|Orioles Fortunes May Change Soon|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on March 25, 2010
The Orioles have been struggling for so long that it's hard to remember that they were ever competitive in the AL East. But if you go back you'll find a stretch of six seasons between 1992 and 1997 where the Orioles were a pretty good team. In that span they finished first once, finished second twice (and won the Wild Card once), and third three times -- and two of them were before realignment so there were seven teams in the division at the time.
And they've been trying, spectacularly unsuccessfully, to use a model similar to the Rays. But they've sabotaged themselves a number of times, usually by seeking a shortcut and hiring a big name free agent for a lot of money, or rushing young pitchers to the Majors and watching their confidence shatter, often irrevocably. But maybe they've learned enough from those past mistakes and from watching the Rays grow up as a team all at once to become competitors.
The Orioles don't seem far from reaching that goal themselves. Admittedly it will take a bit of luck, but their prospects look good and they've got a core player in Nick Markakis who can provide a veteran hitter they can build their offense around.
With that in mind the O's have begun to rebuild around youth, including players like Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold and Adam Jones on the offensive front. They'll mix them in with some seasoned veterans moving into the later years of their careers (Miguel Tejada, Garrett Atkins and Luke Scott) who'll serve both to ease the pressure on the youngsters and to serve as role models and help them get past their growing pains.
Pitching-wise, three fifths of the starting rotation (Chris Tillman, Brad Bergesen, and Brian Matusz) will have a season or less of Major League experience. To help these kids, the O's went out and spent some serious money -- bringing in a $13 million dollar man, Kevin Millwood, to serve as a mentor and to teach the young hurlers the art of pitching. He'll be the closest the team has had to a real ace since Erik Bedard played in Baltimore.
And there is more on the horizon. Right hander Jake Arrieta doesn't seem like he'll be down in the minors long and behind him are lefties Matt Hobgood (2011-2012), Zach Britton (2012-2013 most likely), as well as righty Brandon Erbe, who might actually offer some bullpen or starting relief later this year. Big hitting third baseman Josh Bell should get a look see late this summer with an eye towards a regular starting gig in 2011.
While those guys are some of the higher end prospects, the Orioles farm system has become very deep. That means that like the Rockies, Rays and Twins the potential to churn out players for years to come is real, and the Orioles will have the money to keep the best of them, something the Rays and Rockies can't really afford to do.
If all goes according to plan that should make the next decade a very interesting one for the Orioles and the AL East. 2010 is just the tip of the iceberg, and a glimpse of some of the things that are to come.