The biggest news to come out of Orioles camp this year was probably an injury — to a player who has never appeared in a big league game.
Catcher Adley Rutschman was sidelined with a triceps problem. It didn't sound like a major setback for the former No. 1 overall draft pick, but after a 110-loss season in 2021, Baltimore is hungry for any signs of hope for the future. Rutschman's arrival in the majors — whenever it happens — is a moment for the franchise and its fans to look forward to.
“I think it's an extremely small blip on a guy that's going to have a long career," manager Brandon Hyde said after Rutschman was hurt. "I'm looking forward to when he's healthy to be out there. I think yeah, he makes us better.”
In Rutschman and right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, the Orioles have two of the game’s top prospects. This will probably be another rough season in Baltimore, but that’s a foundation they can hope to build on.
There will be other players to watch this season, but in terms of the team's long-term future, Rutschman and Rodriguez will be under a microscope. Rutschman is ranked No. 2 among prospects by MLB Pipeline, and Rodriguez is No. 6. Detroit is the only other franchise with two players in the top 10.
It wasn't a particularly splashy offseason for the Orioles, but they did add right-hander Jordan Lyles to try to boost a pitching staff that finished last in the majors in ERA last year.
Lyles went 10-13 with a 5.15 ERA for the Texas Rangers last season.
Baltimore also acquired second baseman Rougned Odor, who hit .202 with 15 home runs and 39 RBIs in 102 games with the New York Yankees.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
Rutschman made it to Triple-A Norfolk last year and hit .312 there in 43 games. Rodriguez was 6-1 with a 2.60 ERA in 18 starts for Double-A Bowie.
Beyond those two, the next-best prospects in Baltimore's system according to MLB Pipeline are infielder Gunnar Henderson (ranked 64th) and outfielder Colton Cowser (66th). Of those two, only Henderson has reached Double-A.
Rodriguez was sent to minor league camp, but general manager Mike Elias indicated he could work his way up quickly.
“He's going to make some starts in the minor leagues," Elias said. "With pitchers, we have a pretty good idea of how their stuff's going to translate. If he checks a couple of boxes, I think there might not be much left to prove there.”
The Orioles will have a chance to add another big name to their system when they pick first in the draft again this summer. A new draft lottery system goes into effect in 2023, but that doesn't take this year's top selection away from Baltimore, which finished tied with Arizona for the worst record in the majors in 2021.
Outfielder Cedric Mullins was a bright spot for the Orioles last year, hitting .291 with 30 homers and 30 steals and finishing ninth in the American League MVP vote. Now the 27-year-old Mullins will try to show that wasn't a fluke. It was the first time he'd played more than 48 games in a season for the Orioles.
His performance last year was all the more impressive since Mullins had intestinal surgery in November 2020 after a diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease.
“I think as the year went along last year, everybody was amazed at what he was doing,” Hyde said. “He just kept it going throughout the entire season. I'm excited. I hope that he can build off that.”
John Means threw a no-hitter last season and posted a 3.62 ERA in 26 starts for the Orioles. They'll look to him to lead the rotation again.
The Orioles announced in January a significant change to their home ballpark — they were moving the wall in left field back to give pitchers a reprieve. That will be a storyline to watch early in the season as right-handed power hitters find it takes a longer drive to reach the seats now.
Baltimore hit 122 home runs at home last year and 73 on the road. Orioles pitchers allowed 155 homers at home and 103 on the road.
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