With the 2021 season officially here, the memes and Twitter posts about how bad the Orioles will be are in full swing. Do I think the Orioles will win the AL East? Certainly not, however, I also think that the combination of youth and upside make the O’s an incredibly fun and exciting team to watch in 2021. With 5 players from my Orioles Top 50 list making the Opening Day roster, the hard work that has gone into rebuilding the system is starting to impact Baltimore and, I for one, can’t wait to see what the season brings.
Ryan Mountcastle is by far the most well known of the five that made the Opening Day roster. Just barely still qualifies as a prospect after an absolutely fantastic 126 at bat debut in 2020. Mountcastle was already all but guaranteed a spot in the opening day lineup based on 2020, but he didn’t really hurt himself this spring either. 9 extra base hits in 51 at bats, with 4 of those leaving the yard, leaves very little doubt he’s ready for a full time role in Baltimore. I’m still holding out hope that he will find a way to walk a little bit more as he matures, but as long as he continues to limit the swing and miss to a reasonable level, 21% this spring, I think he will continue to reach base at a high enough clip to be a potential All-Star. Capable of playing left field and first base, he should find himself in the middle of the lineup everyday in 2021.
Dean Kremer is another top 10 pre-season prospect that has found his way to Baltimore to start the season. In the pre-season Top 50, I wrote about the control issues that have plagued Kremer, especially in his debut in 2020. Those same issues reared there head this spring. I know we’re talking a tiny sample size, 18.2 innings in 2020 and 15.2 innings in spring 2021, but 20 walks in 34.1 innings is far too many to find much success. The strikeout numbers have been good and I still love the stuff, but if Kremer can’t limit the walks, he will likely find himself in the bullpen much quicker than anyone in Baltimore would like.
Tyler Wells looked like a longshot to stick in Baltimore as recently as 2 weeks ago. The 6’8” Rule 5 Draft pick has not thrown a pitch in a professional game since 2018 (Tommy John surgery) and that was in Double-A, but Wells has great this spring and has forced his way onto the roster. Small sample size again obviously, but 12 strikeouts in 9 innings, while only walking three and giving up 3 walks certainly makes it appear that Wells can hold his own. While I’m sure we will run into some bumps in the road, Wells appears that he may follow the path that current Oriole standout Anthony Santander did, from Rule 5 pick to a regular in Baltimore.
Bruce Zimmermann was said to likely be on the outside looking in for a rotation spot and potentially even for a roster spot at the outset of Spring Training. However, Zimmermann, much like Tyler Wells, has pitched his way, not only onto the roster, but into the middle of the starting rotation. Zimmermann continued to show his ability to command the strike zone this spring allowing just 3 walks in 13.1 innings while striking out 13. He did surrender 3 home runs, but they have not historically been a problem for him, so I’m taking that as a spring fluke. While I’m not sure he is destined to stay in the middle of the rotation, Zimmermann has earned the shot and I’ll go out on a limb and say he sticks in Baltimore for all of 2021.
Mac Sceroler is another Rule 5 pick that has found a way onto the Orioles Opening Day roster. I see Sceroler as more of a long shot to stick with Baltimore than fellow Rule 5 pick Tyler Wells. He has not had the minor league success and does not appear to have the raw stuff that Wells does, not to mention his spring was not nearly as impressive, he walked 6 in 7 innings while only striking out 3. Nevertheless, Manager Brandon Hyde and GM Mike Elias saw enough to keep him around, but I would expect Sceroler to be more of the typical Rule 5 pick and find himself more or less only being used in mop up duty, at least until he would prove me wrong. I love the aggressiveness with Rule 5 picks, but I’m unsure of Sceroler’s ability to stick with the big club.
If you’d asked me 100 times in the last two months to name the Orioles Opening Day starting rotation, Keegan Akin would have been on that list 100 times. After a pretty strong debut in 2020, I thought Akin was almost as much of a lock to head north with the team as Mountcastle. However, a spring where Akin surrendered 15 hits and 7 walks in 9 innings, as well as better performances from some somewhat unexpected starters (Jorge Lopez and Matt Harvey), has pushed Akin to the Alternate Site and barring an injury in Baltimore at least a start or two in Triple-A to right the ship. That being said, I still see Akin joining the Baltimore rotation fairly early this season. Whether that is to manage the innings of the aforementioned rookies Zimmerman and Kremer or because of performance for anyone outside of John Means remains to be seen.
Without a doubt, we won’t be judging the success of the Orioles this season solely with wins and losses, the development of the 6 players mentioned above and the continued growth of many other young talented players will really tell the story. However, I do think these guys will be worth more wins than the experts are predicting as well.