It’s time to preview the 2021 Baltimore Orioles as Opening Day approaches! The rebuild continues for the AL East franchise. This may not be a good season, but this team finally has some quality bodies on the farm and may compete in two or three seasons. What should fans expect this year as they bide their time?
2021 Baltimore Orioles Season Preview
C: Chance Sisco
1B: Ryan Mountcastle
2B: Ramon Urias
3B: Maikel Franco
SS: Freddy Galvis
LF: Austin Hays
CF: Cedric Mullins
RF: Anthony Santander
DH: Trey Mancini
This is not a good lineup. It has a couple of potential bright spots like Mountcastle and Mancini, but this may be the worst offense in baseball when the year ends. Yes, some of the projected starters were above-average hitters in 2020, but there’s so little history for much of this roster that projecting good numbers is a difficult proposition.
And yet Baltimore fans should be forgiven if they express some mild optimism this year. Santander broke out last year with a .261/.315/.575 slash line and 11 home runs in 165 plate appearances. His production is the exact type that the Orioles desperately need to build upon if they are to climb up the division standings.
The team also has a few quality youngsters that could challenge for starting spots before the year is over. Everyone wants to see if Adley Rutschman is worthy of his first overall selection in 2019. He looks like a star at the catcher position who can anchor a lineup for the next decade. Expect to see the 23-year-old before the end of 2021.
C Pedro Severino
INF Rio Ruiz
INF/OF Pat Valaika
This is not a group that will give people any reassurance. None of these three projected bench bats have done anything of note for most of their respective careers. Yes, Severino and Ruiz were both only slightly below-average in 2020, but that is the best-case scenario for this campaign. Valaika is almost not worth rostering at all considering he failed to hit in the paradise that is Coors Field. He slashed .277/.315/.475 with Baltimore last year, but that came in 150 plate appearances.
The team should try to find trade partners for at least two of these three so they can promote more interesting players in their place. Tyler Nevin and Terrin Vavra are two prospects acquired in the Mychal Givens trade from last season and both could be average big leaguers. It would also be worth giving Ryan McKenna and Rylan Bannon a long leash if any of the regular starters struggle. It’s not a good bench, but it can be much better if the front office pushes some players into action soon.
Any rotation that is trying to resurrect Harvey’s career should waive the red flag. Nobody in this possible rotation had an ERA under 4.50 in 2020 and that probably won’t get any better in 2021. It isn’t a rotation that strikes people out while giving up far too many home runs. If there is one bright spot in this quintet, it is that Kremer posted a quality 2.76 FIP last year despite walking 5.8 batters per nine. He is a potential fixture given that he’s only 25 and was a former Los Angeles Dodgers draftee. He must have done something to catch their eye, even if they traded him.
There may be additional hope if Keegan Akin can work his way into the rotation. The 26-year-old southpaw had a rough 4.56 ERA in 25 2/3 innings, but his 3.27 FIP and 12.3 strikeouts per nine are fantastic. The team has very little to gain by not giving the second-round pick from 2016 a serious look.
We should also give credit to John Means, who will do his best to recapture the magic of 2019. The 6’3″ left-handed pitcher threw 155 innings that year with a 3.60 ERA while finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Yordan Alvarez. He struggled in his sophomore year, but he’s an important figure to watch.
Do you know many of these players? No, no you don’t. It’s rarely great when two Rule 5 selections might be key arms throughout a season. However, let’s make the bold claim that they will not be the worst bullpen in 2021. Several of these pitchers, like Fry and Scott, quietly had very good seasons in the shortened 2020 campaign. Plutko could also be a sneaky addition after the O’s acquired him from the Cleveland Indians. He could be a perfect swing pitcher who can throw in multiple situations.
The best thing about this bullpen is that it still has upside. The worst investment a team can often make is spending too much on known relievers who can collapse at any time. The position is volatile enough that Baltimore is smart to try a collection of lesser-known throwers and apply advanced technology to maximize what they can do on the field with minimal cost. It’s a strategy that some teams like the Tampa Bay Rays have used to great effect in recent years.
It’s hard to say too much about a team whose ceiling is fourth in the American League East. It’s unfortunate that such a proud franchise has to suffer the way it has, but 2021 doesn’t present much hope unless everything goes absolutely perfectly. If there is one thing in their favor, it’s that very few other teams seem interested in spending after the pandemic. That creates a flatter competitive environment that can only help a team such as Baltimore succeed. The Orioles would have a much harder time competing if everyone in their division was trying to spend as much as possible.
We should also see numerous young faces appear this season who will help lead the organization into more competitive times in 2022 and beyond. It may take another couple of years, but there are signs of life with this franchise.
Projected Record: 65-97
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Chance Sisco, Ryan Mountcastle, Ramon Urias, Maikel Franco, Freddy Galvis, Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Trey Mancini, Pedro Severino, Rio Ruiz, Pat Valaika, John Means, Matt Harvey, Bruce Zimmermann, Jorge Lopez, Dean Kremer, Cesar Valdez, Tanner Scott, Dillon Tate, Adam Plutko, Cole Sulser, Paul Fry, Shawn Armstrong, Tyler Wells, Mac Sceroler, Tyler Nevin, Terrin Vavra, Mychal Givens, Ryan McKenna, Rylan Bannon, Keegan Akin, John Means, Yordan Alvarez, Adley Rutschman.