How and When the Baltimore Orioles Can Be Competitive Again – A Timeline for Success

By Nick Sterling in MLB
| June 8, 2021 6:37 am PDT

The past three seasons have been rough for the Baltimore Orioles. The team lost 115 games in 2018, and 108 games in 2019. The season was shortened to 60 games in 2020, so they weren’t as bad.

Still, they lost 35 games, good enough for the fifth-worst record in the league.

It goes without saying but the Orioles are in the midst of a full-blown rebuild. After the 2018 season, the Orioles hired Mike Elias as their General Manager and Executive Vice President.

Elias is familiar with the rebuild process. He was the Director of Amateur Scouting for the Houston Astros from 2011 to 2016. He was promoted in 2016 to Assistant General Manager.

The Astros rebuild is a blueprint that a lot of teams should attempt to replicate. They lost over 100 games in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Those losses were tough on the fans but it allowed them to build up their farm system through the draft, trades, and free agency.

All that turmoil led to them becoming the World Series Champions in 2017. But, let’s get back to the Orioles.

When can they expect to be competitive? Let’s try and piece together their timeline.

2021 Season: Minor League Development

The Orioles are 55 games into the 2021 season, and they have the worst record in the league.

They just ended a 14-game losing streak, but I don’t expect that to change much. They’re going to lose a lot more games in what will likely be another 100+ loss season.

I think the most important thing this season is continuing to develop their minor league players.

Those guys had their growth stunted after the minor league didn’t play in 2020. It can take some time to get back in the groove after missing a season of competitive baseball, but they seem to be adjusting.

When you look at potential prospects that could be joining the team this season, MLB’s number two prospect, Adley Rutchsman, is someone who jumps right out.

He’s off to a good start in Double-A Bowie. He’s hitting .278 with six home runs and 20 RBIs in 23 games this season. If Rutchsman can continues to improve, he could find himself on the roster at the end of this season.

On the pitching side, Mike Baumann and Zac Lowther are the two minor league pitchers we’ll likely see in 2021. In fact, Lowther has already made his major league debut, but it didn’t go so well.

He started just one game and allowed seven runs over two and a third innings. Lowther will rejoin the Orioles this week after spending the last few weeks in the minors.

Baumann has struggled this season at both Single and Double-A. He started four games and has yet to make it past the third inning. He’s been dealing with arm and elbow injuries after having a right flexor strain late last season. Once he gets healthier, I expect him to get back to pre-2021 form.

The prospect pool could grow if they look to trade guys like Matt Harvey, Freddy Galvis, and Maikel Franco. Not to mention, they have the fifth pick in next month’s MLB Draft. Whoever they select should immediately slot into their top 10 prospect list.

2022 Season: Pitching Staff Begins to Fill Out

The Orioles possess an elite ace in John Means. He’s under contract through the 2024 season so unless they trade him, which I don’t expect, the Orioles will have a true ace for the next few seasons.

Outside of Means, the pitching staff is suspect, to say the least. Keegan Akin and Dean Kramer have shown potential to work as back-end starters but they need to be more consistent. Bruce Zimmerman is another young guy in the rotation who hasn’t been terrible, but he’s just consistently average.

The future for the Orioles rotation should be arriving in 2022 with Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall.

Rodriguez has been on Orioles fans’ radar since they drafted him 11th overall in 2018.

He’s also been consistent in his third season in the minor leagues. The 2021 season has arguably been his most impressive.

He has a 1.54 ERA in five starts in High-A. The most impressive stat may be the 40 strikeouts to five walks. Rodriguez will be moving up to Double-A this week to pitch for Bowie.

Hall, a left-handed pitcher, was drafted a year before Rodriguez in 2017. He started this season in Double-A and has not disappointed. A 2.14 ERA in five starts is leading the way for Bowie. He allowed just one home run over 21 innings.

The 2022 season may just be the beginning of an elite rotation for the Orioles.

2023 Season: Return to .500 Play

This could be the season Orioles fans finally realize the rebuild was worth it. The rotation of Means, Rodriguez, and Hall could be one of the best up-and-coming in the league.

Top prospects Heston Kjerstad, Gunnar Henderson, and Jordan Westburg could be ready to join the lineup as well.

If the Orioles do end up finishing last in the MLB in the 2021 season, they would be in prime position to draft outfielder Elijah Green. Green has already been touted as the consensus number one pick in the 2022 MLB Draft.

Obviously, things can change over the next year, but if he lives up to his potential, the Orioles could have two legit MVP caliber players in Rutchsman and Green.

The offensive lineup could include current big-league players like Cedric Mullins, Trey Mancini, Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle, and Anthony Santander.

I think the lineup would have a good mix of these veterans and the young guys that are just starting their big-league career.

2024: Playoff Contenders

This is the year that Orioles fans have been waiting for. I think 2024 is the time that the young guys will begin to realize their potential. That combined with the veterans will make up a very good team.

I’m projecting this team with the guys they currently have in the minors along with one or two future draft picks. The best part about it is we don’t know who else they could get.

Whether it’s trading for future assets or hitting on draft picks, the Orioles could have an even better team than I’m projecting.

The Orioles typically aren’t a team to shell out a ton of money when it comes to signing free agents but maybe that’ll change.

It’s possible free agents will see the Orioles as one of the next top teams in the league and consider signing with them for less money.

I think we could see the rotation along the lines of Means, Rodriguez, Hall, Kevin Smith, currently in Double-A, and a future draft pick or free agent signing.

I’d like to see a lineup consisting of Mullins, Hays, Rutchsman, Kjerstad, Green, Henderson, Santander, Mountcastle, and Westburg. Obviously, that won’t be the exact lineup, but I’d be satisfied if even five or six of those guys were in the lineup come 2024.

Final Thoughts

It’s been a tough few years for Orioles fans. A few more could be around the corner, but I think in about two years, we’ll start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The path to getting back to competitive play like 2012 to 2016 may be here soon. But for now, let’s hope our minor league prospects and future draft picks can continue developing in hopes they reach their full potential.

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