While fans of rebuilding teams always enjoy seeing their teams draft top prospects, the real key to a Major League turnaround is a franchise's ability to develop young talent.
This is an area in which the Orioles have struggled over the years -- particularly when it comes to their pitching. But 2020 offered a unique opportunity, with one of the strangest seasons baseball has ever seen. The Orioles enjoyed a hot start to their season, and while they won't end up in the postseason, it hasn't been a total loss for their young core.
Some guys have raised their profiles, and some struggled more than anticipated. Let's run through some of the young players on the team and take stock of how 2020 impacted their future evaluation.
Keegan Akin, SP
Akin entered the season looking like a fringe option for the rotation, or perhaps an ultimate spot in the bullpen. And while 22.2 innings may not be enough to drastically change that, it was at least enough for his stock to go UP.
The southpaw finished with an eyebrow-raising 31 strikeouts in his 22.2 innings, to go against nine walks. His 3.57 ERA looks pretty good for a first-time big leaguer in the AL East, and his 2.34 FIP was the best of any O's starter in 2020.
Hanser Alberto, 2B
Alberto is a relentlessly fun player to watch, and his contact skills are refreshing in an era in which they have never been less valued. But his average fell off as the season went on, and he'll be 28 years old at the start of the 2021 season. His stock is STEADY, but he doesn't have much time left as a "young" player.
Hunter Harvey, RP
Thanks to injuries, Harvey only pitched 7.2 innings. But his stuff looked good -- almost as good as his mullet! -- so his stock remains STEADY. He looks like a long-term late-inning option in Baltimore.
Austin Hays, CF
Hays entered 2020 with a lot of optimism. He began the year as a fixture atop the Orioles lineup, and his inside-the-park home run in Philadelphia was one of the highlights of the season.
Unfortunately, he didn't have many more highlights. Hays was unable to maintain his strong play from the end of 2019, and he once again dealt with major injury issues. He is still talented and young enough to put it all together, and hopefully his hot finish after returning from the IL is a sign of things to come, but his stock is still DOWN.
Dean Kremer, SP
Kremer finished with a horrendous start in Boston to complete his season, but his numbers in his first three starts were jaw-dropping. He had 20 strikeouts in 16 innings, and a 1.69 ERA with a 275 ERA+. Kremer allowed exactly one run in each of his first three starts, and even with his poor finish, looks like a clear future member of the O's rotation. His stock is way UP.
John Means, SP
Means had an interesting 2020. He came back with noticeable gains in his fastball velocity, but the changeup wasn't as effective and he struggled early on.
After a rough August, however, Means flipped the switch in September. His 2.74 ERA in the month would have led the team by a wide margin if spread across the full season, and he struck out 22 batters in 23 innings. After looking early like it would go down, his stock remains STEADY.
Ryan Mountcastle, OF
Mountcastle's season stands out as one of the most enjoyable highlights of the truncated season. Fans clamored for him to join the everyday lineup for weeks before the O's finally acquiesced, and he started to hit big league pitching almost immediately.
There are still questions about his ultimate defensive position, but Mountcastle showed more speed and range in left field than expected. He'll end the season with the highest average on the team other than Jose Iglesias, and with his rookie eligibility intact for 2021.
His stock is unquestionably UP, as he looks like a future middle-of-the-order bat for the next good Orioles team.
Cedric Mullins, CF
Mullins has basically no power, so his .275 batting average is a little empty. But after another slow start, he really turned things around in the second half of the season, establishing himself as the team's best leadoff option over the final month.
His glove looks great too, with manager Brandon Hyde going so far as to push for his Gold Glove candidacy. His ceiling may still be as a fourth outfielder, but his stock is definitively UP.
Renato Núñez, INF
With just a few games left in the season, Núñez leads the Orioles with 12 home runs -- though Anthony Santander likely would have surpassed him if not for an injury.
Ultimately, his stock is STEADY after another season in which he provided decent power, but not much of anything else. Núñez's time in Baltimore may be winding down sooner than expected if he is unable to add other dimensions to his game.
Rio Ruiz, 3B
Ruiz started off strong, showcasing some playable power and wowing fans with highlight-reel plays at third base. But as the season wore on, his play fell off, most alarmingly with his glove. He looked like one of the season's early breakouts, but he winds up with his stock mostly DOWN.
Anthony Santander, RF
Perhaps the player whose stock has risen the most, Santander's is definitely UP. He quickly established himself as the best hitter on the Orioles before his early-September injury, and his home run pace in August kept him at the top of the leaderboard with names like Trout, Judge and Tatis.
When healthy, Santander looked like a clear asset for the next contending club in Baltimore.
Tanner Scott, RP
Perhaps the favorite to begin 2021 as the Orioles' closer, Scott found a little more control of his terrific pure stuff in 2020, leading to a breakout campaign out of the bullpen. His 1.33 ERA led the team this season, as did his 348 ERA+. His stock is clearly UP.
Pedro Severino, C
Severino enjoyed a breakout season, and was named by many experts to their would-be 2020 All-Star Game as the AL representative at catcher. He may only be a bat-first catcher whose bat is roughly league average, but his stock is still UP compared to where it was before.
Chance Sisco, C
The second half of Baltimore's catcher platoon, Sisco displayed a new level of patience at the plate this year. He ends the season with the team's second-best walk rate, but also its second-highest strikeout rate. His 122 wRC+ stands out, though.
The former second-round pick has had a bumpy prospect career and, along with Severino, is clearly keeping the spot behind the plate warm for Adley Rutschman. For now, his stock is also clearly UP.
DJ Stewart, OF
Stewart's season was one of the weirder in recent memory. After a long 0-fer to start the season, he momentarily turned into Babe Ruth, hitting nothing but home runs, before falling back to Earth.
Ultimately, Stewart finishes with the highest walk rate on the team, but a whole lot of questions about his defense and consistency. Still, after his lowly prospect status since being selected in the first round in 2015, it's hard to call his stock anything but UP, despite the remaining question marks.
Dillon Tate, RP
Former no. 4 overall pick Dillon Tate finishes his season on IL, but he too took a step forward out of the bullpen this season. He may have been overshadowed by Harvey and Scott in relief, but just being a decent bullpen arm is a positive sign for Tate. His stock is UP.