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American League East Preview: Baltimore Orioles

A look at a team that was historically bad in 2018

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With only a little more than a week left until Opening Day for most teams (and only a couple days away from Opening Day for the Mariners and A’s) it’s time to really start looking forward to the coming season. With that in mind, we’ll spend this week looking at the rest of the competition in the division, going in reverse order of last year’s standings. Then, on Friday we’ll take a broader look at the rest of the American League. Today, we start with the Orioles.

Projections

Fangraphs Depth Charts: 63-99

PECOTA: 57-105

The Lineup

The Orioles, as you can see from those projections above, are not expected to be very good at the whole playing baseball thing in 2019. That’s not super surprising considering they were historically bad in 2018, winning only 47 games. The lineup does have some names we’ll recognize, which is about the biggest compliment that can be paid. Chris Davis is probably still the biggest name here, but at this point he’s known more for his player-friendly contract and subpar production. He’ll still run into a home run here and there, but that’s about it. Oh, and Roster Resource still projects him to hit cleanup in this lineup. Yikes.

There are some intriguing young players on the roster, though, my favorite of which is probably Cedric Mullins. The center fielder came up and made his debut last season and showed why he has so much promise. There are still certainly adjustments to be made against major-league pitching, but he will put the ball in play, draw some walks and potentially show off sneaky power. He’s also a good athlete who can make an impact with his legs. Mullins is likely to hit leadoff. Jonathan Villar isn’t quite as young, but he’s had a rollercoaster of a career and at the very least he will be a threat to steal at any point he reaches base. Trey Mancini and Mark Trumbo provide some right-handed pop in the middle of the lineup, Chance Sisco gives them a little upside behind the plate and they have two Rule 5 shortstops in Richie Martin and Drew Jackson. On top of all that, three of their top prospects — Ryan Mountcastle, Yusniel Diaz and Austin Hays — all could see the majors at some point this year.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles
Yusniel Diaz
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

All in all, Baltimore is probably still going to be one of the worst offensive teams in all of baseball in the coming year. They are relying mostly on players whose floors are lower than their ceilings are high. It’s no secret that Baltimore is building for the future, and the best-case scenario for them is the young guys (particularly the prospects) getting some positive experience in the majors and one of the Rule 5 picks panning out.

The Rotation

The lineup is bad, but the rotation might actually be worse and doesn’t really have the potential upside that theoretically exists with some of the bats. Their most intriguing pitcher is still Dylan Bundy, as has been the case for what seems like 20 years. Bundy still shows flashes of his former promise, but at this point it feels like it’s time to give up on those dreams. Instead, the best bet for their top pitcher is Alex Cobb. The righty is solid enough and his numbers from 2018 make him look worse than he is. Cobb, if you’ll recall, signed very late in spring training, which helps explain his slow start. Something around league-average is a reasonable expectation for him. After Cobb and Bundy, it’s Andrew Cashner, who was abysmal last season, followed by David Hess and Mike Wright. Maybe they can get some solid starts from their top two, but that bottom three in this rotation is rough.

The Bullpen

Obviously comparing the bullpen of a World Series contender like the Red Sox and that of perhaps the worst team in baseball is a dumb comparison but, well, this should make some people feel better. Baltimore is actually somewhat solid up top, with Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier as their top two arms. The former has always had big swing-and-miss stuff, but we’re still waiting for the entire package to be put together. Bleier, meanwhile, is a command/control lefty who has a 1.97 ERA in 119 career innings, though he’s also coming off a major lat injury. After that, though, it’s a mix of lottery tickets like Miguel Castro, Tanner Scott, Pedro Araujo plus a swingman in Nate Karns. Baltimore isn’t going to be leading a whole lot of games late, but even when they are the bullpen is poised to blow a good chunk of those leads.

Overall

The Red Sox went 16-3 against the Orioles last year, and should have a similarly easy time with them in 2019. Obviously baseball is weird and sometimes matchups don’t work out how you expect, but there isn’t any aspect of their roster than is even close to average. The Orioles are committed to a long rebuild, and it may well produce in the long run, but right now they are about as low as a team can go.