Todd Karpovich offers a spring outlook for the 2020 Orioles, from the starting rotation to potential breakout players to those who could be on the move.

Projected Starting Rotation

1. John Means: The left-hander emerged as the Orioles’ top starting pitcher last season and finished second in American League Rookie of the Year voting. Means, 26, appeared in 31 games (27 starts) and went 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA, 121 strikeouts, 38 walks and a 1.14 WHIP. He also had a 4.6 WAR, according to Baseball Reference. The Orioles will be relying heavily on Means to avoid a sophomore slump.

2. Alex Cobb: The veteran right-hander has undergone hip and knee surgeries since signing a four-year, $57 million deal before the 2018 season. Cobb was limited to 12.1 innings in 2019 and went 5-15 with a 4.90 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 28 starts the previous year. The key for Cobb is to have a healthy spring training and build some momentum to get his career back on track.

3. Asher Wojciechowski: The Orioles acquired the right-hander from the Cleveland Indians last summer in exchange for cash. Wojciechowski made the most of his opportunity in Baltimore in 2019. He appeared in 17 games, including 16 starts, and finished 4-8 with a 4.92 ERA, 80 strikeouts and 28 walks. He had a 1.3 WAR and 1.31 WHIP. Wojciechowski could be the dark horse of the rotation.

4. Kohl Stewart: The right-hander will have a chance to compete for a starting role in the back end of the rotation after signing with the Orioles in December. Stewart, the No. 4 overall pick of the 2013 MLB Draft, spent the past two seasons with the Minnesota Twins, going 2-2 with a 6.39 ERA in 2019. He’s another young pitcher who can take advantage of a big opportunity in Baltimore.

5. Brandon Bailey: The Rule 5 pick will be given the chance to fill out the rotation ahead of some other pitchers waiting in the wings, including Wade LeBlanc, Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and David Hess. Bailey has yet to make his major-league debut, so he is certainly a wild card.

Hunter Harvey, Austin Hays Emerging

The Orioles allowed an MLB-record 305 home runs last season and had a league-worst 5.59 ERA. One of the main goals during the next phase of the rebuild will be putting together a stronger bullpen. The emergence of right-hander Hunter Harvey as a potential closer gives the Orioles a chance to do just that.

From Aug. 20 to Sept. 4, with Harvey’s help, Orioles relievers allowed 11 earned runs in 44 innings for a 2.25 ERA, which ranked No. 1 in the big leagues during that time. The Orioles are going to need the bullpen to build on that in 2020, especially if the starting pitchers continue to struggle.

Harvey, 25, made his debut Aug. 17 and immediately became one of the team’s most effective pitchers. He appeared in seven games (6.1 innings) and allowed just one run and three hits with 11 strikeouts and four walks. Harvey finished with a 1.42 ERA and 1.11 WHIP.

The Orioles also spent much of last season looking for a player to emerge as their everyday center fielder. Austin Hays is poised to fit the bill in 2020 after making an immediate impact when he was called up from the minors late last season. Hays, 24, hit .309/.373/.574 with four home runs, 13 RBIs and six doubles in 75 plate appearances while providing exceptional defense. Hays could be a key player for the Orioles this season.

Jose Iglesias Added To Infield Mix

The Orioles found their everyday shortstop when they signed Jose Iglesias to a one-year deal in January with a club option for 2021. Iglesias, 30, appeared in 146 games for the Cincinnati Reds last season. The slick-fielding shortstop hit .288/.318/.407 with a career-high 11 home runs and 59 RBIs. The acquisition of Iglesias allows the Orioles to be more flexible with former Rule 5 pick Richie Martin, who appeared in 120 games last season.

The Orioles could round out the infield with Chris Davis at first base, Hanser Alberto at second and Rio Ruiz at third. Davis struggled again in 2019, but the Orioles will give Davis every chance to get back on track because he still has three years left on his $161 million deal. Prospect Ryan Mountcastle will push Davis in camp, and Trey Mancini should see time at first as well.

The decision to trade Jonathan Villar to the Miami Marlins in December opened the door for Alberto to take over second base full time. Alberto was one of the team’s most dynamic players last season, hitting .398 against left-handed pitching. Ruiz, meanwhile, made 89 starts at third base and four starts at first base. His defense steadily improved throughout the year. Ruiz slashed .232/.306/.376 with 12 home runs and 46 RBIs.

Who Gets The Nod At Catcher?

Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco will likely platoon throughout the year. Severino appeared in 96 games last year, hitting .249/.321/.420 with 13 homers and 44 RBIs (and slugging .490 against left-handed pitching). But he threw out just 13 of 555 potential base stealers during the season, and his 10 passed balls were tied for fourth most in the majors. Severino, 26, posted a 1.2 WAR after struggling with the Washington Nationals from 2016-2018.

Sisco, who turns 25 in late February, is a career .305/.386/.430 minor-league hitter and is looking for that success to translate to the big leagues. He appeared in 59 games with the Orioles last year, hitting .210/.333/.395 with eight homers and 20 RBIs after being promoted from Triple-A Norfolk in June. All eight homers came against right-handed pitching. Sisco also threw out just 5 of 30 potential base stealers. The Orioles signed veteran Bryan Holaday to a minor-league deal as well.

Veterans On The Move?

Outfielder and first baseman Trey Mancini was the Orioles’ best player in 2019, leading the club in home runs (35), RBIs (97), extra-base hits (75), total bases (322), on-base percentage (.364), slugging (.535), and OPS (.899). Mancini, who turns 28 in March, has stated his preference is to stay in Baltimore and help the team through the rebuild, but the Orioles would consider dealing him if the right opportunity presents itself.

Reliever Mychal Givens will also be mentioned as a potential trade chip this season. Givens, 29, operated in high-leverage situations last year but battled inconsistency and finished the season 2-6 with a 4.57 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. He struck out 86 and walked 26. Still, teams that need bullpen help will inquire about the hard-throwing right-hander, especially at the trade deadline.

If Cobb can find some success and stays healthy, he could also emerge as a trade candidate, much like Andrew Cashner last season. Alberto and Severino could also draw interest.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Issue 261: February/March 2020

Todd Karpovich

See all posts by Todd Karpovich. Follow Todd Karpovich on Twitter at @toddkarpovich