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Young Orioles are Ready to Fly

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As Opening Day nears, sports analysts and fans alike are answering one question, “what are your predictions for the 2010 MLB Season?” I would like to make a different type of prediction, one that may not prove to be true this season, or even in the next few seasons to come. This prediction may be bold, and I may be doubted, but let me be the first to say that the Baltimore Orioles are on the verge of becoming a prominent team in Major League Baseball.

64 wins and 98 losses placed the Orioles at the bottom of the American League East standings in 2009. Although the AL East may be the strongest division in the league (as in the past 10 years, they have had 7 World Series appearances combined), 64-98 is inadequate any way you look at it. In 2009 the Orioles had only two pitchers with winning record. Just one batter hit more than 20 home runs and not a single hitter eclipsed a .300 batting average. However, what at first appears to be a weak Orioles roster includes a group of young prospects that will make Baltimore a very strong, playoff level team within the next five years thank to years of trading for prospects and taking advantage of their high draft picks.

“With reliable pitching, and steady improvement as players mature, I think the Orioles may have a shot at being a contender. I would define a contender as a team that can play consistently with a record that is .500 or greater,” said Alan Abramson, a long-time Baltimore Orioles fan. But who are these prospects that need to grow in order for their team to become great? Here are the players that, with continued development, will single-handedly make the Baltimore Orioles into one of the league’s best:

Nick Markakis (Outfield; 27 years old): Nick Markakis is the most experienced of this “future” crew, and he has only been in the Majors for a mere 4 years! After being drafted 7th overall in the 2003 draft, he carved up the minors and made it to the majors in just 3 short seasons. He has matured quickly since, and anchors a fairly young outfield from his position in right. Markakis is one of the league’s most reliable outfielders, and easily one of the strongest presences in the O’s lineup. Not only is Nick Markakis a fan favorite, but he is also a boarder-line 5-tool player, meaning he can hit for average, hit for power, run well, throw a bullet, and play the field as well as anyone.

Adam Jones (Outfield; 25 years old): Adam Jones may be the member of the Baltimore Orioles that is closest to his breakout season. Last season, he was featured in Sports Illustrated for his strong performance in the first half of the year, but even as he cooled off, he pulled respectable numbers. He is fast, good at playing the field, an above average hitter, and is still very young. Jones was sent to Baltimore, along with closer George Sherrill, in the trade that sent previous Orioles’ ace, Erik Bedard, to Seattle. At the time, people debated whether the deal was a positive or negative one for Baltimore, but if Jones continues to develop at the same rate, it may soon be apparent that the O’s came out of it with a huge gain.

Matt Wieters (Catcher; 24 years old): Words can hardly describe the broad skill set of Matt Wieters. Referred to just this week in Sports Illustrated as “the most sought-after commodity in the game” and as “the game’s next Joe Mauer,” Wieters may be the complete package. He is overly mature for his age, for he was drafted in 2007 and is already entering the second year of his professional career. The switch hitter clobbers the ball and will hit it out of Camden Yards with ease, all while sustaining a high batting average and on base percentage. On top of that, his glove and arm combination may make him the league’s best defensive catcher in just a few seasons.

Brian Matusz (Starting Pitcher; 23 years old): In an organization that is somewhat well situated in regard to pitching prospects, Brian Matusz has the advantage of being the most revered. Matusz had a fine rookie season last year, as he went 5-2 in 8 starts. When other pitching prospects join the Major League club in the next few seasons Brian Matusz could very well be the ace. I expect him to lower his 4.63 ERA substantially, and have a type of season in 2010 that will solidify the hype surrounding him as a top pitching prospect.

Nolan Reimold (Outifeld; 27 years old): Nolan Reimold has the makings of a player who could guarantee that the Orioles’ line up is a strong one. If he develops as expected, he, in combination with Jones, Markakis, and Wieters, could anchor the Baltimore lineup for years to come.. Reimold played just over 100 games in 2009, but jacked 15 homers, all while driving in 45 runs and posting a .279 batting average. Those numbers will surely improve and assure that he will be the premiere powerful, long-ball threat in a line up that already has potential to be so good.

Other Orioles stars that are sure to develop and help make them a strong ball club include Jake Arietta (Starting Pitcher), Zach Britton (Starting Pitcher), Troy Patton (Starting Pitcher), Josh Bell (Third Base), and Felix Pie (Outfield).

My mom, and her side of the family, grew up in Baltimore, and although they have taken abuse from my dad and his Yankees, they still stand by their team. It’s been 27 long years since their last World Series title (“Hey, that’s the number of World Series wins the Yankees have!” my dad would say), but I predict that if their promising prospects mature as expected, their year will come fairly soon. What can I say; I am a Baltimorean at heart! Go O’s!