We're getting later into the season, and for some teams, that often means looking forward to next season. Or, if you're the Pittsburgh Pirates, then just some point in the near future.
You might often hear that organizations have sort of target dates, specific years where management or ownership believes that the talent in their organization will culminate with a high-quality product on the field. Obviously, some teams are closer to feeling good about their rosters than others (unless you're Dayton Moore, who always seems to feel good about his roster).
But what if 2011 doesn't even feel like a realistic target for contention? Well, I thought that I would kick off a little series to bring hope to the fans, particularly for those who aren't having so much fun right now. What kind of series, you ask? Why, only a series looking at how each organization's roster could stack up in 3 years, at the beginning of the 2013 season. Because frankly, any team that is awful now and hasn't built something good by then probably doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt any longer. I'm just going to focus on the everyday lineup, starting rotation and closer spots here, as it's generally a bit more difficult to predict which guys might stick in middle relief or as bench pieces. Plus, talking about who's going to be Oakland's back-up catcher in 2013 just isn't too interesting.
Because I'm a good and honorable man, I'll kick it off with the Baltimore Orioles, currently holders of baseball's worst win-loss record. Basically, I just kind of feel bad for all those O's fans out there, and maybe a look to the future will bring some optimism to the table.
Also of note, I'd just like to mention that these lineups DO NOT include any sort of speculated acquisitions that could happen before the 2013 season, and one could almost be guaranteed that by the time that 2013 comes, each team will have acquired some new players through free agency, trades and/or the draft. That being said, these are still exceptionally useful looks at how the teams will look by 2013, so we can have a better idea of what kind of players each organization is lacking in, and which players they'll be more likely to target through free agency. Like, as commenter backtocali noted below, the Orioles could possibly look to sign a Prince Fielder-type to make the 1B/DH situation a bit easier to deal with, as he'd be an obvious upgrade on Snyder/Reimold and with so many young players presumably there should be a good amount of payroll flexibility, too. But for this exercise, we're sticking purely with players that are either in the organization already or have been drafted this year with a reasonable likeliness of signing (so yeah, there's no Zach Lee for the Dodgers. Sorry). Additionally, after the trade deadline I'll probably do a few posts covering how trades changed these outlooks, particularly on teams where impact prospects could be dealt or acquired.
Also, I'd love to hear any disagreements or qualms with my selections in the comments, especially from Orioles fans. The entire lineup and rotation are after the jump, along with comments about each player. Let's go!
The Starting Lineup.
Catcher: Matt Wieters, Opening Day 2013 Age: 26, Current level: MLB
You weren't expecting Caleb Joseph, were you?
Wieters is seriously struggling right now, with a .265 wOBA on the month and a .291 wOBA for the year (the league average is .325). But he's also been the victim of a nearly 70-point decrease in his BABIP from last year, when he was essentially a league average hitter in his 96-game debut. Wieters is quite clearly the team's long-term catcher; he's under team control through most of the next decade and he doesn't have much competition in the minor leagues in terms of top prospects. Most still expect Wieters to be a star, but even with a league average bat he'd be a very valuable asset behind the plate.
I think it's safe to say that Joseph or Michael Ohlman won't usurp Wieters from his position by 2013.
First Base: Brandon Snyder, Opening Day 2013 Age: 26, Current level: Triple-A
Snyder's presence here is partially because he's a decent prospect, and partially because the O's don't have many top-notch hitting prospects in their system. The 13th overall pick in the 2005 draft, he re-emerged as a quality prospect last season with a strong showing in Double-A, but he's struggled replicate that success in nearly 500 at-bats in Triple-A since then.
He's a better hitter against left-handers than right-handers, but in general he's not a guy that many people predict to be much more than a decent regular. John Sickels gave Snyder a B- ranking coming into season, describing his bat as good but not great, and I think that's a fair evaluation. There's probably some hope both inside and outside of the organization that management is able to land a superior option than Snyder by the time that 2013 rolls around.
Second Base: Brian Roberts, Opening Day 2013 Age: 35, Current level: MLB (Disabled List)
By 2013, he should easily be the longest-tenured Oriole on the roster, having been around since 2000. One of the game's best second basemen for the majority of the previous decade, 2013 may actually be Roberts' final year with the club, as he finishes off the four-year, $40M extension that he signed coming into the 2009 season.
Roberts has played in only 4 games this season due to back injuries which have kept him on the DL essentially all year, and reports don't have his return coming until August at the earliest. Either way, the four-year deal that MacPhail and company gave Roberts was a clear sign that the team views him as a key piece, and that shouldn't be surprising considered he averaged 4.7 WAR per year from 2005-2009. He'll be getting old, as his current deal takes him into his mid-30's, but there's still reason to believe that he can be a good player going forward.
It just doesn't seem too likely that someone like L.J. Hoes sneaks in and forces Roberts into a bench role or something.
Third Base: Josh Bell, Opening Day 2013 Age: 26, Current level: Triple-A
The fruits of the Erik Bedard deal just keep bearing themselves, it seems.
Bell emerged as a top prospect with an impressive performance in Double-A last year (.298/.379/.520), but the evaluations on the former Dodgers farmhand varied, with some seeing a future star and others seeing a platoon bat with a relatively raw approach at the plate and serious issues with the glove at third base. Bell hasn't done a great job quelling those whispers so far this season, with an underwhelming .259/.306/.432 line in Triple-A, but it's not like any other 3B prospect in the system has done anything to vault ahead of him.
The LH/RH split is a serious concern, but at this point Bell is quite clearly the Orioles' best option at third base going forward. He's probably lost some lust since the offseason, but I think that most would consider Bell a solid option for the future if his glove is adequate or better.
Shortstop: Manny Machado, Opening Day 2013 Age: 20, Current level: Unsigned first-round pick
Okay, this one is definitely me being optimistic. Not only are there questions about Machado's ability to stick at shortstop as he grows, but the kid hasn't even signed the dotted line on a contract with the club yet.
That being said, once he does sign he'll blow the system's other shortstop prospects out of the water. Projected as the most talented hitter in the 2010 high school class, Machado's been described as having good hands and a 70 arm on the 20-80 scouting scale, so the main concern with whether he'll stick at shortstop is if he can maintain his range as his body fills out.
But he appears to have all of the tools to make it at shortstop if he doesn't get so big that he necessitates a move to third base, and given the lack of quality shortstops in their system, picking Machado here would seem to be a no-brainer. With his talent, status as the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, and lack of competition within the system, picking anyone other than Machado just wouldn't seem fair.
I suppose the primary alternative if Machado does need to move off of shortstop would be Mychal Givens, though.
Left field: Felix Pie, Opening Day 2013 Age: 28, Current level: MLB (Disabled List)
As a Chicagoan, seeing Pie succeed somewhere else infuriates me, but I think he's pretty clearly their best option in left field by the time that 2013 rolls around. He'll be in his final season of team control by then, though, so he probably won't be much of a bargain.
Pie showed last season that he actually stands a pretty good chance of becoming a decent everyday player, even if he's blocked from his best position by Adam Jones. He's a good defender in left field, and he showed significant improvement in his approach and his ability to make contact last season. He'll probably never be much more than a league average hitter, but a league average hitter that plays a good left field and an adequate center field is a pretty useful player.
The alternative here would probably be Xavier Avery, a toolsy 20-year-old in Single-A Frederick who's shown some good improvement in his performance from last season's underwhelming full-season debut at Single-A Delmarva.
Center field: Adam Jones, Opening Day 2013 Age: 27, Current level: MLB
The story with Jones is fairly well-known: former shortstop prospect was moved to center field by the Mariners, where he emerged as an elite CF prospect before being included in the package sent to Baltimore in exchange for Erik Bedard. In Baltimore, he struggled somewhat his rookie year before breaking out in 2009, emerging as one of the game's most recognizable young stars.
He promptly fell flat on his face to begin the 2010 season, but he's quietly dragged his numbers back up over time. Basically, what I'm trying to say, is that we never should've written off Jones because of his cold start. His numbers in June? How about a .315/.344/.576 line with 7 homers and 3 doubles in 24 games. The lack of patience is still a concern, but he appears to be making adjustments, and that's really all that you can ask for.
He's a cornerstone for this team as a potentially elite up-the-middle player, and his play in June is a flash of the kind of dynamic player that he's capable of being.
Right field: Nick Markakis, Opening Day 2013 Age: 29, Current level: MLB
Markakis is probably one of the easiest inclusions on this roster, partially given his track record, but primarily because in 2013 the Orioles will be paying their right fielder a hefty $15.3M salary, with another $15.25M in salary coming the following season.
Markakis signed the six-year, $66.1M extension with the club after having one of the best individual seasons by an Oriole in recent memory in 2008, as he batted .306/.406/.491 and put up a 6.3 WAR on the year, making him the third-most valuable player in the American League that year. But last season Markakis saw his defensive marks plummet and his walk rate go from 14% to 8%, culminating with a major decline from one of the game's best players to merely a solid everyday player.
Markakis' decrease in power is definitely a concern going forward, but the high walk rate has returned in 2010, and with that his exceptional OBP has returned as well. Then again, there's reason to be skeptical about whether he'll be worth his salary by 2013 if his defense and power don't return to near their previous levels. Right now, he's just not clearly a $15M/year player.
Designated hitter: Nolan Reimold, Opening Day 2013 Age: 29, Current level: Triple-A
Similar to the situation at first base with Snyder, Reimold's presence here is partially a function of the organization's failure to develop quality hitters for an extended period of time. Reimold played exceptionally last season while splitting his time between Triple-A and Baltimore, posting insane numbers in the minors and solidly above-average numbers in the big leagues.
He was expected to get significant at-bats with the club this season while splitting time between left field, first base and the DH spot, but he's struggled to the point where he's even having trouble putting up good numbers in Triple-A now since being demoted. Given his lack of defensive value, he pretty much has to hit well to be worth keeping on the roster, and he's struggled to do that this season.
But given his track record and the lack of alternatives in the system, Reimold will presumably get another long look again at some point soon, presumably this season if he heats up. His upside is pretty limited given that he's either a designated hitter or a poor defender at a position near the end of the defensive spectrum, though, and he's not as young as you'd initially think as he'll be 29 by 2013.
The Starting Rotation.
No. 1: LHP Brian Matusz, Opening Day 2013 Age: 26, Current level: MLB
No. 2: LHP Zach Britton, Opening Day 2013 Age: 25, Current level: Double-A
No. 3: RHP Chris Tillman, Opening Day 2013 Age: 24, Current level: Triple-A
No. 4: RHP Jake Arrieta, Opening Day 2013 Age: 26, Current level: MLB
No. 5: RHP Brandon Erbe, Opening Day 2013 Age: 25, Current level: Triple-A
The rotation looks like it should be a strong spot for this team, as you can see here.
Matusz and Britton give the Orioles one of the most impressive left-handed 1-2 punches in the game, despite Matusz's early season struggles with the club this year. Given his fly ball tendencies, he's going to have to sharpen his command or induced more swing-and-misses if he wants to become more than a good back-of-the-rotation starter. That being said, Matusz has often been regarded as one of the best young pitchers in the game, so there's reason to be optimistic about him making adjustments.
Britton is a totally different animal from Matusz, he's a groundball machine who's flashed the ability to miss bats, the kind of pitcher who can afford to have a slightly less impressive K/BB ratio because he's so adept at keeping the ball in the park. Britton is currently running a ~2.4 K/BB ratio in Double-A, which is okay, but what's really impressive is his 64% groundball rate. Keith Law just ranked Britton No. 16 on his updated Top 25, including the blurb, "I haven't found a scout who's seen him without really liking him." He may not really project as an ace, but he seems like a pretty good bet to be a good mid-rotation starter at the very least.
As for Tillman, Arrieta and Erbe, you're looking at what could be the makings of a pretty exceptional back-of-the-rotation. Tillman has struggled a lot in his first couple stints with the big league club the past two years, but he continues to put up exceptional numbers in the upper minors. You gotta be optimistic with the guy considering the combination of performance and pedigree. Arrieta's Oriole career has started in a similar fashion, with good numbers in the upper minors but pretty awful results in Baltimore thus far. And like Tillman, his career prospects are far too bright to get too bent out of shape because a couple of unimpressive starts.
Unlike the other two right-handers, Erbe has yet to make his MLB debut, but I suppose that's what happens when you can't get your FIP under 4.8 in Triple-A. Like Matusz, Erbe has established fly ball tendencies, but Erbe hasn't made it nearly as clear that his stuff will continue to miss bats as the competition improves. Given his shaky command, too, it's not surprising that the Orioles haven't deemed him ready for big league action yet, but he has the upside to be one of the team's best pitchers by 2013 if he can stay healthy and put it all together.
I suppose some other candidates would be Brad Bergesen, David Hernandez and Matt Hobgood, and we all know that guys just kind of emerge some times with sudden changes in skill set or talent level.
Closer: Luis Lebron, Opening Day 2013 Age: 28, Current level: Double-A (out for year; Tommy John surgery)
Predicting who is going to the closer isn't particularly easy, but I think that Lebron probably has as good a shot as anybody in the organization of racking up saves by 2013.
I know that he's on the mend now after having TJS last month, but he was considered a quality relief candidate for the team coming into the season after a fantastic showing in Double-A Bowie last year. He's been described as a future closer candidate before thanks to his ability to miss bats, but the concern was always about whether he actually knew what his pitches were going.
He showed some improved command in 2009, where he put up a 3.11 FIP (13.0 K/9 (!), 4.8 BB/9, lots of induced infield flies) in Double-A, and he put up impressive numbers against batters from both sides. Obviously he's not too close to being Baltimore's closer right now, but I don't think that Alfredo Simon has a long-term stranglehold on the position. Lebron could see some competition from the likes of Simon, Jim Johnson or Kam Mickolio, among others.