Orioles 2020 Season Recap: Part 2 – Rookies shine in shortened season

The 2020 MLB season was one we have never experienced before, and as fans and players alike, we hope it’s one we never see again. However, baseball was still played, and here at The Baltimore Battery, we have come to give readers an extensive breakdown of the 2020 Baltimore Orioles’ season!

Early in the shortened season, the Baltimore Orioles looked to possibly sneak into the playoffs after a 12-8 start to the season; the Birds ultimately stalled and finished fourth in the AL East with a 25-35 record. While that may seem like a disappointment, most Orioles fans can agree that the flashes shown by promising prospects was a major highlight of an unpredictable 2020 season.

Let’s take a look at several Baltimore rookies and how they performed in 2020:

Austin Hays:

I’ll start with Austin Hays because I honestly forgot he was still a rookie; he was only a few at-bats below the cutoff.

Coming off 2019, Hays had high expectations and looked to be settling into the majors with ease. Not only was he fielding incredibly well, but Hays also delivered solid numbers at the plate.

In 2020, Hays fell off considerably, while an injury also cut his reps in the middle of the season. Heading into a shortened season, we knew that players would get into slumps, but Hays was a tough one to watch.

Final slash line: .279/.328/.393, .722 OPS, 4 HR, 9 RBI and 20 R (33 games, 122 at-bats)

The 25-year-old dropped off in every category and struck out 25 times. It was difficult to watch such a talented prospect struggle, but 2020 presented tough circumstances for all hitters. In a shortened season, Hays just never hit his stride.

Assuming he stays healthy, 2021 should be a bounce-back year for the Orioles’ starting outfielder.

Ryan Mountcastle:

Now that we got the bummer out of the way, let’s talk about what is arguably the highlight of Baltimore’s 2020 season: “Lord” Ryan Mountcastle.

Early in the year, fans were begging the O’s to call up the 23-year-old, who ranks fifth on Baltimore’s top 30 prospects list. The Orioles toyed with the young prospect in the minors, moving him all around the diamond and in the outfield defensively.

Mountcastle made his long-awaited debut on Aug. 21, starting in left field against the Red Sox. He recorded his first career hit on the Aug. 22 matchup and went 2-for-4 in his third game. On Aug. 30, Mountcastle showed his signature power at the plate and homered twice against the Blue Jays. With a few exceptions, Mountcastle made an impact offensively in just about every game throughout the rest of the season.

Final slash line: .333/.386/.492, .878 OPS, 5 HR, 23 RBI and 12 R (35 games, 126 at-bats)

Mountcastle made an incredibly smooth transition from the minors to the majors when it came to facing opposing pitching. He struck out 30 times, something that has always been a bit of an issue but was a major boost to Baltimore’s lineup. The left fielder ranked third on the team in average and was fourth in hits, despite playing significantly less games than the rest of the team.

When it comes to a rebuilding team like the Orioles, this is what we live for. To say he was a highlight of 2020 is an understatement. Defensively, Mountcastle looked adequate in left field, while his bat speed adjusted with ease. His swing is still one of the smoothest, powerful strokes out of any prospect we’ve seen in quite some time.

After making a splash in 2020, a full season in 2021 offers Mountcastle a chance to solidify himself as a consistent piece of Baltimore’s future. With his number of at-bats this year, Mountcastle will still be eligible for Rookie of the Year voting in 2021; he received one third-place vote in the 2020 Rookie of the Year voting.

Keegan Akin:

All right, now that we’ve talked about one of our top dogs, let’s settle in and look at other rookies that stood out in 2020.

Keegan Akin is the next name that comes to mind, partly because of how poorly Baltimore pitching prospects have turned out in the past.

Akin’s numbers don’t show it, but he was easily our best rookie pitcher and one of the best starters on the entire team last year. His debut on Aug. 14 against the Nationals ended in a three-run, two-hit no decision. It seemed as if whenever Akin started, he got little to no run support. For some reason this has always been an issue for young Oriole pitchers, but it was uncanny for Akin in 2020.

With that being said, he posted consistent, solid outings and his slider was nearly untouchable. Akin recorded his first career win against Atlanta on Sept. 16.

Final Stats: 1-2, 4.56 ERA, 10 BB, 35 K, 1.44 WHIP (25.2 innings pitched, 6 games started)

Akin looked like one of Baltimore’s best arms this season and was a pleasant surprise. Many future lineup predictions have Akin in the starting rotation years from now, a notion I can get behind after the fractional outings we saw this past season. The Orioles’ 15th ranked prospect should get plenty of chances in 2021.

Travis Lakins Sr.:

Travis Lakins Sr. came to Baltimore after limited opportunities in Boston in 2019. The 24-year-old reliever tied with Thomas Eshelman for most wins (3) on the team and even recorded a save.

Final Stats: 3-2, 2.81 ERA, 13 BB, 25 K, 1.48 WHIP (25.2 innings pitched, 22 appearances)

Lakins Sr., among other pitchers, was a surprise name that performed adequately out of the bullpen this season. The Orioles lacked quality pitching all around, which presented Lakins Sr. a serious opportunity to carve out a role on the team.

I don’t see the ceiling being too high for Lakins Sr., but he could definitely become a solid reliver for the O’s. The 2020 season saw its fair share of rough pitching in Baltimore, but Lakins Sr. was a rookie who took advantage of his opportunities.

Dean Kremer:

One surprise of the 2020 season was the call-up of No. 10 prospect Dean Kremer. The 24-year-old right-hander has serious potential to become a rotation regular in years to come; this season gave us a preview of his skillset.

Final Stats: 1-1, 4.82 ERA, 12 BB, 22 K, 1.45 WHIP (18.2 innings, 4 games started)

We didn’t get much of Kremer, but what we saw was solid. His fastball caught opposing hitters whiffing regularly and his curveball had some serious movement and bite.

With a young prospect like Kremer, the numbers don’t worry me too much, especially in a shortened season. His minor league performances and limited outings this season point toward Kremer becoming a regular in future Baltimore rotations. Akin and Kremer both debuted in 2020 and showed why Orioles fans are excited about the future.

Hunter Harvey:

Hunter Harvey was injured for most of 2020, so his limited stats aren’t very telling.

Final Stats: 0-2, 4.15 ERA, 2 BB, 6 K, 1.15 WHIP (8.2 innings, 10 appearances)

I would have Harvey further up in this article if it weren’t for the injury and limited outings this year. The 2020 season was a bit of a wash for Harvey, but he still flashed signs of why he’s a top pitching prospect for the Orioles.

Harvey struck out opposing batters well and limited the damage in his relief outings. He is still a likely option as the club’s future closer, but he was not thrown into any save opportunities this past year. However, Harvey recorded four holds this season and showed he can pitch while ahead. For this reason, Harvey is still my top candidate to start the 2021 season as the Orioles’ closer.

Honorable mentions:

Ramón Urías wasn’t on my radar going into the season but made the best of his 25 at-bats this season. He hit .360 with three RBI, one home run, and three runs. Urías went 3-for-4 against the Blue Jays on Sept. 24; he found a groove late in the season and will look to carry that into 2021.

Andrew Velazquez struggled with his batting average (.159) in 63 at-bats but stole four bases and showed some potential as a fielder.

Cole Sulser started the season as Baltimore’s closer and struggled tremendously at that spot; however, he did record five saves in eight opportunities. It is unlikely that he returns to the closer role, but Sulser could work to improve and become a late reliever for the O’s.

Dillon Tate is still eligible as a rookie even though we know him pretty well by now. He went 1-1 in 2020 with a 3.24 ERA through 16.2 innings. He struck out 14 batters and walked five.

Once the Orioles’ playoff hopes started to disappear in 2020, more and more rookies made debuts during August and September. While Baltimore’s record wasn’t impressive, the club certainly moved forward this year in terms of developing young prospects. Several players such as Mountcastle and Akin will have big roles in 2021, while surprise prospects like Kremer and Lakins Sr. should get a chance to make a big jump next year.

Stay tuned to The Baltimore Battery, as we continue to analyze the 2020 season and keep you updated on offseason moves! Also, if you haven’t already, check out Part 1 of our Orioles 2020 Season Recap!

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