Orioles roundtable: Predicting breakout players, team record and more for 2023 season

Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at The Baltimore Sun.

The Orioles might not have achieved “liftoff” in free agency this offseason, but expectations are higher than they’ve ever been since executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias took over baseball operations in 2018.

After finishing as the American League’s best team to not make the playoffs in 2022, the Orioles enter this season with baseball’s top-ranked farm system and young stars across the major league roster. While analysts and oddsmakers again predict Baltimore to finish near the bottom of the stacked American League East, hope springs eternal for a franchise that has not made the playoffs since 2016 and last won the World Series in 1983.


Before the Orioles take the field for Thursday’s opening day against the Boston Red Sox, beat reporters Nathan Ruiz and Jacob Calvin Meyer and editor Tim Schwartz give their expert opinions about how the 2023 season might play out.

What stood out the most during spring training?

Ruiz: The first normal spring training since 2019 meant the Orioles’ camp roster featured many of their top prospects, offering a look at the young talent coming behind the wave that’s already arrived. 2022 first-overall draft pick Jackson Holliday more than held his own at 19 years old. After two lost years, Heston Kjerstad showed why he was Baltimore’s No. 2 pick in 2020 with a dynamic spring. A group of hitters who ended last year at Triple-A — infielders Jordan Westburg, Joey Ortiz and Connor Norby and outfielder Colton Cowser — each had the chance to show how close to major league-ready they are. The Orioles have baseball’s No. 1 farm system for a reason, and it was on display all spring, even if the only top prospect actually heading to Fenway Park is Gunnar Henderson.


Meyer: Nathan just named basically every top prospect in the Orioles’ system, but there’s one he didn’t include who looked as advertised the final two weeks of spring training. DL Hall, the Orioles’ No. 2 pitching prospect, only pitched in two games this spring, but the command and stuff he showed in those few innings impressed. The 24-year-old left-hander had a slow start to camp because of a lower back injury, but once he found his way back onto the mound, he looked excellent. Sporting the pitch arsenal that earned him consensus top 100 prospect status, Hall struck out seven batters and induced 18 swings and misses in four innings. He’ll start the year in Triple-A to build up as a starting pitcher, but he would have likely opened the season as the Orioles’ third-best reliever had they put him in the bullpen.

Schwartz: Jordan Westburg. For all the talk about how much depth the Orioles have up the middle in their prospect pool, Westburg looked the most solid and ready to contribute right away. He’s often the first name that pops up in trade rumors but I’d bet the team is thinking he might be starting at second base before long. If not, at least he added value if he were to be traded at the deadline for a top-of-the-rotation pitcher.

The Orioles' Ryan Mountcastle is greeted at the plate after hitting a grand slam during a spring training game against the Pirates in Sarasota, Florida, on March 8.

Which Oriole will break out this season?

Ruiz: Prognosticating a breakout for a player who holds the franchise’s rookie record for home runs is perhaps cheap, but I’m going with Ryan Mountcastle anyway. He was perhaps baseball’s most unfortunate hitter in 2022, with the deficit between his expected slugging percentage and actual figure the largest among qualified hitters. Camden Yards’ left field wall didn’t get any shorter or closer this offseason, but plenty of Mountcastle’s bad luck came on hard-hit balls to center. Here’s a prediction that a lot more of those barrels fall or clear the wall in 2023.

Meyer: Terrin Vavra. The utilityman opens the season as a valuable member of the Orioles’ bench, but he might have shown this spring that his future in the big leagues is more than as a utility piece. In 51 spring plate appearances (insert small sample size disclaimer here), Vavra hit .348 with five extra-base hits. As a minor leaguer, Vavra hit above .300 with an on-base percentage north of .400. Because of his positional versatility, his bat-to-ball skills and his plate discipline, Vavra could be in line to surprise people in 2023.

Schwartz: Can I say Adley Rutschman? It’s the obvious pick, I know, and he’s clearly their best player, so let’s spruce it up a bit. Rutschman is already one of the league’s elite catchers, but he’s capable of expanding that title to one of the league’s elite players. After a slow start to his debut season, he turned it on down the stretch while playing some of the best defense in the sport. At his best, he can firmly plant himself in the AL Most Valuable Player conversation with Shohei Ohtani and Aaron Judge.

How many All-Stars will the Orioles have?

Ruiz: Three, giving the Orioles multiple All-Stars for the first time since 2016. Rutschman seems like a lock if he’s healthy; he may well be the AL’s starting catcher. If Félix Bautista pitches as well as he did as a rookie and has a score of saves as Baltimore’s closer, he’ll have a strong shot, too. There are many reasonable candidates for the third spot, but I’ll again go with Mountcastle, given first base is a far deeper position in the National League than the AL.

Meyer: Two. Rutschman, of course, will be an All-Star. No other commentary needed. Bautista is a good choice, but I’ll go outside the box with a different Orioles reliever: Cionel Pérez. Making the All-Star Game as a setup man is an uphill battle. Just ask Darren O’Day. But being left-handed should help Pérez’s chances, as the AL All-Star Game manager will want a dominant lefty in the bullpen. Looking at the stat sheet, Pérez is an Oriole who is expected to regress in 2023 after posting a 1.40 ERA in 2022, but not everyone reverts to the mean. Pérez won’t, and he will cement himself as one of the best bullpen lefties in baseball.

Schwartz: Two. Rutschman and Bautista. Next question.


Who, other than Adley Rutschman, has the best chance to be Most Valuable Oriole?

Ruiz: Cedric Mullins, the unanimous winner in 2021. That year, Mullins started the All-Star Game, won a Silver Slugger and became the first Oriole to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season. He took a step back in 2022 but remained an immensely valuable player, and baseball’s new rules featuring limits on infield shifts and larger bases should help him both as a hitter and a base runner.

Meyer: If Rutschman was the MVO as a rookie 2022, why can’t Henderson do it in 2023? Henderson has the ability at the plate, in the field and on the base paths to be an immensely valuable player, even at just 21 years old. But don’t take it from me. The smart people — both the ones who work on projection models and the ones who work for the sportsbooks — see Henderson as a near-elite-level player already. FanGraphs projects Henderson for 4.0 wins above replacement — the second-highest on the team, behind only Rutschman. And the sportsbooks have Henderson as the favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award. If it’s not Rutschman, Henderson’s the next-best choice.

Schwartz: Mountcastle, for reasons Nathan explained in the answer to the second question. He had some horrible luck last year and, now entering his age 26 season, is primed to be in the All-Star conversation at a deep position. The lineup around him is also better, and his stats will reflect that.

Kyle Bradish was perhaps the Orioles' best starting pitcher down the stretch last season.

Who will lead the starting rotation at season’s end?

Ruiz: It’s a lot to ask John Means to return from a 15-month absence from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery and slot into the top of the Orioles’ rotation, but unless Baltimore pulls off a big trade, Means’ activation will be their most significant midseason acquisition. Throughout the rebuild, Means’ starts were days worth celebrating, largely because they were the only games the Orioles would enter with a likelihood of winning. Sidelined during the team’s 2022 breakout, Means is desperate to get in on the fun, and once he’s back, he could be leading the charge.

Meyer: Does anyone have a seven-sided die? That might be an easier way to answer this question, given how there’s a path for seven different pitchers — the five in the starting rotation, Grayson Rodriguez and Means — to be the team’s top pitcher by season’s end. But I’ll go with Kyle Bradish. He was perhaps the team’s best starting pitcher down the stretch last season, and his ceiling as a starting pitcher could be the highest out of every starter on the 40-man roster not named Grayson Rodriguez.

Baltimore Orioles Insider


Want to be an Orioles Insider? The Sun has you covered. Don't miss any Orioles news, notes and info all baseball season and beyond.

Schwartz: Corbin Burnes. The fallout of his arbitration hearing in February, when he claimed there were other ways his club, the Milwaukee Brewers, “could have gone about it and probably been a little more respectful with the way they went about it,” lingers. The Orioles should be in the hunt come the trade deadline and Burnes was reportedly being sought after in the offseason. Baltimore doesn’t have a Game 1 starter, but Burnes is certainly that.


Which prospect outside the top two (Gunnar Henderson and Grayson Rodriguez) will make the biggest impact?

Ruiz: Westburg. Evidenced by his presence throughout spring training, the organization’s 2022 minor league player of the year is likely the next man up if any of Henderson, Adam Frazier, Jorge Mateo or Ramón Urías get hurt. Westburg could instead play his way onto the roster by continuing to thump at Triple-A while any of those players struggle. His impact could also come in another way: Given the Orioles’ organizational infield depth, Westburg could make for a logical centerpiece in deadline deal.

Meyer: Cowser. His path to the big leagues is simpler than Westburg and the other infielders, given the Orioles don’t have near the depth in the outfield as they do on the dirt. Cowser’s combination of raw power and batting eye is one that few in the organization possess. Once he masters Triple-A, he could make his way to Baltimore and become a valuable piece to a team pushing for a playoff spot.

Schwartz: Westburg. I raved about him above and, unless he leads a trade package for someone like Burnes, he should be starting at second base before long.

Will the Orioles’ record be better or worse than their 83-79 mark in 2022?

Ruiz: Better, but only slightly. The Orioles papered over many of their 2022 weaknesses this offseason, choosing to rely largely on the young core they’ve built over the past few years. Full seasons from Rutschman and Henderson will undoubtedly boost the lineup, but the rotation lacks a true No. 1 starter, and a bullpen already loaded with regression candidates is dealing with injuries, too. The team showed its ability to exceed expectations last year, but that’s a lot easier when the expectation is another 100-loss season compared to a playoff berth. They’ll go 84-78.

Meyer: Worse, but only slightly. The power of regression will be too strong for the Orioles to overcome. Teams that shatter the glass ceiling as the Orioles did last year by winning 31 more games than the previous season almost always take a step back the following year. The last time the Orioles had such a single-season jump was in 2012, when the club won 93 games. They followed that season by winning eight fewer games in 2013. There are important factors working in the Orioles’ favor, though, that could ease the downturn, including the balanced schedule with fewer games against AL East foes and candidates for positive regression — namely starting pitcher Kyle Gibson and Mountcastle. They’ll go 79-83.

Schwartz: I agree with Nathan. They’re a better team than they were last year, and having a full year of Rutschman and Henderson will go a long way. I don’t trust their pitching to perform as well, but their depth there will prove valuable as they battle for the third playoff spot and go 85-77.