As the New Year began on Sunday, we provided a wish list for some players and O's staff for the 2023 season. We add to that here today.
Terrin Vavra and Kyle Stowers: More regular at-bats. I think that on rebuilding O’s teams that were headed for 100 or more losses, one or both of these players may have been given 300 or 400 plate appearances, and we could really tell a bit about them in such a sample. The 2023 edition may make that hard for one or both.
But among all Orioles that batted last year, Vavra’s .340 OBP ranked fourth. We know this kid can work the count and uses the whole field, We also know he hit just one homer in 103 plate appearances. The power is just not going to be there, but he has to bring what he can bring, which is the plate discipline needed on a club that ranked 22nd in the majors in this stat last year.
Stowers power seems to be a real thing. He ranked fifth on the team in slugging among all O’s batters in 2022. He can drive it out to all fields and worked to decrease his K rate at Triple-A last year. I think that, given enough at-bats, Stowers could produce solid corner outfield stats and also would bring average-or-better defense with a plus arm.
Jorge Mateo: The ability to find once again whatever he found batting that made his hitting, sub-par to that point, look above average and even special at times for a spell last year. He did have a nice five-week stretch of hitting that ran from July 16 to Aug. 23, including his big night at the Little League Classic. In that span of 31 games he batted .321 with a .944 OPS. You thought maybe he had turned a corner. But that did not hold up, and over his final 36 games he hit .174/.213/.270/.483.
For the entire season, over 150 games, he batted .221/.267/.379/.646 and his 81 OPS+ was 19 percent below American League average. He did produce some pop, with 25 doubles, seven triples, 13 homers and 50 RBIs. His 5.1 walk rate was below average and his 27.6 strikeout rate was below AL average.
It always is interesting to me how a hitter can produce as Mateo did for that five-week stretch. He didn’t just have a good series or a good week, he had a strong extended stretch. Maybe the O’s found something he can recapture or partially recapture to help his final 2023 stats improve.
Austin Voth: A regular role on the pitching staff. This might be hard, at least in terms of a regular rotation spot. But he clearly should be given every chance to win a spot on the 2023 staff after how well he threw for the Orioles last year. And this was after he had a 10.13 ERA in 19 games for the Nationals. How did the same guy go 5-4 with a 3.04 ERA for the Orioles? He seemed to connect with the O’s pitching coaches, and whatever they found for him among the data and analytics seemed to work.
Now they need to find out if he was a one-hit wonder. If he can produce similar numbers next season, a role should be his, at least out of the bullpen. The Orioles can use any pitcher who produces such stats. Seeing if Voth can repeat that will be one of the key questions to follow in the 2023 season.
Félix Bautista: For this likeable and still inexperienced pitcher, may he have more success as the O’s closer next year. Yep, he’s now pretty much got that job until he proves he can no longer do it. We had little right to expect him to thrive so in the role after the Jorge López trade. But he ran with it and embraced the challenge.
An overnight success story after 10 years on the farm!
It seemed to take a village here, but after many years of working with O’s minor league and major league coaches, the big guy harnessed his command, which once seemed to be the one thing that would keep him and his 100 mph fastball from having big league success. Even through the language barrier and interviews with interpreters, it was easy for me to see how much Bautista appreciated and savored making the majors. He loved being an Oriole. The splitter was devastating and the guy was touching 101 and 102 mph. Amazing story. May we see more of the same next season.