The Baltimore Orioles have gone from a 110-loss team in 2021 to currently leading the American League in wins with a 61-38 record. Despite playing in one of the toughest divisions in North American sports, the front office has established a fascinating and youthful roster that will challenge for titles for several years.
Some players have already made their impact known while others are just on their way up. Here are five players to watch as the Orioles look to establish a foundation for their franchise.
Five Players Who Will Help the Orioles Win the AL East This Year… And for Years to Come
The switch-hitting catcher has already established himself as one of the best catchers in baseball. In his debut campaign, he finished in second place in the Rookie of the Year voting. There are not many teams in baseball who have the luxury of a strong defender by the plate who can also contribute on offense.
The advanced metrics do not love Rutschman’s defense as much as his rookie season, but he is continuing to impress with his bat. He has already tied his home run total from last season in almost fifty fewer at-bats. His plate discipline is his most unique attribute. He has been in the top 5% of all players in walk rate both last season and this year. He has made it even tougher for opponents to get an easy out as he has cut his strikeout rate from an already impressive 18.3% down to 15.6%
Henderson has barely more than one hundred games in the big leagues, but he is already showing why he was such a highly regarded prospect. He is fourth among all rookies with sixteen home runs this season, ranking in the top 10% of all players in average exit velocity, max exit velocity, and hard hit percentage.
One area of improvement that sticks out with Henderson is his propensity to strike out. However, he is still only 22 years old and has plenty of time to refine his plate approach. He strikes out a lot, but he still takes his share of walks and does not chase outside the zone.
Not only has he racked up offensive stats, he is a true athlete. He is one of the faster players in baseball and has a great arm. The advanced metrics vary on whether or not Henderson is a good defender, but for example, Ultimate Zone Rating has him ranked as a top 10 defender at third base.
The Orioles have a Golden Corral-size buffet of position players, but pitching is one area where they could use a boost. Rodriguez hopes to be that difference maker. For 2023, Rodriguez has struggled to reach his ceiling with a 6.91 ERA this season. However, he has put together several solid starts that show he could be moving in the right direction.
At the major-league level, he has been too prone to the long ball, allowing more than two home runs per nine innings. In the minors, he gave up fewer than one per nine innings. He has allowed excessive amounts of hard contact in his limited time on the Orioles this year, but his strikeout rate is still shining through. The Orioles might not need him to be a lockdown ace this year, but his development is key to the franchise’s hope to compete for titles for the next several years.
Westburg already rates as a solid defender at second base and ranks in the 92nd percentile for sprint speed. There is quite obviously a pattern for finding these young, athletic players. At 24, Westburg is not as young as the other “Baby Birds,” but he can still find himself fitting a crucial role for the O’s.
In his short time in the majors, he has had league-average production. Once he starts hitting for the same power he displayed in the minors, he could become another middle-of-the-order bat to hit behind players like Rutschman and Henderson. In Triple-A this season, Westburg hit eighteen home runs in just sixty-seven games. How much will he utilize his speed? He was fifteen-for-eighteen in stolen bases attempts in Norfolk across two seasons.
Even after all the promotions the Orioles have had recently, they still have the top prospect in baseball waiting in Double-A. Holliday has done nothing but hit since he was drafted last season. At only 19 years old, he is one of the youngest players at Double-A, but he is already looking too good for the level.
Across his minor league career, he has a .969 OPS, has walked more than he strikes out, and has nine home runs to tag along with his twenty-five doubles and nine triples. He is speedy enough to swipe some bags, too. As LastWordOnBaseball’s Braden Olson writes, Henderson has the potential to be a 30/30 player. He is yet another piece in what is sure to be a fascinating infield for years to come.
The Orioles are already pushing to be one of the best teams in baseball. Their young players will get even better. Other young players not even mentioned here, like Colton Cowser, can provide a wildly entertaining and dominant form of baseball in the years to come. Will 2023 be their year? It might not have to be with a roster this good.
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