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Five things the Orioles will be glad to leave behind in 2020

A year that began with little to no expectations for the Orioles turned out to be far more productive than it had any right to be, with the coronavirus pandemic wiping out almost all of the player development opportunities in 2020 for an organization that has far more wrapped up in that aspect of the game than in the major league club at this point.

Despite ultimately flailing down the stretch, the Orioles were legitimately in the playoff picture two-thirds of the way into the 60-game season and weren’t mathematically eliminated until the final week. Their success was fueled by a breakout season from Most Valuable Oriole Anthony Santander and the debuts of rookies Ryan Mountcastle, Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer.

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But as with every corner of the world, there’s plenty that will hopefully be left in 2020 for good. Here are five things the Orioles will be thrilled not to drag forward into 2021 and beyond.

Minor league uncertainty

Most reasonable assumptions indicate that, in at least some form, there should be minor league baseball next summer. That’s a boon for organizations like the Orioles, who have so much invested in building their future through the farm and missed out on many of those opportunities in 2020.

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Just think of what there was to be excited about regarding the franchise in 2019: all those young pitchers in the minors taking big steps forward, tracking the progress of top draft pick Adley Rutschman and following all the new talents in the farm system.

None of that was really possible in 2020, and with the presumed return of minor league baseball in 2021, the Orioles will field four full-season affiliates who are loaded with interesting talent. That won’t go all the way toward drawing attention from what could be another painful year in the American League East, but it will certainly make it feel a little more worthwhile.

Life without Trey Mancini

Of all the unexpected and uncontrollable things the Orioles experienced in 2020, not having their star and most visible player — Trey Mancini — because of a spring training diagnosis of colon cancer and his subsequent surgery and treatment was one that was most damaging for all involved.

The Orioles’ offense was improved from a year ago anyway, but not having Mancini meant it was never going to be as good as it could be. It also prevented the Orioles from putting their best team on the field in a lot of ways, and meant Mancini lost a year (albeit abbreviated) to accumulate numbers for his future arbitration salaries and to further cement himself as part of the Orioles’ future.

This year began with uncertainty as to whether Mancini, the team’s most valuable hitter in terms of club control and production, would be a trade candidate as the club looked to maximize whatever value they could get off the major league roster in building for the future.

With all signs pointing to Mancini being healthy enough to be ready for 2021, those questions should be out the window. It would take an unthinkable amount of future value for a player who has been through what he has and with his level of attachment from the fan base to be traded, so hopefully 2020 is the only year for a while in which he isn’t part of the team.

The same-old bullpen arms

From seemingly the 2018 trade deadline until last summer, the Orioles bullpen featured some mainstays who performed well in certain roles but struggled when the stakes were higher as well as some young arms who just didn’t get better consistently enough to stick.

A remake of the relief corps this year meant both groups aren’t here anymore. Richard Bleier, Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro were all traded out of situations that had gotten stale for them, and many of the up-and-down relievers who were sources of frustration are no longer on the major league roster.

In their place, the Orioles got improvements from Tanner Scott and Paul Fry, a better Shawn Armstrong and Dillon Tate, and still have the promise of Hunter Harvey in the mix at the back-end.

They aren’t necessarily in the business of developing relievers at this point, but going forward, there should be a far shorter leash for players to learn in the majors to the point that the whole outfit suffers, which happened before this year.

Believing in Chris Davis’ false dawns

It was recently revealed that Chris Davis reported to the team’s July summer training camp hurt and nowhere near the form that made his spring training a promising one, explaining why the home runs and walks that came against pitchers who were trying to get work in in February didn’t translate to the 60-game season.

At this point, Davis has had plenty of chances to improve and has only gone in the other direction for years. There was a multi-year stretch where every time he hit an opposite-field home run, it seemed as if he was getting back to his best self. Last year, he didn’t hit any home runs, period.

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The only thing that will truly show he can be better in the big leagues when the games count is if he does that for an extended period. Anything else, honestly, isn’t worth noting.

The idea this organization can’t develop pitching

For about two decades before the Orioles’ new front office took over and brought Chris Holt over from the Houston Astros to install their tried-and-true pitching development methods, several Orioles regimes had been tagged as failures at developing frontline homegrown starting pitchers.

This group has inherited that organizational stigma to some extent, but it’s more likely than not that the emergence of Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin as big league starters in 2020 is the beginning of a long line of homegrown starting pitching for the Orioles.

Both of those players were acquired by the old front office under Dan Duquette, but arrived in the big leagues with arsenals ready for the big leagues thanks to the new pitching program. So, too, did Bruce Zimmermann (Loyola Blakefield).

At the alternate site in Bowie, top prospects Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall climbed closer to the big leagues. Michael Baumann and Kyle Bradish will probably arrive before them, but until someone basically becomes Mike Mussina, this organization will carry its pitching-deficient reputation.

It shouldn’t be that way, though. And when it’s finally shed, 2020 will be the year people look at and realize things really changed.

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