As a Baltimore Orioles fan, we have had a whirlwind of adventures over the past decade plus.
From a rebuilding team that culminated with a 33-3 drubbing by the Rangers, to ushering in the Buck Showalter era that consisted of three playoff visits, an AL East title and the most wins in the AL over a four-year period.
The Showalter era ended in 2018, the Orioles cleaned house and ushered in a new regime lead by new GM Mike Elias. A full scale rebuild from bottom to top was underway, and the promise was a club that could stay competitive for years, but not until we endured a series of hard and gut-wrenching seasons, three of the last four seasons with 100-plus losses.
Along the way, we have watched our big league club struggle with pitching, middle infielders and establishing a functional franchise that would be able to bring pride back to the Charmed City.
As fans, we have waited for the franchise building block of Adley Rutschman, the top pick and minor league prospect, whom the Orioles have patiently groomed and has proven the hype to be right so far in his young career. His coming out party should be in 2022, which tends to lead us fans to wonder; are we there yet?
We have watched a minor league system that has jumped to the top in baseball. It includes the top-rated pitcher and eighth overall prospect, Grayson Rodriguez. A flamethrower, who strikes out more batters than total fans that filled the Orioles Park last year (little bit of a stretch there).
We have a power outfielder in Kyle Stowers, who without much fan fair before this season, pushed his way through the minors as the “other” pick in the 2019 amature draft. Stowers, out of Stanford, ended up hitting 27 home runs across three levels and shared the Orioles’ Brooks Robinson Award with Rutschman in 2021.
One of the biggest stories of the year came in the form of Cedric Mullins, a player who not even two years before ended up falling all the way down to Double-A ball. Some switches to offensive approach, ditching the switch hitter role and altering his training and work out plan, Mullins broke out to become a top-10 finalist in AL MVP voting, finishing ninth.
Mullins would win a Silver Slugger Award, while becoming the Orioles’ and Major League Baseball’s 46th all-time 30-30 player. He set the table for the Orioles and is just another reason the young Birds have sent some excitement through the league.
With young phenom and Player’s Rookie of the Year Ryan Mountcastle bashing his way to an Orioles’ rookie home run record, Baltimore has a young foundation of talent that makes us fans wonder if we have finally reached the time to see this improvement that has been promised since the end of 2018.
The Orioles will begin 2022 with no commitments, guaranteed contracts or total long term deals. Many would think this would mean a free agent frenzy of players, but Mike Elias doesn’t expect the club to make that big of a jump this coming year to go out with a blank checkbook yet.
There are six candidates (Comeback Player of the Year Trey Mancini, Anthony Santander, John Means, Jorge López, Paul Fry and Tanner Scott) who are arbitration eligible. The rest of the 40-man roster will be spring training invites with a chance to make the Opening Day roster and offer excitement.
The Orioles possess the number one overall pick un next year’s amature draft, and there are so many holes that the team can look to select an immediate impact player or one to groom.
Outside of Means, who carried a 3.62 ERA across 146 innings, the Orioles do not have any spots guaranteed for their rotation. With Bruce Zimmermann, Keegan Akin and DL Hall returning from injuries, and with Kyle Brandish, Mike Baumann and Kevin Smith flashing big league potential, the Orioles have options.
Fans also can’t forget that Zac Lowther, Dean Kremer, Alex Wells and potential closer and former Rule 5 pick Tyler Wells can help round out a bullpen with plenty of open spots. The potential fills the landscape, but is it enough right now?
The Birds have built an impressive stable of young and talented players, who have the ability to contribute to the 2022 season, but will it be enough?
As a fan who has watched and studied, I think we are still a year away from making some noise, but we definitely should see a more competitive team in 2022. We should see some excitement with new and young faces making debuts and leaving their mark for the future.
Unfortunately for us fans, 2022 won’t be the year we arrive, but expect to see improvement across the landscape and a team full of exciting talent.
Buckle your seat belts, Birdland. Our destination is on the horizon.
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