The 2022 Baltimore Orioles were not supposed to compete for anything other than a No. 1 pick. But, then again, baseball is played on the field, not on paper, and the Orioles exceeded expectations by a long shot.
After losing 110 games in 2021, the Birds were picked to finish last in the AL East and be the teeing-off point for superior teams with miles of talent, dwarfing the Orioles.
The 2022 season ended with the Orioles compiling an 83-79 record, on way to a fourth place finish in the East and only three games out of the final AL Wild Card spot.
Yes, there were savvy veterans who helped contribute to the on-field success. But 2022 belonged to the rookies of Charm City.
Led by the arrival of former top prospect, Adley Rutschman, and capped off by the arrival of new top prospect, Gunnar Henderson, it was rookies who cleared the path and showed the baseball world that the Orioles will no longer be a push over and the rebuild has it’s foundation ready to go.
In the final part of our four-part Orioles season recap, we review some members of the outstanding rookie class that created a spark in the success of the Birds in 2022.
When you talk about the turnaround the team made this season, you have to look directly at Rutschman first and foremost.
The rookie phenom arrived on May 21, after having his debut pushed back from an elbow strain. After starting the season 16-24, the Orioles would go 67-55 with Rutschman.
Rutschman would go on to slash .254/.362/.445 across 116 games (93 catching, 23 as DH). He would hit 13 home runs and drive in 42 runs while scoring 70 runs.
He would become just the third Orioles rookie, as well as third Orioles catcher, to be named Most Valuable Oriole.
Rutschman would set the Orioles rookie record, previously held by Cal Ripken Jr., for doubles with 35. He led all rookies in FanGraphs’ WAR at 5.1, while also leading the Orioles, and placing second in MLB among catchers, with 17 defensive runs saved. He also threw out 27% of would-be base stealers.
Needless to say, Rutschman was a big part of the beginning of the turnaround that the Orioles put on display this past year, but he was just one of the rookies that shined.
Not many teams are fortunate enough to have the overall top prospect jump to the bigs and make a major impact in their first season. For the Orioles, they were fortunate to have two overall top prospects make their debuts in the same season and become integral in team growth.
Gunnar Henderson forced his way into the majors by having such a strong minor league season. The Orioles had to bring him up at the age of 21.
Henderson would slash .297/.416/.531 across two levels in the minors, playing a combined 112 games across the infield. He added 121 hits that included 19 home runs, 24 doubles and seven triples, scoring 101 runs and driving in 76.
On August 31, Henderson would make his debut for the Orioles and play third base. He became the first Orioles player to play three different positions in his first three games in the majors.
Though Henderson wasn’t up as long as Rutschman, the surprising former second-round pick, showed his worth over his short tenure in the majors.
Over the course of 34 games, Henderson would slash .259/.348/.440 and would hit four long balls out of his 12 extra base hits, scoring 12 runs and driving in 18. Henderson also showed his versatility by playing second base, shortstop and third base, committing just one error in 33 games.
Joining the dynamic duo this season was top outfield prospect, Kyle Stowers. Another one of the 2019 draft class picks, Stowers is part of what most Orioles fans think can become a three-headed monster.
Stowers had a taste of big league action in the middle of the season, joining the club as a fill-in for one of the unvaccinated players on the trip to Toronto.
After going 1-for-7 with a double, Stowers was sent back down to Triple-A until returning in September and playing 32 games the rest of the way.
Though he didn’t acclimate to big league pitching quite as quickly, Stowers would slash .253/.306/.418, as his bat picked up towards the end of the year.
He finished with three home runs, 11 runs, 11 RBIs and played strong defense in both left and right field. He would stay a perfect 39-for-39 in outfield attempts as well.
While he showed growth towards the end, many fans will be anxious to see the young outfielder who tore up minor league pitching and has 20 home run potential.
Another rookie who made his presence felt during the season was utility player Terrin Vavra.
The former 2018 third-round draft pick has been a player of excitement. He slashed .305/.410/.468 through his minor league career, hitting 21 home runs with 118 RBIs across 244 games and stealing 40 bases, showing off some speed.
After turning heads in the minors, the Orioles would bring Vavra up at the end of July. Though he would play in only 40 games on the season, he would be efficient in his opportunities.
He would slash .258/.340/.337 across 89 at-bats, as he scored 40 runs, had five extra base hits, 12 RBIs and walked 12 times.
He had a firm command of the strike zone and had only one error in 59 chances in the field. The swiss army knife played second base, left field and right field, picking up an outfield assist and helping turn clutch double plays as well.
Though it was only a small sample size, the versitile Vavra showed he can handle the big leagues and only looks to improve on the opportunity going forward.
Kyle Bradish was one of the rookies who started relatively early in the season, making his debut on April 29. The young right-hander would play in 23 games on the season.
Though his 4-7 record and 4.90 ERA make you think his season was subpar, the stats show a different picture. He would pitch 117.2 innings with 111 strikeouts to just 46 walks and had a WHIP of 1.40.
Bradish would collect seven quality starts on the year and pitched five or more innings in 12 of his starts.
He would allow three earned runs or less in 16 of his starts, showing he has the ability to keep his team in the ball game when he takes the mound.
Against Houston, the AL’s best team and World Series representative, Bradish was 2-0 in 16.2 innings of work with zero runs allowed while striking out 16 batters and allowing just four hits. He showed his moxy against larger opponents and didn’t shy away from big games.
Over his last 12 starts of the season, Bradish would go 3-3 with a 3.50 ERA over 66.1 innings of work. This came as the Orioles were still fighting to make the playoffs.
On the back end of things, Félix Bautista, known to fans as “The Mountain,” would go from dominant bullpen arm to lockdown closer by the end of the year.
Like Bradish, Bautista would be with the Orioles from the get-go, making his debut on April 10, in what would be a coming out year for the 6-foot-5, 27-year-old rookie.
Starting the season as a back-end arm, Bautista would overtake the closer role after Jorge López would be traded to the Minnesota Twins.
From July 28 onward, Bautista would collect 13 saves in 14 chances, as he would secure games and help the Birds form one of the top bullpens in the majors.
Bautista, with his big hulking appearance, would appear in 65 games this past year, going 4-4. He would pitch in 65.2 innings, collecting 88 strikeouts with a 2.19 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP and finished the season converting 15 of 17 save opportunities and collecting 13 holds.
It appears the Orioles have found a future closer in “The Mountain” and a strong overpowering arm going forward.
Bautista was not the only rookie to make waves with the Orioles this past season, as young left-hander Nick Vespi made a statement for Baltimore in his time with the club in 2022. Vespi turned heads in the minors by not allowing an earned run in 26 games at the Triple-A level.
The former 18th-round pick would make his first appearance on May 20. Ironically, he would also pick up his first win, pitching two innings of one-hit ball and striking out three batters.
Vespi would stay with the Orioles through June, being sent back to the minors on July 6. He had his worst outing against the Mariners, pitching 0.1 innings and allowing six earned runs.
The reason we bring that outing up is that Vespi had an ERA of 4.10 on the season, that game being the main culprit of his high ERA. Of the 25 appearances Vespi made, there were only seven games he gave up a run, the Mariners game being the only one he gave up more than one.
On the season, Vespi would pitch 26.1 innings with 28 strikeouts. While he gave up no earned runs in Norfolk, Vespi would not lose a game in the majors, going a perfect 5-0 in his 25 appearances.
The one thing that Vespi will have to fix is his home run totals, as he gave up five long balls on the season. He has shown the potential to be a strong bullpen arm and appears to have a bright future in Birdland, giving some security in the bullpen going forward.
Another rookie that made his staple in the bullpen this year was Logan Gillaspie.
After going 6-3 across 28 games, the Orioles would first bring Gillaspie up in May, where he would stay with the club into July. He would return to the Orioles in mid-August, where he would pitch to a 0.82 ERA the rest of the season.
Overall, Gillaspie would pitch in 17 games, accumulating 17.1 innings of work, and would go 1-0 with a 3.12 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. He also allowed just one home run and collected his first career save.
These young Orioles have proven their moxy and showcased the talent that has been built over the last few years.
Though hard times had existed over the previous four seasons, 2022 showed that a new wave of Orioles baseball is here. This is just a taste of what is coming.
If 2022 was the wake-up call for MLB, 2023 should hear the O’s ringing the cow bell very loudly. The Orioles are taking flight, and these exciting rookies are leading the way.
Which rookie stood out to you the most for the O’s in 2022? Let us know in the comments below! And make sure to follow The Baltimore Battery on Facebook and Twitter, and use the hashtag #baltimorebattery when sharing our content!
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