5 Reasons to Be Optimistic for Baltimore O's 2014 Season
Opening Day is officially here, and us baseball junkies couldn't be more excited.
A new season brings with it incredible excitement, much like one would feel as a kid on Christmas morning, as well as a fresh sense of hope for the success of one's favorite team.
For Baltimore Orioles fans, it's playoffs or bust, as the team added some premier free-agent talent late in the offseason to complement one of the strongest cores in baseball.
Add to that fact that two big names, catcher Matt Wieters and first baseman Chris Davis, have just two years left on their current contracts, and the pressure to win now is evident.
The 2014 MLB season looks to be a fun one for O's fans. There's plenty in store, from the development of young players to the dominance of proven veterans, and of course, lots and lots of offense.
For a second straight season, the O's are entering the year having been a winning team the previous year. That in itself breeds optimism in a dedicated and passionate fanbase.
But there are other reasons for Birdland to be stoked about the upcoming baseball season. And I'm about to highlight those reasons.
Adam Jones and Chris Davis
First and foremost, the O's possess one of the best three-four combos in all of baseball.
Center fielder Adam Jones and first baseman Chris Davis are two stud hitters, and neither one is a shabby defender, either.
Jones has only progressed as a hitter since coming to Baltimore prior to the 2008 season, producing back-to-back 30-plus-home run campaigns, and has since become one of the top players in baseball. On the other side of the batter's box, Davis broke out huge last season to the tune of a league-leading 53 home runs and 138 RBI.
With these two guys sitting in the middle of the O's offense, the team is all but guaranteed to smack tons of homers and score plenty of runs.
It took some time for the O's to make some noise last winter, but when they did, they made sure to make it loud.
The team made two lesser moves early on in the offseason—signing reliever Ryan Webb and trading utility infielder Danny Valencia to the Kansas City Royals for outfielder David Lough. While I believe those two acquisitions will prove to be very smart and valuable moves for the club, neither one of them were exactly the type of move much of the fanbase wanted to see.
Then came the month of February, and with that month came the signings of Korean pitcher Suk-Min Yoon, starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and outfielder/DH Nelson Cruz.
Those three moves, all made within one week, helped solidify the team's quality pitching depth and added a legitimate bat to protect Jones and Davis in the team's already strong lineup. On paper, the O's went from long-shot postseason competitors to very serious postseason competitors.
Funny what a few strategic additions can do to a team.
Growth of Young Players
The O's have some young players who could prove to be significant contributors this season.
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop played his butt off in spring training and won an Opening Day roster spot, providing even more excitement for the O's fanbase and potentially a bolt of energy much like Manny Machado's presence did upon his call-up in August 2012.
Speaking of Machado, he'll miss the beginning of the season as he recovers from offseason surgery, but he isn't expected to miss too much time, and every O's fan is looking forward to watching him stroke doubles and grab everything in sight down at third base once again.
Kevin Gausman had a very strong spring, pitching to a 2.45 ERA over 11 innings, allowing seven hits, walking four and striking out 13. The right-hander will begin the season in Triple-A Norfolk's rotation and figures to be called up to Baltimore not too far into the season.
And outfielder/DH Henry Urrutia hit fairly solidly this spring, putting up a .262 average with five doubles in 42 at-bats. But what was impressive was his time spent in the Arizona Fall League, where he put up a triple slash line of .373/.418/.549, helping to lead his team to a championship out there.
The O's have some young players who are certain to make a difference this year.
Depth of the Team
While the O's possess a star-studded roster, the team is also fairly deep in quality players. There are guys on the roster who can be major contributors without being stars, something that every team looking to win needs.
Guys like shortstop J.J. Hardy, utility infielder Ryan Flaherty and outfielders Nick Markakis and David Lough are all talented enough to make significant contributions to the team this season.
In fact, the O's are going to need those guys to perform well in order for the team to succeed, and there's no reason to believe they won't.
On top of that, the O's lineup is extremely deep. Nos. 1-9, every hitter in the lineup can hurt the opposing team in some way, most of them with the long ball. The O's easily have one of the deepest lineups in all of baseball, a fact that will certainly cause much havoc for their opponents throughout the year.
Their Commitment to Winning
During their time in Baltimore, manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette have displayed a commitment to putting a competitive team on the field for the fans of the O's.
Upon Showalter's arrival in August 2010, one could immediately see the change in the team, as they put up one heck of a fight over that season's final two months. Showalter changed the culture on and off the field for a Baltimore team that had struggled to win games and stay motivated for so many years.
While it's true that much of the team that has posted two consecutive winning seasons is thanks to former GM Andy MacPhail, ever since Duquette joined the Orioles organization, fans have had a chance to witness the building of strong depth, an expansion into the international market and, at times, some shrewd moves.
Last season, Duquette made three acquisitions prior to the trade deadline in order to strengthen the team's pitching, and this offseason he wisely waited and let the market play out before swooping in and grabbing three more prominent names on the free-agent market.
These two men obviously want very much so for the Baltimore Orioles to be a winning team year in and year out and are willing to do what it takes for the team to remain in that position. They have the brains and the resources to do so. Now, as O's fans, the best thing to do is to trust them.
After all, they've gotten the team this far, haven't they?