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Baltimore Orioles

As unexpected success of 2022 nears end, Orioles look forward to ‘unbelievable’ future

In a Baltimore bullpen loaded with excitable characters, Dillon Tate’s stoicism stands out. For every chest pound from Bryan Baker, glove slap from Cionel Pérez or enthusiastic yelp from either, Tate offers a stone face.

But ask Tate about his excitement for the Orioles’ future, and he can’t hold back a smile.

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“You’ve just got a lot of youth here, man,” Tate said. “You’ve got flair here, too. I think that things are just starting to come together in this organization in a way that people haven’t seen before.”

Tate is not alone in feeling that way among those in Baltimore’s clubhouse. The Orioles’ rebuild finally began to pay off in 2022, with a youth movement contributing to an unexpected winning season that represented a 30-game improvement from 2021. The campaign will end short of a playoff berth, but as the best American League team to miss the postseason, the Orioles have hope for many to come.

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The Orioles celebrate a 3-1 win over the Yankees in New York on Sunday. Their 2022 campaign will end short of a playoff berth, but as the best American League team to miss the postseason, they have hope for many to come.

“I think we’re past that point of talking about the future,” outfielder Austin Hays said, “and we’re actually seeing it.”

That future has felt distant since executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias inherited a 115-loss team in November 2018. This year, many of the club’s top contributors were products of the Orioles’ drafts, trades and waiver claims under Elias, each in some way the result of the losing Baltimore endured in the season before his tenure and the first three years of it.

But that mix of players paired with a group of holdovers combined to produce the Orioles’ first winning season since 2016. Hays and Tate were both in a group of players who established themselves as potential long-term pieces in the Orioles’ lean seasons from 2018 to 2021, in which Baltimore finished each year with one of the majors’ five worst records. Center fielder Cedric Mullins, first baseman Ryan Mountcastle and outfielder Anthony Santander were also in the organization when Elias joined and have since become key parts of the Orioles’ lineup.

This season, prospects largely acquired via the rebuild’s efforts have arrived and produced. Chief among them has been catcher Adley Rutschman, the first overall pick in the 2019 draft. Since that selection, Rutschman was considered the face of the Orioles’ rebuild, the player who would be at the center of an eventual turnaround. He has lived up to those meteoric expectations early in his career. Monday, he was named the Most Valuable Oriole and is among the top candidates to be the AL Rookie of the Year.

But he isn’t alone. Right-hander Kyle Bradish, acquired for starter Dylan Bundy in a December 2019 trade with the Los Angeles Angels, was a consistent member of the rotation in the second half after struggling early. Gunnar Henderson and Kyle Stowers, Baltimore’s top two picks in the 2019 draft behind Rutschman, were impactful after their late-season arrivals. Baker, Pérez and emergent closer Félix Bautista led a group of rookie relievers in at least their second MLB organization who were stable forces in the Orioles’ bullpen throughout the year.

Ryan Mountcastle, left, celebrates with Gunnar Henderson after the Orioles' 3-1 win over the Yankees in New York on Sunday. Mountcastle was in the organization when executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias took over in November 2018, while Henderson was the team's second pick in the 2019 MLB draft.

They’ve been made hungrier after coming short of the playoffs in their first major league season.

“It’s fun to be in the mix,” Stowers said. “But it’s even more fun to make it.”

Their experiences this season have them feeling prepared to do so, and they can look to this season’s second-year players to see how to grow.

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Right-hander Dean Kremer ended last year in the minors after immense major league struggles, but he ended a strong sophomore season with a quality start Monday. Keegan Akin also had his troubles in the Orioles’ 2021 rotation, but the left-hander found a home as a long reliever. Tyler Wells went the opposite way, moving from the bullpen to the rotation, and was a consistent starter when healthy. Outfielder Ryan McKenna spent last year going back and forth between Baltimore and Triple-A Norfolk but has settled into an important bench role this season. This season provided lessons for them, as well, after 2021′s 110-loss campaign.

“Now, we see what it takes,” McKenna said. “When you’re not doing well or not performing as well as you know you could, it’s tough to keep perspective on what it takes to actually win the World Series, so I think that’s in everybody’s mind now. We know what we need to do.”

And more help is on the way to reach that goal. Ace John Means will return from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. Although the Orioles brought Rutschman, Henderson, Stowers and Terrin Vavra to the majors, they still have a talented stockpile of hitting prospects in the minors, with Elias draftees Jordan Westburg, Colton Cowser, Connor Norby and Joey Ortiz reaching Triple-A. Grayson Rodriguez, the last first-round pick under the previous front office and now the game’s top pitching prospect, had his potential debut stalled by a Grade 2 right lat muscle strain but seems a certainty to ascend in 2023.

After an injury limited his innings last season, DL Hall, who preceded Rodriguez as a top pick and now trails only him among the system’s pitching prospects, spent the final portion of this year as a major league reliever, with hopes of showing his starting potential next year. He began the season climbing up the Orioles’ minor league ladder as part of his rehab, getting a firsthand look at the franchise’s bubbling talent.

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“It’s just, like, loaded,” Hall said. “It’s unbelievable.”

There’s also enforcements to come externally, with Elias having said he expects the club to be active in free agency this offseason.

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Last offseason, the Orioles’ only major league free agents were starting pitcher Jordan Lyles, second baseman Rougned Odor and catcher Robinson Chirinos, with the trio being Baltimore’s pending free agents this year; Lyles, the only of the group to sign for more than $1 million originally, has an $11 million team option for next season.

The combination of the established foundation on top of whatever additions are made should make for an exciting 2023 season at Camden Yards.

The fan base already responded to this year’s improvement, with the Orioles ranking outside of the bottom five (24th) in MLB in home attendance, averaging 17,637 fans through the first 76 games, for the first time since 2017.

“Obviously, it disappeared for a little bit, which, hey, understandable, I get it,” Akin said. “But to start to see that come back, it’s very exciting, and obviously for the future as well. I think it’s only going to go up from here.

“I think this is just kind of the beginning of it, really. You’re just starting to see the beginning of it, and I think in the next couple years, people are going to be fearful of playing us.”


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