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Orioles Q&A with Ken Rosenthal: 'They're moving slightly forward'

Ken Rosenthal, the senior baseball writer for FOXSports.com, is one of the most respected media insiders in Major League Baseball. He's so plugged-in, most reporters dream they could one day report the breaking news nuggets he Tweets out when he actually goes to sleep (OK, maybe it's just me).

Rosenthal is still very familiar with the Orioles organization from his days reporting and writing columns for The Baltimore Sun back in the 1990s. Last week on FOXSports.com, he wrote a column that was critical of the Orioles' farm system, which he said puts them "at a severe disadvantage as they try to compete in the game’s toughest division, the AL East."

Somehow, I was able to track Rosenthal down for a phone interview as he was on his way to an airport somewhere on the West Coast on Monday night. We talked about a lot of things on the phone call, from the Baltimore farm system and the Buck Showalter effect to the Orioles' young pitching staff and Mark Reynolds' power potential.

Here is my full interview with Rosenthal, and it was a good one:

MV: Cal Ripken Jr. has said on numerous occasions that it will be up to the young rotation to take a step forward if the Orioles want to compete in the AL East this season. Do you agree that it's the X-factor?

KR:  Yes, I do. And the offense will be better, certainly. I don’t have much doubt about that. How much? I don’t know yet. But sure, the young rotation, what they did last season under [manager Buck] Showalter, they’ve got to build on that and that’s not an easy thing to do in the AL East. But I would agree with that, no question.

MV: Baseball Prospectus labeled Matt Wieters as one of the 50 most disappointing prospects of all time. Do you think that’s a bit premature, and what kind of potential do you see in the young catcher?

KR: I’m a fan of Baseball Prospectus, but to me, that was ridiculous. It’s too early to make that kind of assessment. I respect them, but I didn’t agree with that at all. … Is he going to be the next Joe Mauer? Well, that’s probably in doubt now. But at the same, can he be an above-average major-league catcher, a switch-hitter with power? Yes, I still see him as that.

MV: Some in the national media have been critical of the acquisitions of veteran players such as Vlad Guerrero and Derrek Lee, but many fans are fired up about them. What’s your take on these moves? Do they fit with what the team is trying to do?

KR: Yes, because they’re only signed to one-year deals. It’s not as if they’re blocking any great prospects because there aren’t any great offensive prospects coming up. The Orioles had to do something to get the fans energized to some degree. It’s been a lot of bad years in a row -- we all know that -- and when you add [those players] and the history that they have, you’re more legitimate. They are more legitimate now. But does it translate into long-term success? No, because they’re going to be in the same situation next year of having to re-sign them or sign other guys. But it would help them -- or it should help them -- this season. As I originally wrote, unless they get the farm system straight, this is all patchwork. They need their draft picks to turn into impact players. Otherwise, this is just a treadmill that they’re on and they can’t get off.

MV: I know you have been critical the Orioles’ farm system -- and I can’t say that I disagree with you. What are some achievable goals the organization should be setting so that the pipeline is pumping prospects to Camden Yards consistently?

KR: As I wrote, they have to get more involved internationally. And it’s one thing to spend a lot of money in the draft, which they have done. I’ll give them credit. But the international talent comes from everywhere. Other teams do it and they don’t do it in a very expensive way in many cases. I look at the Yankees right now. There is a lot of excitement with a kid named Manny Banuelos, a Mexican left-hander. He came in a package with Alfredo Aceves and two other guys. The whole package cost about $600,000. And they also got Ramiro Peña out of Mexico, a utility infielder who has done a good job for them. The Orioles never seem to do this and it’s kind of exasperating, really. And I don’t quite follow the logic entirely.

MV: Changing gears a little bit here, everybody knows about Mark Reynolds’ strikeout totals. How many times will he strike out in his first season in the AL East, and does it matter?

KR:  It doesn’t matter as much as people think. Certainly, when you’re a slugger, you’re going to strike out a lot. That’s kind of the way the game is now and it’s been that for a while. So if Mark Reynolds hits 40 home runs and strikes out 180 times, guess what? Mark Reynolds has had a great year. But at the same time, he is changing leagues. That’s a concern. And he clearly is a guy with immense talent. The Orioles people are pretty confident that they can turn him around to a degree. … He might not be there for the long-term. They have a couple of years with him, and he has a chance to really be a special guy if they can just get him back on kilter a little bit.

MV: The Orioles finished 27th in scoring last season. With the additions of Guerrero, Lee, Reynolds and Hardy, does the Baltimore offense have the potential to be a top-10 offense?

KR:  Potentially yes, but all these guys have to stay healthy and have to be productive. But yeah, I could see them being a dynamic offense, especially if Brian Roberts is healthy. And we’ve seen him go in and out of the lineup the past couple of years. He is one of the few really good leadoff hitters in the game. He can make everything click if he’s there.

MV: Have you heard any rumblings about the Orioles moving Luke Scott, and do you think it would make sense to trade him when he’s coming off a career year and with Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold there, one potentially being sent to the minors and the other being relegated to the bench?

KR: It’s an obvious question and a good one. Any rumblings I hear, I will report. I haven’t heard anything lately. But if I were the Orioles, it would be something I would explore, and I would do it for both reasons you stated.

MV: Peter Schmuck recently wrote a column here that said that manager Buck Showalter might be the guy who can bring back “the Oriole Way.” Is he the one who can make the Orioles winners again?

KR: First off, what will make the Orioles winners again are the players on the field. And if they have the right players, then Showalter can make them winners again. In baseball, the manager cannot do it alone. I know it looked like that at the end of last season, but basically what he was doing was getting the most out of the talent that they had, which hadn’t been done by Dave Trembley. If they put a representative group out there, yes, he has a chance to be a difference-maker. And more than any time in recent memory, we saw just how much of a difference the right manager could make.

MV: And what about Andy MacPhail? Peter Angelos said last week that he expects MacPhail to remain with the team beyond this season. Is MacPhail’s blueprint for his rebuilding process the right one? I know they need the financial backing, but even if they don’t have it, is this the right approach?

KR: I like the general direction that they’ve taken. Now, I’m not going to repeat the issues that I have with the farm system. That needs to be addressed in a better way. But certainly, they’ve done some really good things and Andy MacPhail brought legitimacy to the operation. But again, until they get that farm system solved, it’s not going to matter. That’s the challenge that lies ahead. They talk about it, but they haven’t yet really done it.

MV: What’s your season outlook for the Orioles? Do you think we’ll finally see a winning season here in Baltimore after 13 years of losing?

KR: It’s going to be difficult, but if I had to guess, I would give them between 75 and 80 wins right now, which does not translate to a winning season. Now, granted, I’ll tell you one thing: My prognostications always seem to be wrong, so I wouldn’t take them too seriously. But I could see them going as high as 83-84 wins and as low as 70 if injuries occur and the pitching doesn’t develop. That’s the worst scenario. But yes, I think they’re going to be better. They will definitely be more competitive, and ultimately, it’s not quite there yet. It’s not there yet. But they’re moving slightly forward.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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