MASN’s Ben McDonald Sees ‘Light At The End Of The Tunnel’ For Orioles

MASN analyst and former Orioles pitcher Ben McDonald believes the Orioles are closer to returning to winning baseball than most observers believe, but he also says the team will need to be more aggressive in the free-agent market at some point.

McDonald realizes it has been tough to be an Orioles fan the last few years, but he also urges fans to have faith in the club’s young core and trust the moves GM Mike Elias has made since taking over. Despite the low expectations — the O’s over-under win total was set at 61.5 by FanDuel prior to the season, lowest in the league — McDonald thinks there are plenty of things to be excited about.

McDonald is excited to see the prospects in the Orioles’ farm system make it to the big leagues. He believes the results at the big league level will improve once those prospects are ready.

“When I see a D.L. Hall, I see a Grayson Rodriguez, I see a Kyle Stowers, I see a Gunnar Henderson and I see a Jordan Westburg and I see these young guys who are top prospects in the organization and some of the top [prospects] in all of Major League Baseball, I see the silver lining here,” McDonald said on Glenn Clark Radio March 31. “While it’s been difficult to watch the last few years, I also see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

In addition to the young core being extremely talented, McDonald notes that the O’s have some great pieces and storylines in the majors. In any rebuild, a club must develop a solid group of players at the major league level, and McDonald believes the O’s are on their way to having that.

“I think there’s some great storylines at the big league level,” McDonald said. “Obviously the year Cedric Mullins had, can he approach that again this year? John Means, will he put together a healthy season this year? He was one of the best pitchers in baseball in the first half of the season [last year]. … Trey Mancini coming back from colon cancer, what kind of year [is he] going throw up this year? Austin Hays, can he stay healthy a full year? [He] had 22 home runs last year and still spent some time on the IL. I think it’s some wonderful storylines out there.”

The Orioles will probably finish last in the loaded AL East. Boston, New York, Tampa Bay and Toronto could all make the playoffs, which is now possible with the 12-team playoff. Despite the probable last-place finish, there should be a plethora of must-see moments for the O’s this year.

No. 1 overall prospect Adley Rutschman will probably make his MLB debut within the first couple months of the season. Grayson Rodriguez, one the best pitching prospects in all of baseball, is also expected to make his debut this year. Those two moments will be crucial for the Orioles’ future.

Despite this exciting young core, the Orioles are going to have to be more aggressive in free agency at some point. Since Elias took over as GM in November 2018, the club has not spent much money on free agents given that it is in the middle of a major rebuild, but as those young players start to make their mark in the majors and gain chemistry with the current O’s players, management is going to have to complete the team by adding more pitching.

“It’s the American League East,” McDonald said. “The Red Sox, and the Yankees, and the Blue Jays and the Rays all get better every year by free agency. … The question for me for the Orioles is are they going to go out and put this team over the top, because you can only get so far with your nucleus. I will tip my hat to Mike Elias. They have done a wonderful job injecting talent in this organization. But you’ve still got to go out — if you’re going to compete, in my opinion, in the AL East — and you’ve got to nab a couple big-time free agents out there.”

The Orioles started the 2022 season with a 1-4 record. They began their season in Tampa Bay on April 8-10, and the O’s lost all three of those games to the Rays. They bounced back and won their home opener against the Milwaukee Brewers, 2-0, on April 11, but fell to the Brewers, 5-4, one night later.

So how do Orioles fans know there is progress occurring even if the team loses 90-plus games this year? McDonald does not think it can really be gauged by the Orioles’ performance as a team. The performances of individuals in the majors and minors are more relevant.

“I think it may not be something you gauge so much at the big league level,” McDonald said. “I think it may be something you gauge [in the minors]. Can D.L. Hall stay healthy? He had that stress reaction in his elbow, missed all the season last year. Does Grayson Rodriguez continue to grow and be a guy we can certainly count to be in the rotation this time next year? Does Kyle Bradish continue to develop and actually have a shot of being in the rotation next year, too? I think I’m going to be looking down in the minor leagues to see how those guys grow.”

McDonald believes this can be an enjoyable year even though the Orioles are most likely going to struggle on the field. The debuts of top prospects will be cause for excitement, which has not been felt by Orioles fans in several years.

“It’s going to be a fun year,” McDonald said. “I don’t know if the Orioles are going to win a ton of games. I don’t think they’re going to be a .500 team this year. I just don’t think that’s going to happen, but you hope they continue to the development at the minor league level. To have [Rutschman] up let’s hope by May … I think it’s going to be a fun year for the Orioles, certainly more exciting than what we’ve had in the past.”

For more from McDonald, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Steven Goldburg