The Orioles, even with a significant level of excitement building for the 2020 season, more or less are what they are.
They’re a young team with a lot of excitement for the future, yes, but with youth comes inexperience, and with inexperience comes mistakes. There’s still a long way to climb for the Orioles to reach contender-status in the American League, and 2020 won’t be the year.
Here are three bold predictions for the upcoming season. If they’re right, you heard it here first. If they’re wrong, hey, they’re supposed to be bold for a reason.
1. The Orioles are going to be the worst team in baseball (but that’s not a bad thing)
Hanser Alberto says the team is more mature this year than last. Asher Wojciechowski took umbrage with the use of the word “rebuild” being thrown around to describe the Orioles headed into 2020.
But that’s exactly what the team is going to be doing this year.
The Orioles, in nearly every projection — statistical or otherwise — aren’t projected to win very many games in 2020. In fact, fans would be hard-pressed to find a projection that has the Orioles even sniffing the American League playoff picture. That’s not for nothing, either.
According to 538, the Orioles have less than a one percent chance to make the playoffs. https://t.co/H2J3MSABTB— Andrew Gillis (@Andrew_Gillis70) July 21, 2020
Baltimore added shortstop Jose Iglesias in the offseason, but sent infielder Jonathan Villar away in a trade. Trey Mancini, the team’s best player from a season ago, won’t play in 2020 while he undergoes treatment for colon cancer.
In camp, the team already has lost Richie Martin, Stevie Wilkerson and Ty Blach for, if not the entire season, the majority of it. John Means, once the Opening Day starter, will be delayed a few days with a sore arm. Hunter Harvey, Chance Sisco and Dwight Smith Jr. might not play in Boston on Friday either and they're questionable to be available for game one.
So not only have the Orioles taken a hit talent-wise, the 60-game schedule won’t do them any favors either with the AL and NL East the only divisions on the schedule. Wins are simply going to be hard to come by this season for the Orioles.
But with a young team like the Orioles, mistakes are bound to happen. The important part is to let the young players make those mistakes, and continue to develop them with as many major league appearances as possible.
If that’s the case, the Orioles could get the best of both worlds with another high draft pick and even more seasoned youth in the system.
2. Ryan Mountcastle will become an everyday player, for longer than just 2020
The Orioles are in a unique spot across the league, as they can take on more reclamation projects than other teams in need of immediate help for immediate wins.
Meaning, the Orioles are able to be more patient with young players than other clubs across the league. Enter Ryan Mountcastle.
Likely the only top Orioles prospect to see significant time in the majors this year, Mountcastle has the ability to play third, first, a corner outfield spot or designated hitter. In that regard, the Orioles have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to what to do with their most pro-ready prospect.
While he’ll start the season at the team’s satellite camp in Bowie, the odds of him sticking around there for long aren’t great. With Mountcastle, once the service time issues are resolved, each day he gets more major league at-bats in the lineup is a plus moving forward for both he and the organization.
His ZiPS projection for the upcoming season is 46 games played with a slash of .262/.291/.433 with seven home runs and 26 RBIs. But no matter where he is in the lineup, or where he plays on the field, adding a young player that can hit for power to the middle of the lineup could be what the Orioles need for the future prospects of the team.
If he’s able to get those at-bats, his continual improvement should continue to the point of being a permanent regular in the Orioles’ lineup for not just this year.
3. Anthony Santander will be the team’s MVP
After recovering from COVID-19, Anthony Santander has shown he’s ready for the upcoming season in numerous ways.
Manager Brandon Hyde has raved about how much he likes the 25-year-old outfielder, and there’s no reason to think Santander will find himself out of the lineup for extended periods of time.
Last year, Santander slashed .261/.297/.476 with 20 home runs and 59 RBIs in 93 games after having hit just one home run in 33 games in 2018. As a regular starter in 2020, he could cement himself as one of the cornerstones of the rebuild.
He played 50 games in right field, 40 games in left field and 24 games in centerfield a season ago with a fielding percentage of .991 and just two errors. If Mountcastle struggles to make the transition to corner outfield defensively when he arrives in Baltimore, Santander should lessen the blow with plus-fielding and an improving bat at the plate.
It's not a stretch to think that Santander could not only be one of the team's best hitters, but perhaps one of its best fielders, too.
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