For a rebuilding club that is trying to continue to get younger and eventually win with a group of players they develop on their own, the shortened 2020 season was also short on major league debuts when it came to the Orioles.
A year after eight players appeared in their colors for their first major league game and 13 the year before, just five Orioles did so this year: left fielder Ryan Mountcastle, pitchers Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmermann, and infielder Ramón Urías.
Each, to a man, had some impressive moments. And seeing those players come to the majors and hold their own, even in a limited sample size, “provides some reassurances that we’re making progress as an organization,” executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said.
Here’s a breakdown of how each fared and what the future holds for those five debutants:
Once it came time for Mountcastle to finally debut, he certainly didn’t disappoint. His .333/.386/.492 batting line was better than solid, and while he only scratched the surface of his power with five home runs in 35 games, his 7.9% walk rate was the best he’s had in any season in his career.
Many seemed to be confusing Mountcastle’s throwing troubles that moved him off the left side of the infield with a lack of athleticism, but that’s obviously not the case. He held his own in left field, and looks like he’ll be batting in the middle of the order and playing left field on a regular basis come Opening Day 2021.
Though Mountcastle is still quite younger at this point in his career, envisioning him slashing .293/.338/.488 with 24 home runs, 26 doubles and 73 RBIs the way Trey Mancini did in his first full year in the majors in 2017 wouldn’t be too optimistic an outlook for someone who’s quite a gifted hitter and has shown he’s willing to work to improve.
Akin had a more old-fashioned major league debut than one surrounded by fanfare as he sat in the Orioles bullpen unused for a week before coming in as a long reliever Aug. 14. He was in the bullpen because the Orioles were in “win-now mode” and had better rotation options, manager Brandon Hyde said, but Akin soon took a rotation spot and ran with it.
In his first four major league starts, Akin allowed six earned runs in 15 innings with six walks an 24 strikeouts before he left his fifth with arm soreness after the first inning. He was particularly effective with his four-seam fastball, which explodes on hitters and is hard to square up. It proved to be a swing-and-miss weapon against some of the best lineups in baseball.
Akin’s 4.56 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in his first major league season are a bit deceptive when it comes to showing how he actually pitched. He’ll have an inside line at one of the five starting rotation jobs in 2021 because of it.
Kremer didn’t have to go the relief route when he came to the Orioles for a Sunday start against the New York Yankees on Sept. 6. He joined the rotation immediately and allowed one earned run in each of his first three starts while striking out 20 and going at least five innings in each.
That he was hit around a bit in his season finale against the Red Sox and ended up with a 4.82 ERA is quite unflattering considering how well he pitched overall. But the Orioles will be happy to see the strikeout totals from the 2018 minor league strikeout king and the ability to get both right-handers and lefties out.
Kremer has complemented a good fastball with a big breaking ball in the past, but the addition of a cutter as his weapon to come in on left-handed batters was a big help this year. Like Akin, there’s not much left for him to prove in the minors now that he’s reached the majors, and a spring training rotation spot awaits.
A local product whose debut in the middle of September generated plenty of fanfare around Baltimore, Zimmermann pitched just twice for the Orioles. In his debut, he allowed five runs in three innings thanks to a pair of costly home runs, but the efficient pitcher who keeps hitters off balance showed in his four innings of one-run relief in Boston after Kremer’s last start.
If it were a normal season, Zimmermann might have been the first of these three pitchers to debut, not the last. As it stands, he’ll join them in working on being able to consistently be the best version of himself as the Loyola Blakefield graduate enters spring training in the rotation mix.
Urías was the first to debut for the Orioles, and didn’t open many eyes until his last stint with the club. Each time he was up, it was as a reinforcement for José Iglesias, and Urías' bat really came around in the final week.
He joined the team in Boston for the last road trip and hit .400 (8-for-20) with his first major league home run last week to end the season batting .360 with a .967 OPS. Perhaps it was a little bit of that Bowie magic coming into play, but more likely, a young player who has hit at every point in his life got comfortable and started showing why he’s one of the rare waiver claims the Orioles didn’t shortly thereafter try to pass back through waivers.
Latest Baltimore Orioles
Urías will probably only be a depth option on the infield come spring training, but he’s one that the Orioles will be happy to use if called upon considering what he showed he was capable of in September.