Every baseball fan is different, but there’s one thing we can agree on: If you weren’t tired of the constant bickering between the players and the owners, you’re in the minority. That isn’t meant to place equal blame on both sides — my opinion is the owners deserve the lion’s share of the criticism — but it’s nice that, at least for now, there’s a reprieve: The players have agreed to health and safety protocols, and a camp report date of July 1 for a 60-game season has been set.
Unfortunately, the threat of COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon and could prevent the planned start of the season in late July from ever happening. Recently, 12 Phillies employees (including seven players) who had been at the team’s facility in Florida tested positive for coronavirus. Then on June 23, Charlie Blackmon and two other Rockies tested positive.
There’s no guarantee that any team will play all 60 scheduled games this season. There’s no guarantee they’ll play any of them. But if you’re like me, you understand that but still can’t help thinking about the 2020 Orioles and how the next phase of the rebuild goes.
I want to see Hanser Alberto giving left-handers fits. I want to see Richard Bleier and Alex Cobb and possibly even Chris Davis bounce back. And I want to see the major-league debuts of Ryan Mountcastle, Keegan Akin, and maybe Dean Kremer, Yusniel Díaz or Bruce Zimmermann.
There’s more, of course. Here’s what I’ve been missing the most about the Orioles in 2020:
Austin Hays in center field
Hey, uh, remember Hays’s 2019 cameo? He wasn’t even supposed to make a late-season appearance until an unexpected MLB rule change for Arizona Fall League players altered his trajectory. In 21 games and 75 plate appearances, Hays was wonderful. He posted a .309/.373/.574 (146 wRC+) batting line and showcased the kind of defense the O’s have been looking for in a center fielder. He made plenty of routine plays, and he also made numerous spectacular ones.
Currently the O’s No. 5 prospect via MLB.com, Hays was healthy at the end of last season and a thrill to watch during another rough year. It would be fun to see what he can do in a full-time role with an extended run of good health.
Adley Rutschman’s first full season
The O’s farm system still has a long way to go to be able to consistently funnel talent to the major-league level. Still, they do have an interesting top handful of names, including Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall, Ryan Mountcastle and now Heston Kjerstad. But no one is on the same level as Adley Rutschman, the top selection in the 2019 draft and the No. 4 overall prospect in baseball per MLB.com.
Rutschman wowed fans, scouts, teammates and coaches during his first taste of the minors between rookie and Low-A ball last year, and he did the same after receiving an invitation to his first major-league spring training. He was most likely going to begin the season at High-A Frederick in a much-anticipated first full season; now, he may end up not playing at all in 2020.
With so many young players in need of development and regular play, you could make the case that the potential loss of the entire minor league season is hurting the rebuilding Orioles more than other clubs. Still, not getting to see Rutschman at all is bad enough by itself.
Hunter Harvey, closer
Hays wasn’t the only Orioles prospect who was excellent during a brief stint at the end of last season. Sporting a … let’s say unique hairstyle, Harvey made his major-league debut after finally staying healthy for a full season and fully embracing a move to the bullpen.
In just seven appearances and 6.1 innings, Harvey made his presence felt. He struck out 11 batters, walked four and only allowed one run. But ignoring the strong results in a small sample, it was simply a joy to watch Harvey pump high-90s fastballs while mixing in some nasty curveballs and a change-up/splitter that the new O’s regime gave him permission to use again.
A dominant back-end reliever or closer isn’t something the Orioles are desperate for, but there’s no question it would still be fun to watch.
John Means … ace?
No one knows what the Orioles have in John Means. No one knew what the Orioles had in John Means last season, either. To quickly recap, Means almost quit baseball before last season. Then he seemed like a long shot to make the Opening Day roster. Then he seemed unlikely to stick around and certainly not earn a rotation spot. And then he just kept performing and exceeding expectations, and he ended up earning an All-Star nod and finishing the year with a 3.60 ERA, 4.41 FIP and 3.0 fWAR in 155 innings.
After all that, Means gave himself a grade of a “B, B-minus” and put more offseason work in at P3 Premier Pitching & Performance in St. Louis, where he trained the previous offseason to help fuel his breakout. Means may be the real deal or maybe he’s not as good as he showed in 2019, but it would be nice to see what’s next.
Baseball at Camden Yards
Let’s be honest: It might still be a few years (or longer) before the Orioles are able to put a quality product on the field. Thankfully, the field itself is what makes O’s home games more tolerable.
Camden Yards is the perfect backdrop for any kind of baseball, period. Yes, the Orioles are bad; that’s not the stadium’s fault! Camden Yards remains one of the best environments Major League Baseball has to offer, and it will remain that way for some time. The warehouse, Eutaw Street, Legends Park, the flag court, the center field bar area, the downtown location and so much more all combine into making Camden Yards such a tremendous spot.
Calling it “the ballpark that forever changed baseball” is kind of a cliché, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. And it makes you appreciate the ballpark even more considering the stadiums for the Rangers and Braves were built after Camden Yards and have already been replaced. When you say you’re missing O’s baseball, you’re missing Camden Yards as well. The two go hand-in-hand.
Photo Credits: Kenya Allen/PressBox