The 2022 Baltimore Orioles: Contenders or Pretenders?

The team that’s surprising everyone — even their biggest fans

It was Hawaiian shirt night at Camden Yards and the place was on fire. After a thrilling walk-off victory the night before, Birdland was ready for another stunner. It would turn out to be their seventh victory in a row, the middle of a winning streak that would end at ten straight.

It was the first time I had been to Camden Yards and had to sit in my actual seat — I couldn’t just wave to an usher and sit wherever I wanted. The night before was floppy hat night and the two promotions back-to-back along with a winning streak packed out The Yard.

I’ve lived in Baltimore since 2019 and have never seen the place like this before. The Orioles started their slow rebuild years before that.

At the All-Star Break, the Orioles are 46–46 in baseball’s toughest division, the first time they’ve been .500 this late in the season since Buck Showalter was the manager in 2017.

There’s something going on in Baltimore.

They’re supposed to be bad. Way worse than this. But they’re firing on all cylinders, Manager Brandon Hyde has a smile on his face for the first time ever (I feel bad now for bashing Hyde at the beginning of the year), and this is just the beginning. Even with the prospect graduation of Adley Rutschman, the Orioles still have the best farm system in the sport.

Everyone thought they would improve on last year’s poopy performance (I even wrote a piece defending their core players), but no one thought it would be this strong.

We play a game on the Bleacher Brawls podcast sometimes called “Contenders or Pretenders” — it’s pretty self-explanatory: it’s buy or sell, real or fake, you know it, you’ve seen it. For some reason, we keep coming back to Baltimore. How serious is this success? And perhaps the bigger question: will they be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline in a few weeks?

Now, I’m not arguing for them to abandon their master plan and pick up a couple of trade rentals to improve their playoffs odds from 11% (they started the year at 0%) to risk getting it to something stupid like 25%, but I don’t think they should be sellers at the deadline either. Instead, I’m arguing to stay put and keep developing the oodles of talent.

But who makes up that talent? If you’re not around Baltimore (or didn’t start watching them until the win streak), you might not even know what’s happening at Camden Yards.

So, I thought I would introduce you to the most important members of the 2022 Orioles. Think of it like an opening credits song for a sitcom — I’m specifically thinking about the song from Full House where everybody turns around and waves.

Come meet the folks who will be World Series champs in a few years. Right now, they’re the most exciting team in baseball (who cares about the Mariners?) and shouldn’t change a thing.

Gail Burton/AP

C — Adley Rutschman (104 OPS+): Orioles fans wanted to see their stud catching prospect at the beginning of the season and they probably would have if it wasn’t for an injury that delayed his debut. I got a chance to go to that debut and it was the first time I’ve seen Camden Yards completely electric and it’s been that way ever since. So has the pitching staff, as they have a collective 3.94 ERA — which is better than the league average. Maybe he hasn’t quite produced at the plate in a way that people want him to, but he’s getting on base and hitting the ball hard. He’s already making an impact on offense and defense — something he’s going to do for a long time.

1B/DH — Ryan Mountcastle (119 OPS+): Everyone knew that pushing back the left field wall would hurt their strong right-handed batters, but it was a risk they were willing to take to help their pitchers out. And it’s done just that to Mountcastle, as he’s only hit 6 home runs at home through the All-Star break. But he’s still hustlin’ and he’ll be productive for years to come.

1B/DH — Trey Mancini (119 OPS+): I really hope that they don’t trade Trey Mancini. Not only is he very similar to Mountcastle statistically, but he’s also a great clubhouse leader, veteran, and fan favorite. Read this fantastic piece in The Athletic that sums all that up and more if you need to be caught up on Mancini’s journey (Dan Connolly wrote one of the best “baseball” pieces of the year) and his time with the Orioles. He was there for all of the losing seasons and deserves to stick around for the winning seasons. That is if he wants to, of course. There’s a mutual option on his contract at season’s end and if he’s still in Baltimore at that time (and not traded in two weeks), it’ll say a lot about how GM Mike Elias values his franchise faces.

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

2B — Rougned Odor (10 HR, fourth on team): Listen, Odor is not going to be around forever. He’s on a one-year deal and his spot on the team is supposed to be temporary. But, for the time being, he’s a fantastic clubhouse presence (he introduced the now iconic home run chain) and he’s been clutch — with multiple walk-offs so far this season. I knew he was a fantastic temporary addition when they signed him and I was right and more.

3B — Ramon Urias (108 OPS+): I can’t quite figure out Urias. He’s second on the team right now in bWAR (2.5), but I’m not entirely sure it’s something he can keep up. He’s been doing a solid job platooning with some other folks and he’ll probably take over the third base job full-time soon, but I don’t think you can justify that when some prospects show up.

SS — Jorge Mateo (22 SB): Mateo plays wild and crazy defense, and can’t seem to hit water if he fell out of a boat, but if he does get on base — he’s fast. Like super fast. He’s second in MLB right now in steals. He’s the perfect nine-hole hitter for them now and will be a great asset off the bench for them in the future — filling the role currently held by Ryan McKenna.

LF — Austin Hays (120 OPS+): Hays was my pick for the Orioles’ All-Star selection and I’m surprised that he wasn’t. He leads the team in bWAR (2.8), can hit anywhere in the lineup (he’s started everywhere 1–7), has an OPS of .855 with runners in scoring position (.961 OPS with RISP and two outs), and can play any outfield position. He’s become invaluable.

CF — Cedric Mullins (99 OPS+): Last year, Cedric the Entertainer broke out in such an amazing way with a 30–30 season, while gaining the love of all of Birdland. He’s having a down year this year, partially because it’s hard to follow up that kind of season and partially because I think the average Cedric season going forward will lie in the middle of his ’21 and ’22 campaigns. He’s still on track for around 15 homers with over 30 steals, while playing spectacular center field defense. His trade value was probably at the highest it will ever be after last season, so I’m hoping that the fact that he’s still around shows that he will be for a while.

RF — Anthony Santander (112 OPS+): Tony is the only guy I can sorta justify trading: he can’t play in Toronto (which might be important down the stretch) and is having a career-best full season — so his trade value is higher than ever. With the prospect depth, he could go, but I would very much miss his walkup song — one of the best in the league.

SP — Tyler Wells (119 ERA+): Wells is in his first season as a starter and is making the transition well. He’s not striking out a ton of guys, not making people look stupid, but he’s getting the job done. A former Rule 5 Draft pick, his consistency has been a valuable asset to a rotation that needs something resembling regularity.

SP — Spenser Watkins (102 ERA+): Same goes for Watkins, who, after a rough ’21 campaign, has bounced back to pitch basically league average — which is totally enough for the Os right now.

SP — Dean Kremer (155 ERA+): If The Girl Who Loved Nick Pivetta was a true Orioles fan and not just a floppy hat fanatic who appreciates the Summer Shandy available at Camden, she would probably be The Girl Who Loved Dean Kremer. And no, it’s not because he’s been the best starter on the team and has only really had one bad appearance in his eight starts.

RP — Felix Bautista (235 ERA+): In his first big league season, he has 11 holds, has only given up 7 ERs in 36 innings, and the team is 24–15 when he pitches. He’s proving himself to be a classic setup man — a role that’s dying and I’m not sure why.

RP — Cionel Perez (278 ERA+): This southpaw has 5 ERs in 31 innings, an 8.8 SO/BB ratio, and the team has won 62% of his appearances.

RP — Dillon Tate (164 ERA+): One of the most reliable relievers from last year has returned with even better numbers.

Sean M. Haffey | Credit: Getty Images

CL — Jorge Lopez (248 ERA+): This year’s closer (17/21 in save opportunities) and the Baltimore representative in the All-Star Game (he got two outs on three pitches), this former starter has found his stride in the backend of the bullpen. Their most dangerous weapon in relief.

Then, there are the minor leaguers. The amount of talent working their way up to The Show is insane. We’ll start with the folks most likely to make a big league impact soon and work our way down to some exciting prospects in the lower levels of A ball.

SP DL Hall (AAA): This lefty very well might make a few starts at the end of the season, considering the rotation help that the big league club needs. He hasn’t been great with keeping men on the bases from scoring (3.38 ERA), but he’s been exhilarating with his stuff: 111 Ks in 66.2 innings. That’s the stuff of legends.

OF Kyle Stowers (AAA): Stowers replaced Santander when the team made the trip to Toronto and will probably do that again later in the season. This year in Norfolk, he’s hit 15 homers, driven in 50, and played to an OPS of .876. He will be a big league regular next year.

SP Grayson Rodriguez (AAA): Grayson might be out the rest of the year with a lat injury, but he’ll make an impact in the big league rotation when he’s healthy. This year in Norfolk, he’s gone 5–1 with a 2.09 ERA. His fastball can smoke 100 and he’s got three other tight offspeed pitches. He’s improved throughout every level and will look to do that in the majors as soon as possible.

Photo Credit: Joey Gardner

INF Gunnar Henderson (AAA): Henderson will start next season at 21 years young, so maybe a little service time manipulation will keep him down on Opening Day, but they need some infield production and stability and a guy with this bat (.968 OPS between AA Bowie and AAA Norfolk) at this age can’t be playing bus and truck ball for too long.

INF Jordan Westburg (AAA): Need someone to join Gunnar in the infield? Look no further. I’d slot him at third base, next to Henderson. His bat (.903 OPS in AAA) has moved him up the ranks quickly and he might be around at the same time. Baltimore has internal fixes to their infield issue. In fact, they have internal fixes for just about every issue.

OF Colton Cowser (AA): MLB ranks Cowser as the Orioles’ third-best prospect, but he’ll spend the rest of the year in AA Bowie — he’s really whooping there so far with a 1.125 OPS. Look for him in 2024.

And don’t forget they just had the №1 pick in the 2022 Draft: Jackson Holliday. Their future will be bright for a long time.

They’re good now and will be good for years to come. I kinda wish I was an Orioles fan…

Want to chat Red Sox (and maybe Orioles)? Check out Bleacher Brawls.

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Want to keep updated with the column? Find it on Instagram @theboywholovedjoekelly and Twitter @boywholovedmlb



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