The Orioles struggled through their twelfth consecutive losing season in 2009, finishing with a 64-98 record which, surprisingly, was four games worse than their record in 2008 (I say “surprisingly” as I had expected some minimal improvement from the O’s last season).
The upcoming season looks to be considerably better, as I expect the Orioles' rebuilding process will finally start bearing fruit after more than a decade. Just how much the club’s record improves will be directly dependent on how the starting rotation performs.
Whatever happens, youth is being served in Charm City as the organization has introduced a bevy of prospects who represent the club’s future: Michael Aubrey, Adam Jones, Brian Matusz, Nolan Reimold, Chris Tillman and Matt Wieters.
While Aubrey and Tillman will start the season in the minor leagues, it is likely that Jones, Matusz and Wieters could all develop into all-star performers during the next two or three years.
Key Additions: 1B Garrett Atkins, P Mike Gonzalez, P Kevin Millwood and 3B Miguel Tejada
Key Subtractions: P Rich Hill, C Chad Moeller, 3B Melvin Mora, P Chris Ray
Key Performer, 2009: Kevin Millwood
The Orioles' young starters struggled last year, so the front office decided they needed to bring in a veteran presence to plug into the top of the rotation. Enter Kevin Millwood.
I think they would have been better to stay with their youth movement. Millwood put together a nice season last year (13-10, 3.67), but it was easily his best campaign since 2005 and it is very difficult to envision him being part of the team’s future. His presence blocks the progress of someone like RHP Chris Tillman.
After Millwood, the O’s will trot out 30-year-old righty Jeremie Guthrie (10-17, 5.04) followed by 22-year-old LHP Matusz (5-2, 4.63 in eight starts), 23-year-old RHP Brad Bergeson (7-5, 3.43) and 24-year-old RHP David Hernandez (4-10, 5.42). Guthrie, Bergeson and Hernandez have all shown flashes of competency, but they have also struggled to get batters out.
Guthrie’s performance has worsened as his command has waned over the last couple of years. Bergeson posted a WHIP of 1.62 during the second half of last season… pitchers who allow base runners at that rate cannot win on a consistent basis in the major leagues. Hernandez walks too many batters and gives up too many fly balls (a 53% rate last year) to succeed with any consistency, especially in a place like Camden Yards.
If a couple of these guys can establish consistency the Orioles could become relevant… but they had better do so quickly if they want to retain big league jobs because the organization has Tillman, Zach Britton and Jake Arrieta, among others, who they will need to introduce to the major leagues over the next 18 months.
Baltimore’s bullpen is in transition. Closer George Sherrill, Chris Ray and Danys Baez are out. New closer Mike Gonzalez (5-4, 2.42, 10 S) is in, with RHPs Jim Johnson (4-6, 4.11) and Koji Uehara (2-4, 4.05) expected to assume more prominent roles as the setup men. Righties Kam Mickolio (0-2, 2.63) and Cla Meredith (0-0, 3.77) should become entrenched as the middle men.
This will not be a great bullpen, so for the team to succeed it will be imperative that the starters go late into games to prevent the relievers from becoming over-worked and over-exposed.
Once he is eventually recovered from his ailing back, 2B Brian Roberts (.283, 16 HR, 79 RBI, 30 SB) will take his normal spot batting lead-off. He will be followed a pair of young outfielders, 23-year-old Adam Jones (.277/19/70) and 25-year-old Nick Markakis (.293/18/101) - both of who have an OPS in the vicinity of .800.
Miguel Tejada returns to Baltimore as the team’s third baseman. The former shortstop hit .313, with 14 HR and 86 RBI last season in Houston last year. Catcher Matt Wieters (.288/9/43) begins his first season as the team’s starter and should provide Tejada with outstanding protection in the 5-hole. DH Luke Scott (.258/25/77) will likely bat sixth.
The bottom of the lineup will be headed by 1B Garrett Atkins (.226/9/48) who will look to turn around a four-year slide in his production. However he seems destined to struggle changing leagues (and moving to the AL East, to boot) and leaving the friendly confines of Coors Field. LF Nolan Reimold (.299/23/69) and SS Cesar Izturis (.256/2/30/12) will occupy the spots at the bottom of the lineup.
It seems likely that the O’s offense will score more than they did last season, when it ranked 11th in the league with 741 runs scored. It ’s very likely that Wieters and Reimold will be more productive in full-time roles over the course of a full season, and that Adam Jones will continue to progress towards expected stardom now that he has two full years of big league service under his belt. The addition of Tejada at third base should likewise lead to more run production.
The Orioles will be better in 2010. I said that last year, but I really mean it this year.
Millwood will almost-certainly struggle in the AL East, but he’ll be better than Rich Hill (7.80 ERA) or Jason Berken (6.54) and he’ll eat innings, if healthy. The other starters, most notably Guthrie and Hernandez, almost HAVE TO pitch better than they did a year ago. And the offense should be more productive, especially if Atkins can re-discover his old mojo.
By the end of the year, Tillman will be in the rotation, possibly joined by Arrieta. It will take a year or two for the trio of Matusz, Tillman and Arrieta to each develop consistency in The Show, but the O’s are moving in the right direction for the first time in a VERY long time.
SOX1Forecast: 72-90, 4th place.
Baltimore Orioles — Top Five Prospects
1. P Brian Matusz
2. 3B Josh Bell
3. P Jake Arrieta
4. P Zach Britton
5. 1B Brandon Snyder