2020 Record: 25-35
Fourth Place, AL East
Team ERA: 4.51 (16th in MLB)
Team OPS: .750 (14th in MLB)
What Went Right
The record might not show it, but there were a bunch of bright spots here. The Orioles were actually a fringe contender for a while. Anthony Santander was a big part of that, exploding for 11 homers in 37 games before going down with an oblique injury. Ryan Mountcastle impressed in his first taste of MLB action while Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, and DJ Stewart showed some flashes as potential building blocks. Renato Nunez continued to supply plenty of power and Pat Valaika was useful in a utility infield role. While Jose Iglesias didn’t have enough at-bats to qualify among the league leaders, the veteran infielder hit .373 over 39 games. As for the pitching side, Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer look like potential keepers for the rotation and the same goes for Tanner Scott, Hunter Harvey, and Dillon Tate out of the bullpen. John Means finished strong after a trying first month of the season. Mychal Givens, Richard Bleier, and Miguel Castro pitched well in the late innings en route to becoming useful trade chips at the deadline.
What Went Wrong
The Orioles’ best player, Trey Mancini, missed the entire season while undergoing treatment for stage 3 colon cancer. He finished his final chemotherapy treatment last month and hopes to resume his playing career in 2021. While it was hardly shocking, the Orioles’ rotation ranked 23rd in the majors with a 5.09 ERA. That actually represents an improvement from 2019 (5.57 ERA), but they still have a ways to go here. It’s not like a rebound for Chris Davis was expected, but a knee injury limited him to 16 games this season and he hit just .115 (6-for-52) with 17 strikeouts. The Orioles are still on the hook for $69 million over the next three seasons. As mentioned above, there were some bright spots this year. The club actually found themselves in second place after starting the year at 12-8, but they lost six straight from there and didn’t find their way back to the .500 mark. Things didn’t end well here, but at least there’s some optimism in Baltimore for the first time in a couple of years.
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**Anthony Santander popped 20 homers in his first chance at extended playing time in the majors in 2019, but he took things to another level this year. While his season came to an early and unfortunate end due to an oblique injury, the 25-year-old amassed 11 homers and 32 RBI in 37 games to go along with a .261/.315/.575 batting line. While his batting average was unchanged from 2019, he did a nice job cutting down on his strikeouts while lofting the ball more often. He also saw a healthy uptick in his barrel percentage. Santander is just 2-for-5 in stolen base attempts through 176 major league games, so there’s a ceiling here, but he’s certainly earned his place on mixed league rosters.
**Ryan Mountcastle didn’t make his major league debut until August 21, but he was worth the wait for Orioles fans and fantasy players, putting up a .333/.386/.492 batting line with five homers and 23 RBI over 35 games. There were questions about how his approach would translate to the majors, but his strikeout rate wasn’t extreme and he drew his fair share of walks. He also utilized an all-fields approach while finding a home in the middle of the Orioles’ batting order. It’s unclear if Mountcastle will be used as a first baseman or left fielder moving forward, but look for him to become a mixed league staple regardless.
**Renato Nunez has hit more homers over the past two seasons (43) than the likes of Michael Conforto, Nick Castellanos, Paul Goldschmidt, Rhys Hoskins, and Anthony Rizzo. Just something to think about moving into 2021. Nunez certainly has his flaws, which will keep him in late-round consideration in mixed fantasy leagues, but he hits the ball in the air a ton and gets to play half of his games at hitter-friendly Camden Yards. While he didn’t rate highly in terms of average exit velocity or hard-hit percentage this season, he was in the 80th percentile in barrel percentage.
**A lot of the focus with the Orioles is understandably about what’s next in the pipeline. Adley Rutschman is at the top of the list. He only played 37 games in the minors after being drafted No. 1 overall in 2019, but the Orioles had him at their alternate site in Bowie, Maryland this summer and he’s a part of the team’s instructional league this month. Teams are doing what they can to approximate player development. Don’t look for Rutschman to break camp with the big club next spring, but there’s a very good chance he’s up at some point. The top catching prospect in the game, Rutschman has the ability to hit for average and power from both sides of the plate. Catchers often take some time to put it all together at the major league level, but get ready in mixed leagues.
**Coming into the year, Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer were viewed as potential backend starters for the Orioles and we saw enough down the stretch to suggest that is possible. Akin, 25, posted a 4.56 ERA with 35 strikeouts and 10 walks over 25 2/3 innings (six starts, two relief appearances) during his first taste of the majors this season while Kremer had a 4.82 ERA and 22/12 K/BB ratio in 18 2/3 innings over his first four starts. Kremer actually allowed one run in each of his last three starts before a clunker in his season finale, but it was a successful debut on the whole. Akin doesn’t throw as hard as Kremer, but he actually had the edge in swinging strike percentage, most of that coming with his changeup. Still, given the situation they find themselves in, they are mostly wait and see options in fantasy leagues. In terms of upside, the pitching prospects to watch in this organization are 2018 first-rounder Grayson Rodriguez and 2017 first-rounder DL Hall. Like Rutchsman, they were at the team’s alternate site this summer and will participate in this month’s instructional league. They might not be too far off.
Team Needs: Continued progress with their young players, mostly. The rotation could use a reliable veteran arm and the bullpen needs some retooling after trading late-inning arms like Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro at the deadline this year.