The Orioles have been deep in the tunnel of their rebuild for a few years now. The light at the end? Draft picks.
The reward for any team that loses as much as the Orioles have is the chance at a top choice in the following year’s draft. Typically, when a team loses at least 100 games as the O’s have, they are all but guaranteed to pick first, maybe second.
In the era of all-or-nothing teambuilding strategies, however, that hasn’t been the case. Last season saw a whopping four teams lose at least 103 games. The Orioles themselves lost 108 - a ridiculously high total - and they weren’t even within six games of the worst record in baseball.
The early prize in the 2021 MLB Draft is Kumar Rocker, the stud ace at the top of the Vanderbilt rotation who tossed a 19-strikeout no-hitter in the college playoffs as a freshman last season. He looks like a generational pitching talent, and to the 2020 “victor” will go the spoils.
Baltimore is set for another losing season in 2020, but will it be enough for the worst record in baseball? Or will another team finish with more losses to keep the Orioles from making a second top overall selection in three years?
Here are the other teams competing with the Orioles in the race to the bottom of the standings, ranked from least likely to pick first in the 2021 draft to most likely.
5. Seattle Mariners
Series vs. Orioles: July 6-8, July 20-22
The Mariners have some intriguing pieces in their lineup, including former top prospect J.P. Crawford and talented outfielders in Mitch Haniger and Kyle Lewis. Unfortunately for them, their pitching staff is a who’s who of people who make fans ask, “Who?”
Seattle lost 94 games last season and don’t appear to have improved at all. More importantly, they play in a very strong division, with Houston, Los Angeles and Oakland all clearly superior, and Texas likely better as well.
They will likely lose 90-plus games again in 2020. The question is if it will be enough to keep them within shouting distance of the Orioles.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
Series vs. Orioles: April 10-12
For a boring franchise, the Pirates do have a number of interesting players. Chris Archer has long looked far better than his ERA would indicate, and it wouldn’t register as a surprise to see him take a step forward in the National League.
Josh Bell looked like an MVP in the first half of 2019, though he regressed in a major way later in the year. The team also traded Starling Marte, months after trading Gerrit Cole, which isn’t the sign of a team interested in competing anytime soon.
The O’s will get an early look at Pittsburgh as the two face off in the fifth series of the year.
3. Kansas City Royals
Series vs. Orioles: April 17-19, April 27-30
Kansas City has been neck-and-neck with the Orioles in recent years, selecting second in the 2019 draft behind the O’s, and fourth in 2020. They find themselves on a similar timeline to Baltimore, though one could argue their Major League roster is a bit further along.
Like the Orioles, the hitters are interesting. Adalberto Mondesi is extremely toolsy, and Whit Merrifield is a flat out star. This prediction is based on the probability that Merrifield is eventually traded, despite the protestations of the Royals’ front office. Losing him would certainly boost their chances at the number one pick.
Like the Pirates, the Royals get their series with the Orioles out of the way early, playing six games in April and none the rest of the season.
2. Miami Marlins
Series vs. Orioles: None
The Marlins won’t face the Orioles this season, which is a shame for fans of tanking everywhere.
A mirror image of most tanking teams, the Marlins have a surprising number of exciting young pitchers. Caleb Smith was terrific at times in 2019, and plenty of others flashed as well.
There’s not as much in the lineup, though Jonathan Villar should fit in nicely with an athletic team looking to run, run, run.
The Marlins have long been near baseball’s cellar-dwellers, and their lack of talent and stacked divisional schedule should keep them there in 2020.
1. Detroit Tigers
Series vs. Orioles: June 26-28, August 11-13
Along with the O’s themselves, the Tigers are runaway leaders in the clubhouse for the 2021 draft. The Mariners, Pirates, Royals and Marlins will all struggle to win games, but the Tigers were in a tier of their own last season.
They did make a few interesting offseason moves, including adding former Oriole Jonathan Schoop. Even if Schoop and new pitchers Zack Godley and Ivan Nova make a positive impact, it’s reasonable to expect Detroit to jettison and veterans at the Trade Deadline.
It’s a frontloaded schedule for the Orioles in terms of matchups with their fellow cellar-dwellers, as their August series against Detroit is the only one scheduled for after the aforementioned Trade Deadline on July 31.
2020 will provide an interesting race for the number one pick in 2021, but for all the contenders involved, it would be a surprise to see anyone besides the Tigers and Orioles finish in last. In their own weird way, the two series between Detroit and Baltimore this season will be among the most interesting of the season.
May the best team Trust The Process.
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