2023 MLB Season Preview: Baltimore Orioles

Image: Mitchell Layton / Getty Images

2022 Record: 83-79 (.513 win%, 4th in Division)

2023 Payroll: $52,157,966 (29th)

2023 Projected Lineup:

1. CF Cedric Mullins, .253 AVG/.319 OBP/.412 SLG, 3.2 fWAR

2. C Adley Rutschman, .257 AVG/.356 OBP/.427 SLG, 5.3 fWAR

3. 1B Ryan Mountcastle, .253 AVG/.312 OBP/.443 SLG, 1.9 fWAR

4. RF Anthony Santander, .248 AVG/.311 OBP/.448 SLG, 2.0 fWAR

5. 3B Gunnar Henderson, .249 AVG/.336 OBP/.417 SLG, 3.3 fWAR

6. LF Austin Hays, .250 AVG/.304 OBP/.421 SLG, 1.9 fWAR

7. DH Kyle Stowers, .235 AVG/.307 OBP/.408 SLG, 0.4 fWAR

8. 2B Adam Frazier, .264 AVG/.324 OBP/.369 SLG, 1.5 fWAR

9. SS Jorge Mateo, .226 AVG/.272 OBP/.361 SLG, 1.0 fWAR

10. INF Ramon Urias, .245 AVG/.312 OBP/.396 SLG, 1.6 fWAR

2023 Projected Starting Rotation:

1. Kyle Gibson, 172.0 IP/4.23 ERA/1.35 WHIP, 1.3 fWAR

2. Dean Kremer, 144.0 IP/4.52 ERA/1.34 WHIP, 0.7 fWAR

3. Cole Irvin, 169.0 IP/4.54 ERA/1.32 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR

4. Kyle Bradish, 146.0 IP/4.11 ERA/1.32 WHIP, 1.3 fWAR

5. Tyler Wells, 99.0 IP/4.46 ERA/1.28 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR

2023 Projected Top 4 Relievers:

1. CL Felix Bautista, 65.0 IP/3.14 ERA/1.17 WHIP, 0.8 fWAR

2. Cionel Perez, 63.0 IP/3.49 ERA/1.30 WHIP, 0.2 fWAR

3. Bryan Baker, 62.0 IP/3.63 ERA/1.25 WHIP, 0.3 fWAR

4. Keegan Akin, 68.0 IP/3.51 ERA/1.21 WHIP, 0.3 fWAR

What Does Baseball Mean to Baltimore?

The buzz is finally back in Baltimore. After four straight years of what was more often than not the worst team in all of baseball, hope is back again for the birds of orange. 

Aside from a Steve Pearce led ALCS run in 2014, there’s been a lack of high end success for the O’s since the late ‘90s, but that seems destined to change moving into 2023. With a mixture of elite young talent in Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, Grayson Rodriguez, and Cedric Mullins, the spirit of baseball feels like it’s been revitalized in the historic Camden Yards.

It’s more than just a facade: Orioles baseball is back and better than ever. 

2022 Offseason Recap:

As much energy as there is in the city and the clubhouse, the additions in the offseason were, well… minor at best. Fans are right to put their trust in General Manager Mike Elias, but ownership is clearly holding back the team from competing with the big dogs, at least in 2023. 

While the team is at its highest point since Manny Machado departed, the Angelos family continues to pinch pennies, and it’s a genuine concern. That being said, I don’t think you can say the O’s got worse during the offseason due to the inevitable promotion of top prospect Gunnar Henderson. 

As a result, Elias decided to let Robinson Chirinos and Jesus Aguilar walk in free agency. Additionally, in reluctance to pay Jordan Lyles over ten million dollars in 2023, they let him depart and he signed a two-year, $17 million dollar deal with the Royals. 

Lyles is the biggest loss of the offseason, and one that management very much might regret, even with the potential return of John Means. To succeed him as the veteran of the rotation, and in the biggest splash of the offseason for the O’s, they signed the now thirty-five year old Kyle Gibson to a one year, $10 million dollar contract. 

Gibson serves as pretty much a direct replacement for Lyles, but whether he is an improvement remains to be seen. He’s coming off of a pretty miserable five plus ERA season for the Phillies, and has yet to prove himself as anything more than a back end starter in any given rotation. That being said, due to a lack of high end pitching talent, he’s the Opening Day starter and will be a major innings eater for the Orioles in 2023. 

The only other meaningful addition on the pitching end was reliever Mychal Givens, who earned himself a one-year, $5 million dollar contract for 2023. Givens is a solid reliever who will likely fill in meaningful innings in the pen, but is on the IL with knee soreness to begin the year. 

On the offensive side of the ball, Elias decided to add another piece to an already solid infield, signing longtime Pittsburgh Pirate Adam Frazier to a one-year, $8 million contract. As much as they needed another hitter, Frazier adds little to the Orioles in the long term, serving as a fill-in second baseman to share time with 2022 standout Ramon Urias. 

The lack of a quality designated hitter is disappointing to say the least, though the potential addition of Colton Cowser and Jordan Westburg later in the season may have kept management from pulling the trigger on any significant contract at the position. 

Overall, the lack of any contract over one year was both worrying and discouraging, but the hope is that young talent can overcome the lack of long term free agency deals and bring this team to success. 

2023 Regular Season Preview:

The Orioles are in a better position than they were at the beginning of 2021, but it’s not all sunshine and daisies in Baltimore. The lineup, while definitely more solid than last season, still has too many mediocre players to be called one of the best in the majors. 

The infield will likely be a mix of Gunnar Henderson, Jorge Mateo, Ryan Mountcastle, Adam Frazier, and Ramon Urias, though standout prospect Jordan Westburg seems destined to join the group later in the season. 

Henderson is the highlight of the group, being the consensus top prospect in America, but he has more to prove than Adley Rutschman did last season. He performed well at the end of last season in minimal appearances, but expectations should be tempered on his first full MLB season. 

Jorge Mateo, Ryan Mountcastle, and Ramon Urias serve as reliable options, though they’re not likely to put up star level seasons. Mateo broke out onto the scene in 2022 with 2.8 fWAR and an elite glove and speed, but the lack of a consistent bat will hold him back from being one of the top names at the shortstop position. 

Mountcastle has proved himself to be a consistent hitter in his first two full seasons, with fifty-five home runs across the last two years, but his below average defense and average bat to ball skills have held him back from being an elite first baseman. 

Utilityman Ramon Urias had the best year of his career in 2022 starting at third base, but with the addition of Gunnar Henderson he’ll end up competing with Adam Frazier for reps at second. 

The outfield remains as it was last season, with a mix of Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, and Austin Hays. After a near MVP caliber 2021, Mullins regressed slightly last season, but he’s not someone you should forget about easily. Aside from Mike Trout, there may not be a better center fielder in all of baseball, and that’s certainly not to discredit others at the position. With Santander on his right and Hays on his left, the O’s outfield group remains a threat, especially on the hitting end. 

Santander, specifically, is looking to repeat a very solid 2022, wherein he hit a team leading thirty-three home runs, good for twelfth in the majors. In addition to those three, both Kyle Stowers and Terrin Vavra will likely see some time in the outfield to begin the season, though Stowers is the projected starter at DH to start the year. 

Stowers, after a very solid 2022 in AAA, looks to replicate that success against MLB caliber pitchers, which could be a tall task for the youngster. I remain hopeful 2021 #5 overall pick Colton Cowser can break the 26 man sooner rather than later, but it seems likely that he doesn’t see the major league roster till September. 

Above all else, though, there’s one man on this team that shines brighter than all the others. He’s a defensive wizard, a star caliber slugger, and he does it all while calling pitches. That’s right, it’s Adley Rutschman. It’s not that often that you get to see someone as special as the second year Orioles catcher. Orioles fans and others alike should be able to appreciate just how awesome he really is, so take advantage.

Just because there are so many bright spots in the lineup, though, doesn’t mean this team is without its weaknesses. And by weaknesses, I mean the entire pitching staff. As I mentioned in my season review at the end of last year, pitching coach/director of pitching Chris Holt managed to pull off a miracle with the staff he had in 2022, and he’ll have to do it again in 2023. 

The starting rotation is filled with more question marks than answers, being led by aforementioned veteran Kyle Gibson and last year’s breakout Dean Kremer. I made my thoughts about Gibson clear, and while I am higher on Kremer than most people likely are, he truly is the one bright spot in the rotation. 

Kyle Bradish, Tyler Wells, and former Athletic Cole Irvin round out the starting rotation to begin the year, with former ace John Means taking the beginning of the year to heal from the season ending injury he sustained at the start of 2022. Even when he returns, it is a question as to if he’s able to return to his past form. 

Top ten prospect Grayson Rodriguez is the one ray of hope in the rotation, but after struggling post-injury last year and during Spring Training this year he’s off to AAA Norfolk to begin the season. Overall, the starting rotation is a mishmash of stopgaps, which is the most likely thing to hold back the O’s in 2023. 

The bullpen, similarly, is more questions than answers. They exceeded expectations immensely in 2022, finishing in the top half of the league, but they’ll have to prove it wasn’t a fluke this coming season. 

Closer Felix Bautista returns after a stellar rookie year, in which he took over the closing roles midseason and finished with a 2.19 ERA in 65+ innings. Aside from him, former waiver claims Cionel Perez and Bryan Baker will again be tasked with a large role, and former starter Keegan Akin will round out the pen as an innings eater. 

Free agent signing Mychal Givens will also play a significant role when healthy, though when that is remains unknown. Overall, it’s a group that faces pressure to replicate a shockingly good 2022, and whether they manage to do that could have a major impact on the fate of their season. 

Player to Watch #1: C Adley Rutschman 

Adley Rutschman is an incredible player. Say what you want about fellow second year major leaguer Julio Rodriguez, and what he’s doing is incredible as well, but just how amazing Adley was, both offensively and defensively in his rookie season, was absolutely overlooked. 

He put together a rookie year on par with Buster Posey’s rookie year in 2010, in which he won the Rookie of the Year award and finished eleventh in MVP voting. Just two years later, Posey was an MVP winner. With Rutschman’s mix of elite defensive capabilities, athleticism, and hitting tools, he feels destined to follow in Posey’s footsteps. 

Player to Watch #2: 3B Gunnar Henderson

Man, talk about players that can do it all. Henderson shined as a prospect during the 2022 season, shooting from #57 on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects to #1 overall in just the course of a season. 

An athletic freak, Henderson is the definition of a five tool player. He’s got a cannon of an arm and has the ability to play both short and third at a higher than average level, is a speedy baserunner who’s smart on the basepaths, and on top of that, he’s got the power and contact potential to hit .300 with 30+ homers a year. 

And get this: he’s only 21 years old. It seems inevitable that Henderson ends up as a star of the future, but a great rookie year would do wonders to jump start that future. 

Player to Watch #3: CF Cedric Mullins

I know, I know, I just had to go and pick the three best players on the team. That being said, these three are just fun. A speedy and instinctive center fielder who hits well from both sides of the plate? Sign me up. 

I expect last year’s version of Mullins more than the MVP-contending 2021 version, but either way he’s a threat to any pitcher that has to face him in the batter’s box. Though, if the superstar version of Cedric Mullins we saw in 2021 makes his return, this O’s lineup may just be one of the scariest in baseball. 

Position Group to Watch: The Infield

Gunnar Henderson. Jorge Mateo. Ramon Urias. Hey, might as well even add Adley Rutschman. I don’t know if I’ve ever said this before, but every single ground ball is going to be fun. Mateo has one of the best gloves in the majors, having been snubbed of a Gold Glove award last season, and could very well compete for the AL Platinum Glove award this season. 

Urias also stepped his game up in the field last year, though he’s likely to play more second as compared to his home at third base last season. Now add a Gunnar Henderson to the mix, and I can’t help but be excited for every ground ball that hits the dirt.

2023 Record Prediction: 83-79

As fun as this Orioles team is, the reality is that they’re still in the process of building. It’s possible they can make a playoff push as a result of their hitting talent, especially if Adley, Mullins, and Henderson deliver, but the lack of talent in the pitching position makes any playoff hopes an uphill battle. 

Still, looking at projections, analysts are undervaluing how talented the hitting and defense is. Expect the O’s to put up a good fight in the AL East this season, but against some really talented teams in the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Rays, I don’t think It’ll be enough to break that six year playoff drought.

Categories: 2023 Season Preview, Articles, Season Analysis

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