Allegany Communications Sports
The perception is the Baltimore Orioles have not had a productive offseason following their surprising 2022 when they stayed in contention right up to the final week. And certainly, there hasn’t been a lot of glitz with the maneuvering of general manager Mike Elias this winter, yet when it comes to baseball with a small-market team experiencing ownership turmoil almost weekly, don’t let yourself mistake glitz for substance.
It says here, and other places, the Orioles have, indeed, had a very productive offseason, because wherever you look throughout their system there is nothing but substance.
MLB.com last week released its MLB Pipeline Top 100 Prospects, and the new No. 1 overall prospect in the game is infielder Gunnar Henderson of the Orioles, marking the sixth straight bi-annual prospects list on which the Orioles have had a player in the top two, beginning with catcher Adley Rutschman, who was No. 2 in the 2020 midseason rank.
Under Elias, the Orioles have developed one of the best farm systems since the rankings began in 2004 and MLB.com says it has never been stronger than it is now, as this is the first time Baltimore has opened a season with more than five players on a Top 100 list, including last year’s group which was headlined by Rutschman, who later made his big-league debut and became the Orioles’ best player and one of the best catchers in the game.
The Orioles lead all MLB teams with eight players in the top 100. No. 1 overall prospect Henderson, who also made a productive MLB debut in the second half of last season, is the big name, followed by pitcher Grayson Rodriguez (No. 7), infielder Jackson Holliday (No. 12), outfielder Colyton Cowser (No. 40), infielder Jordan Westburg (No. 74), outfielder Kjersted Heston (No. 80), pitcher DL Hall (No. 97) and infielder Joey Ortiz (No. 99).
With four infielders, two outfielders and two pitchers, Elias has built a diverse mix of overall talent, as Henderson, Rodriguez and Hall could all compete for Opening Day jobs with the big club, with Ortiz, Westburg and Cowser likely not far behind.
MLB.com pointed out that the organizations with eight or more prospects on a preseason Top 100 in the previous five years — Rays (2021), Padres (2020), Braves (2020, 2019, 2018) — all made the postseason in 2022.
And, oh, by the way, the Orioles did make an offseason trade last week, one that looks to carry substance for the immediate and mid-term future, landing another experienced and reliable starting pitcher, who is a left-hander, to boot. Baltimore received Cole Irvin from Oakland, who should slot into the five-man rotation to open the season. The O’s also acquired Minor League right-hander Kyle Virbitsky in the deal that sent shortstop Darell Hernaiz (the club’s No. 16 prospect per MLB Pipeline) to the A’s.
Irvin, who turns 29 today, was a sure thing in the Oakland rotation over the past two seasons, providing dependability and innings, posting a 4.24 ERA in 178 1/3 innings over 32 starts in 2021, then recording a 3.98 ERA in a career-high 181 innings over 30 starts last year, also setting career bests in strikeouts (128) and WHIP (1.16).
Plus, the Orioles could have Irvin for the next four seasons, as he is under team control through the end of the 2026 season. Irvin joins the Orioles’ lone addition to its starting rotation this offseason in right-hander Kyle Gibson, who signed a one-year contract in December.
The Orioles have added veteran stability and much-needed innings from both sides of the mound without committing to a long-term deal and from dealing from their deep prospects depth in the minor leagues. What’s not to like?
Hernaiz, for instance, a 21-year-old who was selected in the fifth round of the 2019 MLB Draft, spent most of last season with Single-A Delmarva and High-A Aberdeen, but he had a 13-game stint with Double-A Bowie late in the year, which made him appealing for other teams and available in the Orioles’ view, as the club still has a potential logjam at shortstop.
Jorge Mateo should be the starting shortstop this season, while prospects Holliday and Ortiz both play the position. Henderson can also play short, although he’ll likely spend most of his time at third base for now, with Gold Glover Ramon Urias moving to second.
Irvin provides the Orioles a much-needed left-handed arm for the rotation, as he is likely to be the only southpaw starter who will break camp with John Means recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Irvin and Gibson will be locks for the Orioles’ rotation, with the final three spots to be settled by Dean Kremer, Kyle Bradish and Tyler Wells, who all pitched well at times last year; while Rodriguez, the club’s top pitching prospect, has a chance to earn a rotation spot in Spring Training as well.
Austin Voth, Hall, Mike Baumann and Bruce Zimmermann also start, but can also bolster Baltimore’s already strong bullpen.
I don’t know … I call that a productive offseason.
And when the time is right, don’t be surprised to see a veteran left-handed hitting run producer coming on board. That’s why you build quality depth in your farm system – to use it. One way or another.
Pitchers and catchers report in 15 days.
Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT