Overview (Present Rank: 7th | Future Rank: 28th)
The Baltimore Orioles ended a 14-year losing streak in 2012 with three consecutive winning seasons. Last year the club finished 81-81, but not before reaching the postseason twice in those three years. Their deep playoff run in 2014, which ended in the American League Championship Series, helped Buck Showalter earn his third Manager of the Year award. With key players in their prime including Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Mark Trumbo, the Orioles hope to make another run at the title before their lackluster farm system catches up to them.
*Detailed analysis conducted April 2, 2016; rankings and charts updated throughout the season
Matt Wieters was one of three players to accept the qualifying offer this offseason giving himself a $15.8MM salary for the 2016 season. The 2009 No. 1 overall prospect hasn’t quite met expectations despite three All-Star appearances, two Gold Gloves, and a 21st place finish in MVP voting in 2012. Since then, he's only played in 83 games per year while batting a mediocre .253/.302/.428. Now that he’s a year and a half removed from Tommy John surgery and heading into a contract year, Wieters could finally live up to his lofty prospect status. After his contract expires, the Orioles will be primarily relying on Caleb Joseph or Chance Sisco to handle the load in the future.
Francisco Pena was brought in for depth purposes, but doesn’t pose much of a threat to major league pitching. Joseph proved to be a replacement-level catcher during Wieters absence in 2015. Joseph doesn’t have a high ceiling, but could be a decent backup for Wieters or Sisco in the future.
Sisco has raked at every minor league level he’s gone through. After batting .297/.376/.415 last year between A+/AA as a 20 year-old, Sisco is seeing his stock rise within the organization. His defense however, leaves much to be desired. He'll need to improve his pitch-framing abilities as well as his long throwing time to the bases to keep runners modest. Sisco will never be much of a runner himself, but the Orioles are hoping his excellent hit tool carries him to the majors despite having very little power to speak of.
If Sisco doesn’t work out, Alex Murphy is having moderate success in the minor leagues, and could be an option come 2019/2020, but his skills might limit him to a backup role.
Future Outlook: A stop-gap solution needed until Chance Sisco arrives
Wieters is a homegrown player with an elite prospect profile to back his name. However, he’s only played 101 games over the last two seasons combined. If he can put together a healthy campaign in 2016, Wieters could easily capture a five-year deal worth around $15MM annually on the free agent market. Baltimore might not feel comfortable handing out that kind of money, but if Sisco doesn’t show progress behind the plate or falters against higher level pitching, the O’s might have to extend Wieters' time with the only organization he's been a part of.
If Wieters does escape the confines of Baltimore, GM Dan Duquette will have to look at outside sources to bridge the gap before Chance Sisco makes his debut. Once 2019 comes around, Sisco should be ready to go and become a quality everyday catcher for the O's.
The Orioles desperately needed a middle-of-the-order bat behind Adam Jones in the lineup. After failing to sign OF Justin Upton or OF Jason Heyward, Duquette was forced to overpay Chris Davis to return to Camden Yards. After receiving $161MM over the offseason, the O’s made it clear Chris Davis is their starting first baseman going forward. Davis’ 126 home runs over the past three seasons lead all major league hitters, but so does his 580 strikeouts.
Christian Walker was preparing to take over the first base responsibilities had Davis left, but is now blocked by the 30 year-old Davis. Walker spent 138 games in Triple-A last season putting up a respectable .257/.324/.423 batting line. However, the Orioles were expecting much more from the 24 year-old which culminated in the decision to resign Davis. Walker might never take over a starting role, but would provide a team with a quality bat off the bench if/when he gets traded.
In addition to Walker, Baltimore also has Trey Mancini waiting in the wings. Mancini exploded in 2015 hitting .341/.375/.563 in 533 at-bats across High-A/Double-A as a 23 year-old. There are still questions regarding his swing and if it projects at the next level. This year will help in evaluating Mancini's development once he faces Triple-A pitchers on an everyday basis. Mancini is currently being placed between No. 6 and No. 10 among Baltimore’s top prospects by various outlets.
Future Outlook: Now that Davis has re-signed, who gets moved?
With Davis back in the fold, the door closes on Walker or Mancini taking over the starting role at first base in Baltimore anytime soon. Davis is locked up for seven years, so Baltimore might be more willing to trade Walker and Mancini to see what kind of return they can get. Walker won’t attract much talent in return, but if Mancini can put up respectable numbers in Triple-A, a team without a long-term solution at first base might be willing to give up a quality player for Mancini's potential as an everyday first baseman.
After being listed as Baltimore’s No. 5 prospect entering 2014, Jonathan Schoop has earned his spot in Baltimore’s lineup after posting a .279/.306/.482 slash line despite spraining his MCL and tearing his PCL at the beginning of the 2015 season. He rebounded nicely to become a productive player on both sides of the ball for the Orioles. He’s only 24 years old leading many to believe he could eventually develop into an above-average or possibly an All-Star caliber player over the next 3-4 years, but that would be significantly exceeding expectations for a player never considered a top-80 prospect.
Ryan Flaherty was picked up in the Rule 5 draft four years ago and is still providing the O’s with depth all over the diamond. He’ll never be a starting caliber player, but he'll provide a solid option off the bench if Schoop or other players deal with injuries throughout the season.
Future Outlook: Schoop is solid, but he needs to keep improving
The Orioles have Schoop under team control for the next four seasons with the ability to extend him if he stays healthy and continues to progress as expected. However, it can never hurt to have another blue-chip prospect in the farm system. Baltimore will need to decide if they want to sign someone like IF Alfredo Rodriguez on the international market, or if an early selection in the 2016 MLB draft is a better way to go. Either way, there is a big need for a quality second baseman in the minor league system to take over for Schoop in 2020 when his contract expires.
With the 36th overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, the O’s selected Ryan Mountcastle out of High School in Florida. Mountcastle got off to a great start by batting .313/.349/.411 in Rookie ball. He’ll have to keep that up as the O’s have a gaping hole at the position after JJ Hardy’s contract expires. If he can develop as expected, he could become an adequate replacement considering Hardy's recent production
Hardy has a vesting option for the 2018 season, but he's already showed signs of wearing down inn 2015 as a 32 year-old making it unlikely that gets exercised. Hardy was only able to play in 114 games last season while playing exactly at a replacement level (0.0 WAR). His glove is still among the best of them with three Gold Gloves to his name, but his range is dwindling and a .253 OBP is absolutely abysmal. The O’s are still on the hook for $26MM over the next two years making a departure before then doubtful.
Future Outlook: Out with the old, in with the new
JJ Hardy is only giving the Orioles replacement level play at this stage in his career. The O’s have Mountcastle deep down in their farm system (likely to start 2016 in Single-A). However, the 19 year-old developing into a major league regular is still very up in the air as a transition to third base or a corner outfield spot is looking inevitable.
One interesting scenario would be moving Manny Machado back over to shortstop, his original position. He just won a Gold Glove at third base, but he could bring his terrific glove and laser arm over to shortstop too. Machado’s only under team control for the next three seasons. Jomar Reyes, Baltimore’s No. 3 prospect (according to fangraphs), could be ready by 2018 to fill in for Machado at third. In the meantime, the Orioles should be scouting other future alternatives with the question marks surrounding their current situation.
Manny Machado has evolved from a top draft pick, to a top prospect, to a top Major League third baseman. He played in all 162 games last year after seeing his 2014 season get cut short due to a knee injury. Not only did he play, but he provided the Orioles with 7.1 Wins Above Replacement (13th most in MLB). He added a second All-Star appearance and another Gold Glove award to his collection. Machado has already accomplished a lot during his four-year Major League career. Considering he's only 23 years old, an MVP award could be on the horizon for the elite two-way player, especially if he keeps making plays like these.
Jomar Reyes is becoming a household name in his own right. Signed out of the Dominican Republic two years ago, Reyes has performed well in his professional career thus far. Listed as the O’s No. 3 Prospect (according to MLB.com) entering 2016, Reyes brings size, strength, and an advanced approach at the plate. While the Orioles must extend Manny Machado, his move over to shortstop would open the door for Reyes to take over the third base position in the future.
Future Outlook: How much is Manny Machado worth?
If Machado manages to stay healthy and continues to produce at a high level, Machado's next contract could approach $200MM. Duquette should be doing everything in his power to extend Machado before he adds another stellar season to his track record. He’s under team control for three more seasons making him eligible to hit the free agent market at 26 years old. He has been everything Baltimore hoped for and the Orioles can’t let a player of his caliber get away. Reyes has a lot of potential in Baltimore’s farm system, but the O’s can move Machado over to shortstop to open up playing time for the team's No. 4 prospect (according to Baseball America).
When the Orioles shipped former ace Erik Bedard to Seattle, they received a package of quality, young players. The centerpiece of the trade, Adam Jones, has emerged as the face of the franchise. Jones combines superb defense (4-time Gold Glover) with a productive bat in the heart of Baltimore's lineup. Jones is now on the wrong side of 30 years old, but has showed no signs of slowing down as he belted over 25 home runs for the fifth consecutive year. His contract expires after the 2018 season, but the Orioles would be wise to extend him if he can keep up his production over the next few seasons. Even if Jones slightly declines, he will help the team sell tickets as a fan favorite.
The O’s took a flyer on Hyun Soo Kim out of Japan when they signed him to a 2yr/$7MM contract. Much is unknown about the 28 year-old, but the Orioles are relying on him to take over a corner outfield spot for the next two years. However, his transition to America and Major League Baseball hasn’t gone as smooth as they wanted, and he’s now starting the season without a starting role.
Mark Trumbo will be manning the other corner outfield spot with Davis taking over Trumbo's natural position at first base. Trumbo might be a defensive liability in the outfield, but the potential of 30+ home runs is too much to pass up, especially for a power hungry team like Baltimore. Entering a contract year, the Orioles are hoping Trumbo is motivated to have a career year in 2016. Considering the Orioles always seem to have an outfielder breakout every year, Trumbo seems like a prime candidate to continue the trend.
Joey Rickard was the team’s only Rule 5 selection. Already a plus defender, Rickard finally developed his swing in a breakout 2015 campaign. He batted .321/.427/.447 across three levels, concluding the year in Triple-A. Rickard has some speed on the base paths as seen by his 53 steals over the last two seasons. Rickard can play anywhere in the outfield and as long as he is just an average hitter, he’ll bring value to the Orioles. Rickard has the potential to be another steal Duquette finds on the Rule 5 market.
Nolan Reimold has proven to be a valuable commodity off the bench, but he’s only under team control for one more season. Alfredo Marte, L.J. Hoes, and Dariel Alvarez are all replacement-level players that haven’t proved worthy of a starting role in the majors. They are young, so they could figure things out, but it wouldn’t be wise to count on that.
D.J. Stewart was Baltimore’s first pick in the recent 2015 draft (25th overall) with Jason Heinrich coming off the board four rounds later. Both players have some kinks in their swing they'll have to improve on, but they each have the potential to take over an outfield spot in Camden Yards eventually. Neither player has a very high ceiling, but they could mature into viable starters considering Baltimore's lack of future alternatives.
Future Outlook: Upgrades needed to improve the future outfield situation
The Orioles have one of the worst outfield situations in the major leagues. Jones has been a staple in Baltimore’s lineup over the past few years, but he’s getting older and will inevitably become less productive. Baltimore could really benefit from an upgrade at one of the corner outfield spots. Look for GM Dan Duquette to land a big name free agent or trade acquisition over the next year or two like he tried to do with Dexter Fowler before he re-signed with the Cubs.
This offseason he was able to make minor upgrades in the signing of Japanese prospect Hyun-Soo Kim, the power-hitting Mark Trumbo, and the Rule 5 selection of Joey Rickard. The front office could continue with these types of signings, but a more permanent solution at one of the outfield spots remains possible. Whether that be acquiring Jay Bruce or Yoenis Cespedes if he opts out after the 2016 season, the O’s need to do something to bring legitimacy to their outfield. As things stand now, Joey Rickard will be the team's top outfielder come 2019. That's a problem Duquette must solve. Focusing on the draft or international market would help finding a long-term solution sooner than later.
Before signing Pedro Alvarez, the Orioles didn’t have much of a stereotypical designated hitter. Instead, they were planning on inserting the best bench player into that role. In this case, it was Jimmy Paredes that looked to benefit from that decision. Paredes was purchased from Houston over a year ago, and has provided Baltimore with decent production at 27 years old. He can also slide over to third base if Machado goes down or has to move over to shortstop after Hardy’s contract expires. Instead, the team signed a more legitimate DH in Pedro Alvarez to bring more power to the lineup. (EDIT: Jimmy Paredes was claimed off waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays [5/16/16]).
Alvarez took a while to sign in free agency due to his poor plate discipline that has seen him strikeout a whopping 610 times over the last four years. Still, Alvarez is a perennial 30-homer threat from the left side of the plate. As a player who consistently hits better against righties than lefties, Showalter will tweak his lineups, switching out platoon guys like Trumbo and Alvarez on a regular basis.
After the O’s resigned Davis, that leaves the possibility Christian Walker or Trey Mancini could platoon with Alvarez in 2016, then take over the DH role for themselves in 2017 and beyond if they can continue to develop into Major League quality players.
Future Outlook: Keep the “real” DH’s or switch to best bench player available
As previously mentioned, the Orioles currently employ a “real’ DH instead of going with the best bench player available method. Other teams have guys like David Ortiz or Victor Martinez step into the DH role on an everyday basis while others employ players like Avisail Garcia to take up the at-bats while also playing the field on occasion to take advantage of the best matchups. Duquette is faced with the decision to either keep this current method or allow Buck Showalter to give various players rest more often and alter the defensive alignments without having to worry about one player not being able to field adequately. Pedro Alvarez’ performance in 2016 might make a big difference in how the Orioles approach this situation going forward.
Baltimore’s biggest weakness in the organization is their lack of left-handed starting pitchers. Unless Duquette acquires one in the middle of the season, don’t expect a single lefty to start a game for the O’s this season. The only highly valued lefty in the farm system is Chris Lee.
The 23 year-old was acquired from Houston earlier in the 2015 season. Baseball America rated him as the No. 7 prospect in Baltimore’s system heading into the 2016 season. The lanky southpaw has pitched well in the minors thus far and projects to be a mid-rotation starter if he can reach his ceiling. After Bundy and Harvey, Lee has the greatest chance of any Baltimore minor league pitcher settling into a role in the rotation with his low-90's fastball and powerful slider combination.
(EDIT: With both Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo disappointing in 2016, the Orioles made a move to acquire LHP Wade Miley from the Seattle Mariners for RHP Ariel Miranda. Click here to see what to expect from Miley going forward [7/31/16]).
Future Outlook: Chris Lee is a start, but he isn’t enough
There is a saying that you can never have enough pitching. Apparently, Duquette thought that was true for righties, but not for their left-handed counterpart. While the O’s are stacked with quality right-handers, the southpaws leave much to be desired. Duquette will need to draft, sign, and trade for some lefties in the near future. While Lee could evolve into a solid starter, you can never have enough pitching, especially left-handed pitching.
The Orioles had a top-five pick in six consecutive MLB Drafts from 2007-2012. They used those picks on Wieters (starting catcher), Brian Matusz (left-handed relief pitcher), Matt Hobgood (bust), Manny Machado (star third baseman), Dylan Bundy (Baltimore’s No. 1 prospect), and Kevin Gausman (The O's current ace).
Gausman is only 25 years old, but is starting to showcase the immense talent that got him drafted fourth overall in 2012. Gausman has been successful wherever he has pitched whether that be at LSU, the minor leagues, or in Baltimore. After a strong season last year, 2016 could be the year Gausman combines his high-90’s fastball with his nasty offspeed pitches and improving command to produce the Cy Young caliber numbers he has the potential of delivering.
Bundy arguably has better stuff than Gausman, but injuries have prevented him from throwing more than 1.2 innings at the Major League level. Bundy is out of options meaning the O’s have no choice but to see what he can bring to the table this season. Bundy will presumably start the season in the bullpen. He will likely take the ball every five days once he shows he’s fully recovered from his shoulder injury and other starters inevitably go down with injuries of their own. If Bundy can get past his health issues, he could emerge as a frontline starter for the O's sometime in the foreseeable future.
Duquette capped off the offseason by signing Yovani Gallardo to a 2yr/$22MM deal with a $13MM club option for 2018. Gallardo has been as consistent as they come in his nine-year career. Milwaukee's former ace has thrown at least 180 innings in each of the past seven seasons while owning an ERA higher than 3.84 only once. Now that he’s on the wrong side of 30, expect some regression in the near future.
Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, and a combination of Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright make up the rest of the Orioles’ rotation. Both Tillman and Jimenez have flashed dominant stuff, but have struggled to remain consistent. Neither of them are under team control after the 2017 season and only Tillman seems like a candidate to be extended if he can get back on track.
Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright are borderline starting material, but should only be in the rotation in the case of injury. They are both only 26 years old, so they could theoretically get better, but will most likely never be anything more than back-end options.
In addition to Bundy, the Orioles have another flame throwing righty dealing with ongoing injury concerns. Hunter Harvey is listed as the Orioles other top prospect (according to Baseball America). Harvey has the potential of a frontline starter, but injuries keep derailing his development. If he can stay healthy, him, Gausman, and Bundy could form a terrific trio in Baltimore for years to come.
David Hess is another arm that will fight for a spot in the 2018 and 2019 rotations. Hess’ lively fastball gives him more potential than Wilson or Wright, but his lack of effective secondary offerings could relegate him to the bullpen eventually.
Future Outlook: So many question marks
Tillman and Jimenez will both be free agents after the 2017 season. While one of them could be trade bait over the next year and a half, one of them should be locked down long-term. With Gausman, Gallardo, and Bundy in the fold, there isn’t room for both of them to keep a spot in the rotation with Harvey and Lee also on the cusp of making it to the show. Of course, even those players come with their own question marks regarding age or health.
Considering Tillman’s age (28) and status as a homegrown player with three very successful seasons under his belt, he is the most likely candidate to be extended. The O’s have a dire need for a southpaw in the rotation making it possible neither Tillman nor Jimenez will be retained. However, if Bundy or Harvey continue to deal with injuries or don’t progress as expected, a proven righty like Tillman would be a valuable thing to have around. If not, Jimenez could be re-signed for less money as he enters his age-34 seasons.
HoweFrom a weakness to a strength, the O’s have consistently put together a productive bullpen during Showalter’s tenure as manager. After surging through the minors as a top prospect, Zach Britton’s role became unclear after he struggled as a starter. Showalter moved him into the closer role and has never looked back. Now his 96 MPH sinker and lack of quality secondary offerings aren’t preventing him from evolving into one of the game’s top relievers.
Duquette was determined to bring Darren O’Day back, even if it took a hefty 4yr/$31MM deal to get it done. O’Day’s submarine release point has made him tough to figure out, and his 1.61 ERA over the last two seasons is among the best in the bigs. Brad Brach also took his game to another level posting a 10.1 K/9 ratio in 2015. He’ll be relied upon to team up with O’Day in setting up for Britton.
Mychal Givens and Oliver Drake give fans reasons to be excited about the future. Givens especially has potential after averaging 94.3 MPH on his fastball in his 30 Major League innings in 2015. Some, including Dan Farnsworth from Fangraphs believe Givens has the stuff that could eventually translate into a closing role. Nobody can really dispute that considering he dazzled his way to a 1.80 ERA, 0.867 WHIP, 11.4 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 in his Major League debut last season over 30 frames.
Drake doesn’t have as much upside as Givens as he’s already 29 years old. He’s spent enough time in the minors and dominated opposing Triple-A hitters in 2015 on his way to a 0.82 ERA, 0.886 WHIP, 13.5 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 stat line. He’ll be given his shot at a full-time role in the bullpen at some point this season, and will have to continue that success if he wants to stay at that level.
Outside of a horrid 48.2 innings in the 2013 season, Vance Worley has been a solid, yet unspectacular starting pitcher throughout his five-year career. However, making the move to the bullpen led Worley to his best season yet. The Orioles noticed this and claimed him on waivers to fortify the long relief role.
Tanner Scott could be better than all of them. The 21 year-old southpaw already has a 100 MPH fastball in his arsenal with an improving slider and command that could make him a pitcher nobody wants to face. His solid showing in the fall league made it easier to imagine his future in the back-end of the O’s bullpen.
T.J. McFarland was being groomed to join Baltimore’s crowded rotation when he was initially drafted in the fourth round in 2007. He, however, only started two of the 105 games he’s pitched in at the big league level. He has also been a victim of inconsistency. Right after posting a 2.76 ERA with a 3.29 FIP in 2014, he responded with a 4.91 ERA, and 1.736 WHIP in 2015. His role is unclear, but he could lockdown a spot in the bullpen if he can get back to his 2014 ways. Chaz Roe is in a similar situation with much less upside, and is a likely DFA candidate.
Jay Flaa, Jake Bray, Gray Fenter are all raw prospects that pose as alternatives if the other players don’t work out. They each have solid track records, but in small sample sizes. We’ll have a better understanding of their potential after another year of seasoning.
Future Outlook: If Britton re-signs, the bullpen could be dominant
In these team outlooks, the possibility of a player re-signing isn’t considered, and every ranking is made assuming the player will no longer be on the team after his contract expires. With that being said, the Orioles look to have a top-10 bullpen in the next 3-5 years without Britton being extended. If they find a way to keep Zach Britton in the fold along with the recently extended O’Day, their bullpen could be unhittable combined with the evolving Givens and Cleavinger. If they can’t, Duquette will have to find a way to bring another stingy southpaw to solidify the back-end of the bullpen.
OVERALL OUTLOOK: Outperforming expectations is the norm
Orioles fans were struggling to see a successful team for a long time, 15 years long. While they’ve had a nice run in recent years, the lack of depth in the farm system is starting to catch up to them, and the Orioles don’t have enough talent on the big league roster to make up for it. A strong core consisting of Machado, Jones, Davis, Gausman, O’Day, and Britton should all be around for a while, but the players around them leave a lot to be desired. However, you can never count out the O’s on outperforming the expectations set for them with Buck Showalter running the show. Last year might have been a sign that the Orioles simply don't have enough talent to win it all, but the "Buck effect" could lead them to more surprising playoff appearance.