As we get closer to the start of the season, we are going to spend some time focusing on the opponents on the Red Sox schedule for 2020. In this strange season, Boston will be playing only nine teams, so we will go one by one and look at each individually. Today, we start things off by looking at the Orioles.
The Orioles are once again expected to be among the worst teams in all of baseball. They are, to be fair, getting a little bit closer to contention, though that is all relative and they are still a ways away. This year, though, they did at least add a capable veteran to their lineup in José Iglesias and have been rumored to be interested in Yasiel Puig as well. Still, their eyes are on the future and while there will be a few appearances from some of their top prospects this summer, the Orioles aren’t likely to be actually fun for at least a couple more years.
I had some legitimate trouble with this one, because the Orioles really don’t have an obvious candidate for this one. There are some players who I think can be better than Núñez, including guys like Austin Hays and DJ Stewart, but Núñez seems to be the safest choice. I don’t want to make it seem like I am bashing Núñez, but when he is your best hitter it says all you need to know about the lineup. If we were doing overall value the answer would probably be Iglesias, but as a pure bat Núñez is the guy. There’s not much defensive value and he’ll probably be spending a lot of time at DH, but he showed off legitimate power last year with 31 homers. If he can draw a few more walks and drop a few more singles in, he can be a really solid bat. Of course, if they do end up signing Puig he immediately becomes their best hitter, and it wouldn’t be close.
Best Starting Pitcher
The best hitter category was a bit of a struggle, but the best starting pitcher seems to be very clear. Means came out of nowhere last season to be a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate in the Orioles rotation. The lefty didn’t end up winning the award — that honor went to Houston’s Yordan Alvarez — but he did get a second place finish. Means finished last season with a 3.60 ERA, though his 4.44 FIP and 4.61 DRA suggest he probably pitched above his head a bit. Even so, he throws a ton of strikes and misses just enough bats to get by. The bar is not very high for this Orioles rotation, and Means looks like a guy who should settle in right around league-average. In this group, that’s a shoo-in for the best pitcher in the rotation.
For what seems like forever, Givens has been right on the cusp of a real breakout where he becomes a desirable late-inning arm for whom the Orioles would be able to get a solid group of prospects at the trade deadline. That has always seemed to be his destiny, but the righty just continues to get right to the brink of breakout but never getting over the hump. The strikeout stuff is certainly there, with Givens having struck out over 12 per nine last year and getting into double digits in four of his five seasons. He’s also been durable, tossing at least 60 innings in each of the last four seasons. Unfortunately, the command just isn’t consistent enough. He’s walked at least 3.5 per nine in three of the last four years and his flyball tendencies lead to wild swings in his home run rate. There’s still a chance at that breakout with Givens still only 30 years old, but at this point it’s more likely that he is who he is, which is a guy who can always get a strikeout, but can always give up five straight base runners, too.
A common point that has been brought up since the 60-game season was announced is that every team has a chance. I think that’s mostly true, but the Orioles probably aren’t in that group. Still, they have a small chance to flirt with .500 if everything goes absolutely right, and that includes Hays being as good as possible. The outfielder is a former top prospect in the system and is still in the top ten. He’s an extremely aggressive hitter so the OBP won’t blow you away, but when he’s going well he makes loud contact and hits for a lot of power. If he can cut down on his strikeout rate in a short season, he could be a surprise in the AL East.
The face of the Orioles complete rebuild right now is their number one overall pick from the 2019 draft. The catching prospect probably won’t be starting the year on the active roster, but there’s a chance we see him in the majors at some point this summer. Baltimore hopes that Rutschman is the future face of the franchise as a strong defensive catcher who can hit as well, which is just about the rarest type of player in the game.
Mountcastle is more likely to get significant time in the majors this year. Defensively, the jury is still out not only on how good he can be but even where he’ll play. If the bat lives up to its potential, though, they’ll find a place to play him and get him at bats every day.
We’ve mentioned Iglesias a few times now, and as I’ve said he’s probably the best overall position player on this roster. I think that certainly says more about the roster than him, but I also think Iglesias has become a bit underrated. Many of us remember him coming up at the same time as Xander Bogaerts, and clearly Bogaerts is the better player. Iglesias, though, is an outstanding defensive player and hits enough that he’s a consistent two-win type of player, which is an average regular.
Velázquez had some strong moments for the Red Sox in recent years as a swing man who could provide value in the rotation and the bullpen. He was particularly valuable in the 2018 season when the team won 108 games. It always seemed like he was getting very lucky with his lack of stuff, though, and it caught up to him last year. He was designated for assignment this past winter and is fighting for a spot on the Orioles staff.
Lakins went to the Cubs originally after being waived by the Red Sox, but he was quickly designated for assignment again and landed with the Orioles. Lakins had some moments in the minors where he looked like he could be a solid starter or at least an intriguing multi-inning reliever, but it’s never come together. He’s still only 26, so Baltimore is hoping they can still unlock a consistent major leaguer.