Which Orioles jersey should you buy this season?
For the first time in many Orioles’ fans lives, there’s not an obvious candidate for which jersey to own.
In the past, through good years and bad, there have always been a couple of players who are easy enough to get behind. Nick Markakis was the lone bright spot for a while. Adam Jones, Manny Machado and Chris Davis led the team to great heights. Zach Britton had a historic season. Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy looked like future stalwarts in the rotation.
Now? The options are few and far between.
There’s a lot that goes into the purchase of a new jersey. Fans have to consider how likable the player is and how proud they’d be to wear their name in public. They also have to factor in how good the player is, and how long they’ll likely be around.
To help make your decisions easier, consider this your guide to which Orioles jersey you should invest in this season.
The High Ceiling - Austin Hays
Pros: One of the best picks on the board for a few reasons. First of all, he's young. Hays was drafted in 2016 and only last season established himself as a regular lineup fixture. He's also talented, flashing in centerfield with a number of highlight-reel plays and at the plate with a few big home runs in Baltimore. If it pans out, this is a jersey whose price tag could skyrocket down the line.
Cons: High ceilings typically come with high floors. Hays' floor is less related to his talent and more about his health and role. He's a capable centerfielder, but some scouts view him as a corner outfielder ultimately, which is less valuable. More importantly, he's dealt with a litany of injuries already in his young career. The upside is a borderline All-Star, but the downside is he gets pushed aside for another top prospect in a year or two.
The “I’m a Believer” - John Means
Pros: This comes down to how much you believe in Means' Rookie of the Year-worthy 2019 campaign. The Orioles' default ace pitched 155 innings, won 12 games, compiled 4.6 WAR, finished second in Rookie of the Year voting and made the All-Star Game. If you think it's sustainable, then you could buy low on a pitcher just now entering his prime.
Cons: If you don't think his breakout year is sustainable, then this jersey could turn into an obscure reference fairly quickly. Means was the final player to make last year's roster out of Spring Training, and while he has earned a spot in the 2020 rotation already, the underlying metrics show his breakout may have ben aided somewhat by good fortune.
The Deep Cut - Hanser Alberto
Pros: Alberto enjoyed a mini-breakout of his own in 2019, batting a whopping .398 against left-handed pitching. He wasn't as strong against right-handers, but he may hit well enough to earn a role as a platoon infielder for a rebuilding team. This choice has the added bonus of being a player most casual fans are unfamiliar with, making it a great conversation-starter.
Cons: The downside here is obvious. Alberto has never been close to a consistent Major League contributor before, so his flash in the pan could end up being a one-year wonder.
The Sneaky Good Choice - Hunter Harvey
Pros: He hasn't been in the Major League bullpen as long as some of his teammates, but Harvey has as much arm talent as any of them. He electrified fans in Baltimore during a few impressive appearances last season, and the former first-round pick could develop into the Orioles' next shutdown closer.
Cons: The biggest reason Harvey has taken so long to make the big leauges, and finds himself in the bullpen rather than the rotation, is health. He has struggled to stay on the field throughout his career, and all the arm talent in the world won't matter on the injured list. The upside is high with this pick, but the downside is just as low.
The Sneaky Bad Choice - Mychal Givens
Pros: There have been times in Givens' career when he was considered an "untouchable" option in the organization during trade talks. That time is no more, but he still will have every opportunity to turn into the lockdown closer the Orioles believe he can be.
Cons: Unlike Harvey, Givens might seem like a better choice than he really is. Givens had a career-worst 4.57 ERA in 2019, losing his role as the top choice at the back end of the Orioles bullpen. With the high recycle rate of MLB relievers, another slow start may make him expendable for Baltimore.
The “What Year is it?” - Chris Davis
Pros: I know, I know. Davis has struggled mightily since signing his record contract, and many fans point to him as reason No. 1 for their recent stretch of 100-loss seasons. Still, he's by far the most notable Oriole. Plus, the jersey can be seen as a show of support for a player who needs it. It's also a recognition of his past greatness, though most fans will almost certainly assume the jersey was purchased many years ago.
The length of his contract actually helps here, as it make it more likely Davis will be in Baltimore for the long haul.
Cons: Well, this is pretty obvious. Davis went more than 50 straight at-bats without a base hit last season, and was on pace for the worst single-season WAR in MLB history the season before. He looks lost at the plate, and despite his generous and giving spirit off the field, fans ultimately care most about winning. Wearing a Davis jersey these days, barring a major, miraculous turnaround, will likely bring more laughter and derision than anything else.
The Favorite - Trey Mancini
Pros: Let's be honest, this is probably the "correct" pick. Mancini was the best hitter on the team in 2019, and there's no reason to believe he won't be again in 2020. The slugger's breakout year looks legitimate by most advanced metrics, and he has the skillset to be a productive hitter for a long time.
Cons: The only potential downside here is longevity. Mancini will play the 2020 season at 28 years old, in the middle of his prime but not lined up well with the Orioles rebuild. He'll likely be in his thirties by the time the Orioles are ready to contend again, which means he is a trade option for the front office.
The Future - Adley Rutschman
Pros: Rutschman was invited to Spring Training this year, but he almost certainly won't be playing with the Major League club until 2021 at the earliest. Even still, he's the most highly touted prospect in Baltimore since Dylan Bundy, and the most exciting draft prospect of the last decade. Talent evaluators universally consider him both a high-ceiling, high-floor prospect with can't-miss tools in four categories. He has the ability to become the best catcher of his generation, and getting in early on the future face of the franchise is probably a smart investment.
Cons: The first con is that technically there's no such thing as a can't-miss prospect. Anybody can become a bust, even if it looks exceedingly unlikely in Rutschman's case. The second con? You can't buy a Rutschman Orioles jersey yet because he's not an Oriole. He is, however, so good that it may just be worth it to buy a Delmarva or Bowie Rutschman jersey instead of a current Oriole. He is, by far, the most likely player in the organization to be on the next great Orioles roster.
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