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AL East Preview: Baltimore Orioles

In a competitive division, they are the lone remaining rebuilder.

MLB: OCT 03 Orioles at Blue Jays
Cedric Mullins
Photo by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We are now less than three weeks away from Opening Day, and for the most part the transaction flurry has settled. While some teams may change in some ways before the start of the season, rosters are largely set and so we’re going to take this opportunity to look at what the division looks like right now. For the next four days we’ll look at the roster composition for all of Boston’s AL East rivals, starting today with the Baltimore Orioles.

2022 outlook in a sentence

The American League East is currently stacked with four teams that have a legitimate chance at being in the expanded postseason field, and then there’s the Baltimore Orioles.

Position Player Outlook

Broad Look: The Orioles once again project to be among the very worst teams in baseball, but they do have some legitimate offensive talent. We’ll touch on a couple of the bigger names below in a second, but even beyond the biggest names they still have Trey Mancini, Ryan Mountcastle, and Anthony Santander. That’s a legitimate foursome, even if they may be a bit misplaced as a lineup core. The issue is that the bottom of their lineup is, at least to start the season, counting on retreads like Rougned Odor and Robinson Chirinos. They’ll give pitching staffs some issues at times, but all in all this is probably a below-average group compared to the league.

Best Player: The biggest name in the Orioles lineup right now is Cedric Mullins, who broke out last season to end up as one of the very best position players not just on this roster but in all of baseball. Mullins hit .291/.360/.518 for a 136 wRC+, all while playing up the middle in center field and stealing 30 bases. Even more impressive was that it came in a season in which Mullins was moving away from switch hitting and hitting left-handed on a full-time basis. The power was up from previous seasons so projections see a bit of a dip in that respect, but from my eyes nothing he did looked particularly unsustainable and it wouldn’t be a big shock for him to follow up 2021 with another great year in 2022.

X-Factor: I mentioned up top of this section that Robinson Chirinos will be starting the season in the everyday lineup, but really he’s just holding the place of top prospect Adley Rutschman. The former top overall pick is right up there with the best prospects in all of baseball, competing with Kansas City’s Bobby Witt Jr. for that number one spot in baseball. He’s an all-around catcher, the hardest type of player to find in today’s game, and while he’s hampered currently with injury he should be up in the first half and become a mainstay in this lineup.

Rotation Outlook

Broad Look: The reason why the Orioles remain one of the very worst teams in baseball largely comes down to their pitching. They do have a few intriguing young arms who are coming up through the system that should improve things, but right now things are still bleak. After finishing in last place in rotation ERA among all MLB teams last season, they’ve largely brought back the same group, only adding Jordan Lyle and his projected 5.56 ERA in free agency. It’s not great.

Best Player: John Means is the one pitcher who looks like a definite major-league starter, and while he’s miscast a bit at the top of the Baltimore rotation he’s a really interesting arm. The lefty broke out in 2019, and then totally transformed his game to add more strikeouts, and after a tough 2020 came back with another good showing in 2021. It remains to be seen how long he’ll remain in Baltimore as he’ll likely be trade bait sooner than later, but for the time being he’s their top starting pitcher by a wide margin.

X-Factor: As mentioned, the Orioles do have some pitching prospects coming up through the system who could be ready to contribute at some point soon, in some cases this season. For this X-Factor, I’ll go with DL Hall, a top five prospect in this system. He only made seven starts in Double-A last season, so he’s not going to be a factor early in the year, but in the second half he could come in and immediately be their best starting pitcher, particularly if Means was traded.

Bullpen Outlook

Broad Outlook: The Orioles were the game’s worst rotation by ERA, and they also had the honor of being the worst bullpen by ERA as well. Baltimore did end up finding a couple of solid arms to pitch in the late innings, but for the most part they are still trying to find diamonds in the rough among failed starting pitching prospects, and it’s hard to give them too much benefit of the doubt at this point until they prove they can do it.

Best Player: Like Means, Cole Sulser seems to be a prime trade candidate in some point in the relatively near future, but until that happens he’s the best pitcher in this bullpen. Breaking out last season, the righty struck out nearly 30 percent while keeping his walk rate right around league-average. On a contender he’s probably a better fit as a third or fourth option, but he’s still quite a good reliever who will lead this bullpen until Baltimore finds a suitable deal.

X-Factor: A lot of the Orioles bullpen options beyond Sulser seem, to me, to be pretty low ceiling to go along with being unproven, but Tanner Scott bucks that trend. The lefty has trouble throwing strikes on a consistent basis, which can lead to rough stretches like we saw last year, but he also has big-time stuff. Similar to Darwinzon Hernandez in the Red Sox bullpen, it’s easy to see the flaws, but it’s also tough to ignore the upside if the control can just become slightly more consistent.