With the Orioles preparing to open the 2023 season in Boston on Thursday and aiming to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. Grayson Rodriguez not making the club was disappointing, but he posted a 7.04 spring ERA and Mike Elias lamented his struggles the second time through the order and establishing his slider, saying it was “not a representative spring.” If it were solely service time, Elias laid it on pretty thick.
2. Rodriguez shouldn’t be at Norfolk for very long if he gets on an early roll, and sending down DL Hall to continue building him as a starter after a back issue was the easy choice. You don’t relegate young arms with such upside to relief roles in April.
3. That said, the bullpen is concerning with Mychal Givens and Dillon Tate beginning the season on the injured list. As much as this group surprised in 2022, Baltimore struggled to bridge the gap to Felix Bautista after the Jorge Lopez trade, ranking 22nd in bullpen ERA the final two months.
4. Whether he makes the initial roster or not, Mike Baumann is an interesting option to step into a higher-leverage relief role as 2023 progresses. Injuries and inconsistency stunted the 27-year-old’s development as a starter, but the stuff is impressive and his finish to the spring was promising.
5. Kyle Gibson was always the safe bet to start on Opening Day after he signed a $10 million contract. He and Cole Irvin should eat innings and raise the floor of the rotation, but you’re hoping they’re no better than Baltimore’s fourth and fifth starters by season’s end.
6. Gunnar Henderson starting the spring 2-for-22 wasn’t ideal, but he collected six hits in his final 15 at-bats, which included a double, a triple, and a home run. Of course, spring stats don’t matter nearly as much as how a young player is feeling by late March.
7. A healthy and productive spring was exactly what Austin Hays needed after posting a .626 OPS in the second half of last season. With Kyle Stowers pushing for at-bats and Colton Cowser knocking at the door at Norfolk, Hays will need to produce consistently to stay in the everyday lineup.
8. I wasn’t crazy about the Adam Frazier signing — especially at $8 million — even before Jordan Westburg posted an .879 OPS in the Grapefruit League. With Westburg already having more than 400 plate appearances at Norfolk under his belt, it’s going to be tough keeping him in the minors much longer.
9. The best spring story may have been Heston Kjerstad, who batted .381 with nine extra-base hits and a 1.219 OPS in 44 plate appearances. Doing that after being Arizona Fall League MVP has put the 2020 first-round pick firmly back on the radar after enduring so many health concerns.
10. The World Baseball Classic was outstanding and provided the Shohei Ohtani-Mike Trout dream matchup that couldn’t have been booked better at WrestleMania. What’s the ultimate Orioles matchup we never got to see? Jim Palmer against Brooks Robinson or Eddie Murray? We saw Cal Ripken face Mike Mussina in 2001.
11. My prediction is the Orioles finishing 84-78 and barely missing the postseason. I really like the young talent in Baltimore with more to come, but an uninspiring winter left a club that was ahead of schedule last season looking like it’s still another year away from being a serious contender.
12. We know the NFL is king, so there’s no shortage of local sports fans feeling deflated over the impasse between Lamar Jackson and the Ravens and its impact on their offseason activity. The Orioles have a great opportunity to grab attention and generate real buzz with a strong start.