Lauren Tilley: Taking a look ahead

With the season winding down and the last game of the regular season (and the Orioles' season) tomorrow night, it's time to start analyzing and getting excited for next year. Although the Orioles only improved by a few games this year, we've seen some great potential out of young guys and we've learned a few not-so-great things about other guys. In my last guest blog of the season, I want to take a look at who will be the core group in this team, who will make the team, who will not make the team and who will be on the bubble.

As for the core group of guys, this is pretty obvious. Manager Buck Showalter has constantly praised Matt Wieters all season long. He loves his defensive skills, he loves his hard work ethic, he loves that his power is finally starting to come out and he doesn't hate his sense of humor. I have criticized the offensive side of Wieters since he's been here. He hit his 21st home run last night against the Red Sox, beating his previous season high by 10. He's also added 10 RBIs this season to his highest total, which came last season at 55. Add that to the great defensive skills he shows us behind the plate every day, and we've got a great catcher.

Next up is center fielder Adam Jones. He's had a career year, even though he's had it quietly. He hasn't been talked of much, even in Baltimore, despite 24 homers and 82 RBIs with a .280 average. We know of his Gold Glove out there in center and he's a great all-around hitter, making him one of the most important pieces to this team. Next to him is Nick Markakis, a guy who gets a lot of beef for not hitting long balls even though he's not a power hitter. He isn't having his best year, but he's still a very big part of this team (especially financially at a whopping $10.5 million).

Going back to the infield, we have J.J. Hardy. He's been the biggest surprise and best offseason acquisition by far. The O's locked him up for three years early and good thing because he's second on the team in the home run category with 29, a career high for him.

As for who will be here next season: Chris Davis, he's shown he's got great power and plays third pretty well; Mark Reynolds, we know what we're getting with him - home runs or strikeouts, and also a great glove at first; Nolan Reimold, this youngster is one of my favorites who shows he has a ton of power; Robert Andino, with his inside-the-park home run last night, he guaranteed himself a spot on next year's roster starting at second base.

Those on the bubble would be Ryan Adams, who has shown he can play second base pretty well and can hit the ball - he just wasn't very consistent. He's a great prospect, though, he just may not make it with the majors at the start of next year; Craig Tatum, he's filled in for Wieters when he had too but hasn't been extremely impressive or disappointing but backup catcher isn't a huge need for a team; Matt Angle, this outfielder has struggled with consistency as well, but I see him as the best option for a fourth outfielder.

Before I get to the pitchers, the players we won't see in an Orioles uniform next year are Vlad Guerrero, he's old, washed-up and was paid way too much money to do nothing this year; Blake Davis, he'll remain in the minors but we won't need him until someone gets hurt or needs an off day; Jake Fox, he'll be gone completely since he doesn't really play a set position; Brian Roberts, I'm guessing he's gone, I know he has a lot of money owed to him, but he can't play anymore; Felix Pie, enough said; Cesar Izturis, with Hardy and Andino, I'm sad to say he won't be around either.

Lastly, I'll give a quick rundown of the pitchers. Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta and Tommy Hunter will without a doubt be here. Jeremy Guthrie is almost definitely going to be here too, but the Orioles will listen to trade offers this winter. Brian Matusz will be an Oriole, but he does not get a spot in the starting rotation unless he has a miraculous recovery this offseason and a great spring training. I'm also willing to bet Alfredo Simon remains, unless something happens with his legal issues. As for relievers, Kevin Gregg will, unfortunately, remain an Oriole. He's owed too much money to just release him; he won't be the closer, but he will be in the 'pen. Willie Eyre has been very good towards the end of the season, as has Pedro Strop - they're shoo-ins. Clearly Jim Johnson will be here either as a closer or a starter - no one knows yet - and that's going to be an interesting decision once it's made. Clay Rapada, Zach Phillips and Jo-Jo Reyes make it. Brad Bergesen, Jeremy Accardo and Chris Jakubauskas do not. I'm still on the fence about Chris Tillman, but I say he stays in the minors because he's so young.

Clearly, this is very far in advance and is not taking into consideration any trades or free agency moves made over the winter. This is just my little preview for next season.

I would like to thank MASNsports.com for this great opportunity. I've had a blast writing these weekly guest blogs and hope that you all enjoyed reading them, whether you agreed with me or not. I appreciate all of your comments and support. Go, O's!

Lauren Tilley blogs about the Orioles for Birds Watcher, and her thoughts on the O's appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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