With a Tough Road Ahead, the Baltimore Orioles at Least Have a Positional Core to Build Around

Yes, it’s another drag of a season for the Baltimore Orioles, headlined by a second consecutive 100-plus-loss season, a pitching staff that struggles to get through games, and Chris Davis matching a $17 million salary with a .562 OPS. With that said, the Orioles finally have something they can pinpoint as progress: they have a positional core producing intriguing results.

One year ago Baseball Essential published a piece on how there’s few, if any bright spots for the Orioles. Today they’re still one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball, but they now have some players to build around — which was the realistic base-case scenario after a quiet offseason on the free agent market.

Collectively, the Orioles offense doesn’t dazzle anyone. They went into Wednesday 19th in MLB in hits (1,274), 21st in batting average (.246), 23rd in home runs (193) and total bases (2,130), 24th in runs (662), and 25th in OPS (.720). But they have individuals who are making a name for themselves such as Trey Mancini, Jonathan Villar, Renato Nunez, Anthony Santander, and Hanser Alberto.

Mancini has been the Orioles’ best player from all aspects of the game in recent memory, and the 2019 season has been a continuation of his high-level play. Hitting .280 while sporting a team-best .879 OPS and totaling 34 home runs and 88 RBIs, he has been a force to be reckoned with at the plate.

Mancini hits the ball to all fields, is a line-drive hitter, and a player you can’t hang a pitch to. Meanwhile, he’s a versatile player for the Orioles infield, as he plays first base, as well as left and right field at a competent level.

The Orioles acquired Villar from the Milwaukee Brewers before the 2018 MLB trade deadline as part of their return on Jonathan Schoop. Villar has been a reliable middle infielder for the bulk of his big-league career, but in his first full season with the Orioles, the 28-year-old has put together the best season of his career.

Hitting .277 while sporting an .803 OPS and totaling a career-high 22 home runs and 68 RBIs, he has been a steady source of offense in manager Brandon Hyde‘s lineup. Villar hits for contact and power, levels his swing regardless of pitch location, and has elite speed — best exemplified on the basepaths, as Villar has stolen 35 bags this season.

The 2019 season marks the first full season Nunez has started in the big leagues. Now, he has struggled to consistently get on base, but Nunez has electrified the Baltimore crowd with his power. Totaling 29 home runs and 82 RBIs, he has been able to make an impact as the team’s designated hitter.

Nunez also brings defensive versatility to the table. While he hasn’t played in the field often this season, Nunez has played both corner infield positions for an extended period of time in years past.

Santander has been a pleasant surprise. Hitting .271 while sporting a .791 OPS and totaling 18 home runs and 53 RBIs, he has been an efficient source of offense. While they don’t jump off the screen, the outfielder went into Wednesday with a career-best barrel percentage (7.5) and average exit velocity (89.7).

He has to garner more plate discipline by means of chasing less pitches, but the outfielder has the potential to be a reliable source of offense for the Orioles in the coming years. Santander has also held a steady glove; he has played all three outfield positions and made just one error this season.

Alberto has been the Orioles’ most intriguing development and arguably the most underrated story of the 2019 MLB season. He’s hitting .314 and sports a 153:47 hit-to strikeout ratio. Simultaneously, he doesn’t have electric speed or a powerful bat. Instead, he grinds out hits, smacks pitches to all fields, and gets on base at an elite level.

The Orioles claimed the infielder off waivers in the offseason after he spent three seasons with the Texas Rangers, where he got minimal playing time. His emergence is unforeseen and remarkable. Alberto has been one of the best hitters in baseball this season and looks poised to continue the heroics in 2020 given his contact-hitting, situational plate approach.

Outside of those five, catcher Pedro Severino, and right-hander John Means, the Orioles are one of the least productive and talented teams in the sport. Their pitching staff struggles to keep their offense in games and close out games, and, collectively speaking, their offense is inconsistent. Meanwhile, they play in one of the hardest divisions in the sport, that being the American League East.

The New York Yankees are a perennial World Series contender led by an elite lineup and bullpen that isn’t going anywhere; the Tampa Bay Rays have been an 89-plus-win team in each of the last two seasons and have an elite pitching staff; the Boston Red Sox have a potent offense and show a continued willingness to make bold moves in the offseason; the Toronto Blue Jays have a deep and blossoming young positional core.

The Orioles aren’t going to the playoffs this season, in 2020, or 2021. But you have to start somewhere, and they, at the very least, have a foundation around the diamond that they can build around for the foreseeable future. They’re in a better place than they were last year.

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