5 predictions for O's as Opening Day nears

April 4th, 2022

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles' 2022 season promises to show just that -- promise. Behind top prospect , a slew of other lauded youngsters are expected to get their first tastes of the Majors.

So, yes, 2022 appears to be another year focused on building momentum rather than trying to strike while the iron is not quite hot, with only three Major League deals signed this offseason and only one for longer than a season. But you have to start somewhere.

“[Spring Training] has gone as smooth as it could possibly go to this point,” manager Brandon Hyde said recently. “ … I'm really happy with our guys, pitchers and hitters, on their readiness. And now we just need to stay healthy.”

What needs to go right?
A clean, healthy step forward.

The 2022 season might just be the tease. It’ll be a campaign of learning and tribulations, success and failure. The most important component that will need to occur is for the season to unfold without unexpected setbacks.

Whereas journeymen and waiver claims were the majority of additions over the past several seasons, now those roster moves will soon be filled by prospects who the O’s hope are central to their next postseason-bound team. How their development is managed at the big league level -- physically, mentally and spiritually -- will be of utmost importance. And Hyde will be tasked with striking the balance of pushing his burgeoning stars forward while letting them learn how to develop and fail on their own.

Great unknown
Innings, innings and more innings.

The Orioles have two proven starters in John Means and Jordan Lyles. The rest of their rotation is filled with question marks. Even Tyler Wells, who earned a rotation spot, has uncertainty when it comes to his length and long-term durability. There will be opportunities up for grabs among Bruce Zimmermann, Dean Kremer, Zac Lowther and Keegan Akin -- a group of mid-20-year-olds who face career inflection points.

Top prospects like Grayson Rodriguez (No. 2), D.L. Hall (No. 5) and Kyle Bradish (No. 10) will soon fill the rotation with quality and hope, but until then, pitching could be a fickle position for the O’s.

Team MVP will be...
Cedric Mullins.

Too easy. Mullins impacted the game in far too many ways in 2021, earning his first career All-Star nod (as a starter, at that) and a ninth-place finish in AL MVP voting, the highest finish for an Oriole since Manny Machado's fifth-place finish in '16. Really, the only thing worth considering is how high Mullins can take his game, coming off the first 30-30 season in club history.

There’s reason to believe it’s far higher. Defensively, Mullins will be flanked by Austin Hays and Anthony Santander in the outfield. With more time together, there’s hope all three can take off as a solidified outfield unit. Mullins has already made Gold Glove-worthy plays. Now picture that with more comfort.

However, it’s been a tough spring for Mullins, who’s hitting just .130 with eight strikeouts. There’s been no concern that the small sample size of Spring Training -- made even smaller from this shortened slate -- will follow Mullins into the regular season, though.

Team Cy Young will be...
Another easy one: Means. Almost as easy as the decision Hyde had in naming Means his Opening Day starter at Tampa Bay.

Means’ chief focus in 2022 will be durability, as he landed on the injured list during each of the last three seasons with varying arm and shoulder issues. Means’ placement in the rotation is unquestioned; he’s the bona fide ace, one of just two players in the organization who has been named an All-Star. And he added a no-hitter to his resume in 2021.

Means appeared destined for a second All-Star bid before a left shoulder strain limited him to just 71 first-half innings.

Bold prediction
Rutschman won’t be the most eye-popping callup -- and by no fault of his own.

Rutschman is likely going to make his long-awaited debut in the first half of the season, and when it happens, it’ll signal the start of a wave of young talent making its way to Baltimore, something that's been highly anticipated since Mike Elias took over baseball operations in 2019. But part of Rutschman’s pedigree is his quiet excellence, winning his team plenty of games but without overbearing flair.

So it might be his batterymates who steal the show in 2022, most notably Rodriguez and Hall, the latter being one of the best left-handed prospects in baseball. Both are expected to debut in ’22 as well, and Hall, who will be slow-played after a left elbow injury in '21, put the league on notice by sitting at 99 mph and touching 100 in his only Grapefruit League action.