O’s 3 big questions for 2023 season

Let’s start off by saying this gives no guarantees of anything going forward, just scenarios, possibilities and hypotheticals that could manifest or transpire. 

It’s the offseason in baseball, and we have until March 30, 2023, before the first pitch of the regular season will be thrown for the Orioles.  

In the meantime, guys like me get to do this thing where we try to predict or even give the possibilities of what will happen between now and then.  

So buckle up, as I take you through some scenarios, hypotheticals and possible rumors heading into the 2023 Orioles season.

The Santander Elephant

For the last couple of seasons, Anthony Santander has been a name that has been mentioned through circles in front offices across the sport. 

Everyone knew the Orioles had a log jam of outfielders arriving, so players like Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays and Santander might be available for the right price.   

Despite the air of rumors, Santander survived. That was until this season when Ryan McKenna found his major league groove and worldly outfielder Kyle Stowers was pushing his way up to the big league roster.

Everyone just knew that the trade deadline would come, Santander would be gone and the future could start showcasing talent. Well, this never happened, and Santander went on to hit 33 home runs on the season, 11 more than the next closest player.  

Where Santander loses value, though, is his defense. In 2022, Santander recorded a minus five in Defensive Runs Saved and had a minus four in Outs Above Average, as he would play a total of 994.2 innings in the field.

Though he did record five outfield assists, Santander slots in as a better DH than outfielder. This makes Santander a good fit for the offense, and at 28, it would still allow him to fill in the if needed.

The question becomes, are the Orioles going to look for a suitor, or does Santander fit into future plans? 

” Well, Santander’s been a popular guy with other teams since I’ve been here. But look, we like him. He batted third for us all yea. He can play a really solid right field. He’s great in the clubhouse. A switch-hitting DH, he goes well with Adley [Rutschman] in the middle of the lineup and the other guys that we have coming.”

Orioles GM Mike Elias on Anthony Santander

Listening to O’s GM Mike Elias, it appears that Santander is considered a part of the future plans. But what is not said above, is if they are looking at extending Santander.

“So we see no real strategy in moving him, and I’m excited he’s coming back for the next two years. But, you know, obviously, we do our jobs and we listen to people.”

Orioles GM Mike Elias on the future of Anthony Santander in Baltimore

So it does appear, for now, that the Santander rumors might still fly here and there. But if Elias has his way, Santander should be here at least through 2024, barring major trade offers.

Adley Rutschman: What will a full season look like?

We all know who Adley Rutschman is and how the hype train met with reality was everything, and possibly more, that we could hope for in the former No. 1 overall pick.

Unfortunately, in 2022, we had to wait until the end of May to see Rutschman make his major league debut.

Due to an elbow strain, Rutschman would have to wait until May 21, 2022, to wear the orange and black at Camden Yards. Of course, there was an adjustment period, but in the end, it was the Rutschman Effect that turned a floundering season into one of the most exciting in recent memory.

Upon Rutschman’s arrival, the Orioles were sitting at 16-24 and struggling to score runs. Their starting pitching was struggling, and though the bullpen was strong, it was being used at a high rate. 

The expectations were not too high at this time, but at least we could see what Rutschman would bring to the table. 

From that point on, the Orioles would amass a 67-54 record while compiling a 50-33 record in games that Rutschman was catching. It wasn’t until the end of September that the Orioles were eliminated from postseason contention, and the Rutschman Effect had been experienced. 

Rutschman would win Most Valuable Oriole, becoming just the third rookie to do so and third catcher in Orioles history to win the award.  

Rutschman would play a total of 113 games, splitting time at DH as well as behind the plate. He would slash .254/.362/.445, collecting 13 home runs, 42 RBIs, 35 doubles (an Orioles rookie record), 65 walks and would throw out 31% of would-be base stealers, while amassing a 5.3 fWAR and an 18 Defensive Runs Saved.

But of course, that has this writer wondering just what a full season of Adley Rutschman could bring. I won’t ask you to temper expectations, but this is all hypothetical based on this past season.  

Now, taking into account that Rutschman would play 93% of the games he was active for last year, that would translate to Rutschman playing a combined 150 games in a full 162-game season. He caught 83% of the games he appeared in last season, which would put him in line to catch about 110 games in a full season. 

That would be normal wear for a catcher across a full season, so we can deduce that these would be relatively close to what we can expect or look forward to in 2023. 

Based on this number alone, this would project Rutschman to accumulate about 525 at-bats and total about 132 hits over a full season. This would see Rutschman end up hitting about .252 across a full season.  

That’s a respectable line offensively. We should see about 40 doubles, 22 home runs, about 68 RBIs, 75 walks and 93 runs scored, which would make for a very strong offensive line and production in the lineup, especially for a catcher.  

Once again, these are hypotheticals and based on averages from his rookie season with small adjustments to figure with an increase of playing time, at-bats and opportunities over the season. But as you can see, this would make Rutschman one of the top offensive catchers in the game and catapult him even more so to one of the premier backstops defensively.

Does 2023 become the first of many competitive seasons?

Last season, we saw the building blocks of what has been promised take the first big step forward. With the likes of Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, Kyle Stowers and Kyle Bradish making their big league debuts, the Orioles would go on to win 83 games.   

Of course, other rookies would contribute to the success of last season. But the bigger question is, does 2023 mark the beginning of a decade of postseason contention moving forward?

Based on what was seen last season and what is set to come from other prospects, the foundation has been laid for a strong future. We still have yet to see what Grayson Rodriguez will bring to the table, but the success of other big-name prospects has led to an encouraging step towards consistency. 

If things fall the way they did last season, the early projection would place the Orioles as a 90-win club in 2023. And to think, Rodriguez will be arriving, D.L. Hall will have a bigger impact and with the return of John Means, the excitement level can only raise the bar of expectations.  

We should see Kyle Bradish take a step forward as well, giving the rotation the possibility of quality starts on a nightly basis. Plus, with Dean Kremer, Austin Voth and Mike Baumann, the depth of the pitching staff seems to be deeper than we all even anticipated.  

There is also Jordan Westburg, Joey Ortiz, Colton Cowser, Heston Kjerstad, Jackson Holliday and many others who are rising through the system and should be making debuts within the next couple seasons. 

The promise looks to feature an Orioles team that will compete yearly for the AL East crown and postseason positioning, with the hope of a World Series crown. With the recent success of 2012-2016 Orioles, this current run has the ability to surpass that group with excitement and sustainability, with the proper moves and extensions along the way.  

I won’t go making a stamp of guarantee with these answers, but these three questions loom large as we head toward 2023. The hypotheticals and projections would seem to be leaning toward realistic over fiction.

We will have to revisit these questions at the end of 2023 to see how much holds true. But in themeantimee, I hope this brings some excitement, peace of mind and hope towards a strong season.

Which question looms large in your mind this offseason? 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!

Like Stephen’s content? Follow him on Twitter – @SRJHeckman

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