Throughout his tenure as the Orioles’ executive vice president and general manager, Mike Elias has steered clear of stating when he expects the major league portion of the organization to be competitive.
But 2022 figures to be when signs of the franchise’s efforts below the surface begin to truly show themselves at Camden Yards.
Through three seasons of Baltimore’s true rebuild, none of Elias’ draftees have reached the majors, but that in all likelihood will change next year. Adley Rutschman, the catcher the Orioles selected first overall in 2019 who has since ascended into being the game’s top prospect, is positioned to arrive at some point in the 2022 season, with outfielder Kyle Stowers, a fellow 2019 draftee who shared the organization’s minor league player of the year award with Rutschman this past campaign, not being too far behind.
Rutschman’s arrival, in particular, should signal a shift in Baltimore, in terms of both daily draws to the ballpark and the competitiveness of the team itself. But for as much praise as Rutschman has garnered for his work behind the plate, it’s fair to wonder how far forward he can pull the pitchers who will be at Oriole Park when he gets there.
The Orioles have a collection of young arms who largely struggled in 2021, which can partly be blamed on the impact of a mostly lost season of development suffered at the hands of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. With John Means set to again lead Baltimore’s rotation and Jordan Lyles — whose free-agent contract with the team wasn’t finalized before the league locked out the players — set to follow him, there are only three rotation spots for the group of Bruce Zimmermann, Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer, Zac Lowther, Alexander Wells and Michael Baumann. Those arms thrived when together at Double-A Bowie in 2019 but came nowhere close to matching that success in the majors in 2021.
There is another wave of pitching coming, however. Baltimore’s two first-round picks preceding Rutschman, pitchers DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez, likely will join the major league pitching staff at some point in 2022. Kyle Bradish and Kevin Smith, products of trades in which Elias moved on from veteran pitchers with increasing salaries, are also candidates to pitch in the majors at some point, especially given they joined Hall in being added to the 40-man roster before the lockout.
The organization’s rebuild has already made some positive impacts at the major league level, notably the developments of All-Stars Means and Cedric Mullins, as well as the steps forward taken by Ryan Mountcastle and Austin Hays. The Orioles are trying to position themselves for more such growth; in Ryan Fuller and Matt Borgschulte, they now have a pair of progressive hitting coaches to match the twosome they formed on the pitching side of Chris Holt and Darren Holmes.
Several prospects in the system have improved under this front office, leading to a farm considered the best in the sport. Most organizations that achieve that status eventually experience success, though the Orioles’ increase in intrigue in 2022 won’t necessarily guarantee an increase in competitiveness. Even as Rutschman and Co. reach the majors, they will remain young and inexperienced, with more top talent bubbling in the minors.
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Still, as the calendar turns to 2022, it seems to be the year a night at Camden Yards will finally give all of the Orioles’ drudgery over the past few years a semblance of appearing worthwhile.