Can John Means stay healthy? Is this the real Cedric Mullins? Which factors will most impact the Orioles long term future during this second half?
Watching a rebuilding team can feel helpless at times. The Orioles, as currently constructed, are not a winning baseball team. The roster is filled with players that will no longer be with the team by the time it returns to the playoffs. Rebuilds require patience.
Certain names come to mind when fans ponder the next winning team in Baltimore. There’s top pick Adley Rutschman, and frontline starters Grayson Rodriguez and D.L. Hall. Unfortunately, no one from the trio appears set to arrive at Camden Yards this season.
The rebuild will not be complete until after the trio joins the big club, but Baltimore can still take a step forward between now and the end of the season. Obviously anyone performing well is a positive thing, but there are certain players and outcomes that could represent significant progress for the Orioles this season.
The first, and perhaps most crucial, revolves around the health of the Orioles’ number one starter. John Means pitched last night for the first time since June 5. He dazzled at the beginning of the season—obligatory no hitter reference here—and confirmed that he is capable of leading a rotation. So what does a guy with a no-hitter under his belt need to prove?
Means missed nearly two months with left shoulder soreness. The Orioles may have taken a more conservative approach with the lefty, but there is still cause for concern.
Means did not have any structural damage in his shoulder, but the same issue sent him to the injured list during both of the last two seasons. The Orioles control Means until 2025, and should look to extend him if he continues to perform, but would love for him to have a clean bill of health over the next few season.
Cedric Mullins stunned everyone by carrying his 2019 momentum and riding it all the way to the starting lineup of the American League All-Star team. Mullins slashed .271/.315/.407 over 48 games last season. He held a .313/.379/.538 line through 92 games this year.
It’s likely that the true player falls somewhere in the middle, but Mullins ditching switch hitting provides a true wild card here. Can the speedy center fielder keep up his All-Star pace for the remainder of the season? If so, the Orioles may have a franchise player on their hands.
A player can only contribute to the future of this team if he is, in fact, on the team. The Orioles should be relatively quiet at the trade deadline this season, but a deal involving Trey Mancini, Anthony Santander or Mullins would represent a shift in Baltimore’s future plans. If the trio stick around, all three could play a factor on the next winning team in Baltimore. The same can be said for relievers Tanner Scott and Paul Fry if they remain with the club.
I realize it sounds pretty cut and dry— “Orioles should be better if guys play well.” But there is obviously more to it than that. Mike Elias and the front office must measure whether a prospect is ready for a promotion and when it is acceptable to move on from a player.
Pat Valaika’s days may be numbered at second base. When will the Orioles feel confident that Jahmai Jones can play everyday on a major league roster? Baltimore’s brass does this for a living, so I won’t advocate for a Jones promotion today, but the rebuild depends on guys taking a step forward. Jones demonstrating that he’s ready, whether that’s defensively or another unknown factor, represents progress.
The same goes for young players already on the roster. Ramón Urías always had a bat that might play at this level, but the guy has raked since May. Is this what happens when he gets the chance to play every day? Domingo Leyba and Kelvin Gutierrez feel like lottery tickets, but Urías can play his way into future plans with a strong second half.
Spenser Watkins has officially pitched his way into the conversation. Without overreacting, the 28-year-old has provided Baltimore a reason to keep sending him out there every five days. Watkins would need to give the Orioles a reason to take him out of the rotation this season. If he doesn’t, he may provide the O’s a reason to keep him there in 2022.
Tyler Wells has emerged as a legitimate pitching prospect. Will the Orioles stretch out the 26-year-old this season or continue to utilize him in high-leverage situations out of the bullpen?
Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer will need to demonstrate an ability to command pitches at the highest level. Zac Lowther or Alexander Wells could pass the pair up if they can demonstrate any consistency— the latter appears to have a better shot right now.
Does Kyle Bradish debut? Maybe Mike Baumann if he continues to right the ship at Bowie? Is there a place in the bullpen for Isaac Mattson or even Dusten Knight? Everybody loves a surprise prospect showing.
The Orioles have a long way to go before returning to contention, but a few of those steps can be made this season. Which player development/storyline do you feel is most crucial for the O’s rebuild this season? Vote and back up your case in the comments below!