Perhaps the most underrated player on the Orioles 2014 division championship squad was Steve Pearce. Pearce finally got his first extended run in the big leagues last season, and proved he belonged. I will make another bold statement here – without Steve Pearce, I do not think the Orioles win 96 games and run away with the division last year.
Pearce helped keep the head of the Orioles lineup above water for much of the second half of the season last year. With Nelson Cruz hitting a wall midseason and Chris Davis struggling all season, Pearce was a steady presence in the lineup from May on. Pearce showed an ability to handle both right-handed and left-handed pitching, hit for power and not strikeout. Here is the slash line for the 102 games Pearce played with the Orioles last year: .293/.373/.556. He also hit 21 home runs. Not bad for a career minor leaguer getting his first real big league run at the age of 31.
If you are looking for an Orioles player to take a huge step back in 2015, I would stay away from Pearce. The line Pearce put up in 2014 is eerily similar to his career .294/.371/.522 minor league line. Pearce was a high draft pick who just wasn’t quite able to establish a real position for himself. The Orioles have a real diamond in the rough in Pearce, and over a full season, he should easily approach 30 home runs.
Manny Machado has tantalizing power potential, but devastating knee injuries have felled him each of the past two seasons. It has not been easy watching him carted off the field, but Machado has worked hard to be ready for Opening Day this season. Machado is still listed at 180 pounds on the Orioles roster. To me, he looks at least fifteen pounds heavier. If he has bulked up his 6′-3″ frame, he may be ready to make the next leap forward as a power hitter.
It can be difficult at times to remember that Machado is still only 22 years old. This will be his fourth season with the Orioles, and he may finally be ready to turn the corner as a power hitter. Last year, in a season cut short first by rehab and then a second injury, Machado hit 12 home runs in 82 games. In 2013, he hit 14 in 156 games. In 2013, Machado made a run at 60 doubles. In 2014, more of those doubles were leaving the yard. If the trend continues, and Manny stays healthy, he will enjoy his first career 30 home run season.