Anything above last year's 47 wins would amount to progress for the Orioles, who enter the 2019 season with much more modest ambitions than the club that fell short of its one last crack at contending with its old core.
New executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and the front office plan to use time and resources on the amateur draft (in which the Orioles select first overall), building their analytics and international scouting departments, and revamping the player development system. Even if the major league results don't get much better in the short term as they do that, one thing that can improve are the players themselves.
So in lieu of counting major league wins, this week, we’re counting down five players whose performance in the majors this year can go a long way toward judging the first year of the Elias-Brandon Hyde era of Orioles baseball.
The fourth on that list is right-hander David Hess.
The Orioles' 2014 draft was hampered because they forfeited their top two picks to sign major league free agents and used the second-highest pick they had on a basketball player, but Hess is turning out to be a worthy representative of that class. He debuted last year and made 21 appearances (19 starts), pitching much better in the second half of the season (3.81 ERA) than the first half (6.06 ERA).
There's another right-hander in the Orioles rotation who has glaring problems with the long ball and is only eight months older than Hess who could be listed here — 2011 first-round pick Dylan Bundy. But Hess, 25, might be a better indicator of whether the new program the club is trying to implement at the major league level and the development practices Elias referred to as the "secret sauce" behind the Houston Astros' minor league pitching success are working in Baltimore.
There's been some backlash around the game about using high-speed cameras to identify why pitches move, or to demonstrate to a pitcher what he might be best suited throwing, or for a pitcher to generally know why something doesn’t work — as opposed to pitching to a scouting report. It's correct that the new methods are not fairy dust. It also wasn't fairy dust that got most of the young Orioles to the majors to begin with. They have natural talents, worked hard and well with the minor league coaches at each stop, and made it to the highest level in the game.
Hess is one of pitchers who is primed to use all those advantages to try to stick with the Orioles. He made it this far for a reason. It's a good fastball that he probably threw too much in the minors, but it got crushed in the majors to the tune of a .293 average with 13 home runs. He gained confidence in his slider and started to miss bats with it as the season went on, but Hess is the type of pitcher who probably needs to both have one of his four pitches start to stand out over the other, and maybe ditch one that hasn't yet made the grade, so that he can have an arsenal in which he's confident that what he's doing is going to work.
As such, he'll be one of several pitchers for whom it will be fascinating to see how he uses his arsenal when he gets his chance at the major league level, whether as part of the Opening Day rotation or down the line. If his pitch mix looks different, there will be a reason. And it will be because for his 20th major league start, he'll have a far better idea of what works for him and what he can be confident in than in any of the 19 that preceded it.