Sports

How Orioles went from basement to AL East favorites


2020 (25-35): COVID season tuning

The 2020 pandemic-shortened year saw the Orioles finish one game better than the last-place Red Sox. 

During the short season, first baseman Ryan Mountcastle — the O’s 2015 first-round pick — made his big-league debut, batting .333 average over 35 games. Outfielder Cedric Mullins, a third-round pick, fine-tuned his game (.271 BA) and outfielder Anthony Santander swatted 11 homers and knocked in 32 in 37 games. 

2021 (52-110): One step back

The 2021 season was the outlier for the rebuilding Orioles, who finished last. Their core was starting to take shape but most notably, outfielder Austin Hays — their 2016 third-round pick — had a breakout season (.256, 22 HRs and 71 RBIs). 

2022 (83-79): Adley on the map

The Orioles showed off their strong core of young talent. Baltimore needed to fill pitching holes and depth, but it finished fourth, ahead of the last-place Red Sox. 

In May, the team called up Rutschman and excitement for the new-look Orioles began.

Along with their franchise catcher, Henderson (four HRs, 18 RBIs) got the rookie jitters out of the way, Santander led the team with 33 long balls and Baltimore traded for set-up man extraordinaire Yennier Canó (1.82 ERA in 2023).

The Orioles didn’t spend big money, so most of their players were under team-friendly contracts, and the team featured plenty of youth. Plus, Baltimore had the first overall pick again and drafted shortstop Jackson Holliday, the No. 1 prospect in the big leagues, per MLB.com.

2023: Top of the East

During the 2022 offseason, the Orioles signed free-agent pitcher Kyle Gibson (11-6, 4.50 ERA in ’23) and infielder Adam Frazier (13 HRs and 50 RBIs) and their young core has taken off.

Only 25, Rutschman (15 HRs, .274 BA) might be the best catcher in baseball and Henderson has cemented himself as the team’s productive third baseman. Meanwhile, Mullins, Hays, Santander and Mountcastle are putting together good seasons, and closer Felix Bautista (6-2, 1.52 ERA) might be the league’s best closer. 

The Orioles developed good, young, cheap hitters and still have MLB’s top-ranked farm system. Holliday, outfielder Colton Cowser, infielder Jordan Westburg and outfielder Heston Kjerstad rank in MLB’s top 50 prospects. 

Baltimore has become a model for how to scout, draft and develop players the right way, all without spending loads of money.

But the Orioles will be paying Davis until 2037, a good reminder of how tough it was to be an Orioles fan but how quickly the Birds have turned it around.

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