Orioles' upside a major storyline in 2012

The Orioles are banking the 2012 season on a whole lot of upside.

Will the young arms like Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman and Zach Britton become the pitchers many believed they could be?

Can international pitchers Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada pitch as well in the major leagues as they did in Nippon Professional Baseball?

Will the light bulb finally go on for outfielder Nolan Reimold and first baseman Chris Davis?

In 2011, catcher Matt Wieters made huge strides defensively and won a Gold Glove. He also increased his power number with 22 homers, but the question remains: will Wieters hit for average? The switch-hitter batted just .262 in 2011.

Three years after struggling in his limited time as the Orioles closer in 2009 (10 saves in 30 save opportunities), is Jim Johnson ready to come up big when the pressure is on in the ninth inning?

Finally, it's hard to say Brian Roberts - a proven All-Star - has upside, but there's upside to his health situation. Will Roberts make a comeback after playing in just 98 games in 2010 and 2011?

If the answer to let's say, three or more of these six questions, is yes, the Orioles might surprise some people. The lineup is pretty solid without Roberts. Add him into the equation leading off, and who knows how many runs hitters like J.J. Hardy or Adam Jones could drive in?

If Roberts is able to return to old form, the Orioles could not have picked up a bigger free agent this off-season.

With the power potential of Reimold and Davis, a lineup that hit the fourth-most home runs in the American League in 2011, could produce even more pop in 2012.

In 2011, Reimold hit 13 homers in 267 at-bats. He's expected to get double the amount of at-bats this year, so you can begin to assume he's potentially a 25-plus home run guy. Plus, Reimold has a good eye and hustles down the line. I think he could be a high on-base percentage player, as well.

Davis not only has offensive potential, but he could really contribute with his glove at first base. When he was traded to Baltimore at the deadline last year, a Texas Rangers scout told me the Rangers were hesitant to part with Davis because, "If the light bulb goes off for that kid, look out!"

If at least two of the young arms have break-out years, the Orioles could go from the team with the highest ERA in all of baseball in 2011 to a team like the 2008 Rays, who rode young arms like Matt Garza and even David Price, in his rookie debut, to the World Series.

As for Johnson, I like his chances of being an effective closer. He's always been a tough dude with a serious, icy kind of side to him when needed. That could bode well in the ninth inning. He's grown up a lot since 2009, and wants to grab this opportunity in front of him.

Now, from a cynical standpoint, if the answer to most of the above questions is no, you have to wonder how the Birds could possibly compete in the American League East in 2012.

They'd have virtually no starting pitching, no one to close out the ninth, no legit leadoff man, and a great defensive catcher who will fall short of the offensive expectations placed upon him as an Orioles first-round draft pick.

If that were the case, we'd be right back in 2011. The young arms regressed. Reimold hit.247 in limited at-bats. Davis came to Baltimore, but rarely got on the field because of injuries. Roberts was hurt the entire year. Kevin Gregg made the closer role interesting to say the least, with a 4.39 ERA in save situations.

To some extent, there's going to have to be a perfect storm of sorts for the Orioles to truly make any noise in the AL East, but it's possible. They'll have to catch lightning in a bottle to be contenders, but if a few key players show their upside wasn't just something written on scouting reports, the Birds might surprise.