the Arizona Fall League, making five starts and notching a 5.52 ERA in 14.2 innings. The O's would be wise to start him at Double-A Bowie this year, where he went 4-3 with a 4.22 ERA in 59.2 innings in 2013, then promote him to Triple-A later in the season as long as he's enjoying success at Bowie.
O's fans should be excited for this young prospect; he could become something special for the team.
The O's need a second baseman for the long haul. Jonathan Schoop could be that guy.
A young second base prospect, Schoop got a taste of the majors during the last week of the 2013 season—belting a home run in his first major league game—and managed four hits in 14 at-bats.
Schoop has had his ups and downs and struggled through some injuries during his career, but he's also looked impressive in the minors and is just 22 years old.
The Orioles are hoping that Schoop can solidify their second base hole sometime this season, but it's not likely to come out of spring training. Schoop could use some more minor league seasoning, and since the O's have a surplus of second base options (Ryan Flaherty, Alexi Casilla, Jemile Weeks) they have the ability to keep Schoop in the minors and not rush him into a big league role until he's ready for it.
Schoop will be fun to see this summer.
Everyone knows about Dylan Bundy's potential. The former fourth overall draft pick turned just 21 last November, and though he underwent Tommy John surgery last June, he still projects as a front-line starting pitcher.
Bundy split 2012 between three different levels: Single-A Delmarva, High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, moving quickly for a pitcher out of high school.
Over those three levels, Bundy went 9-3 with a minuscule 2.08 ERA in 23 starts covering 103.2 innings. The righty walked just 28 batters while tallying 119 Ks.
Unfortunately, Bundy will likely miss most of the 2014 season due to his recovery from surgery, but he may be able to get into some game action at the end of the year. O's fans eagerly await his return to baseball and look forward to the day when he fronts their home team's rotation.
Kevin Gausman is given the edge over Dylan Bundy on this list simply due to Bundy's recent health, and, therefore, Gausman's ability to sooner help the parent club.
Gausman had a bit of a rough go during his first bit of big league action and was demoted to Triple-A Norfolk after a few starts. He returned to the O's later in the season and provided a steady, solid presence in the bullpen with his flamethrower of a right arm.
Overall, Gausman pitched to a 5.66 ERA in 47.2 big league innings and a 3.52 ERA in 82 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2013. While he'll compete for a spot in the O's rotation this spring, I would be surprised to see him begin the year in the majors, as I believe some more time at Triple-A would do him some good.
However, the fact that the O's have yet to acquire a capable MLB starting pitcher during the offseason may force the team's hand.
O's fans know Gausman is a promising talent, and Jim Callis of MLB.com and MLBPipeline.com reinforced that thought process in a recent interview with MASN Sports' Steve Melewski, comparing Gausman to fellow 2012 first-round draft choice Michael Wacha of the St. Louis Cardinals.
That comparison is sure to get Birds fans excited about Gausman's future.