What will keep fans invested in 2020?

Welcome to a new year filled with a new season and new hopes for the Orioles.

Those hopes are tempered a bit during rebuilding and no one is likely dreaming too big in light of 223 losses over the past two years.

During the offseason, some fans I’ve met tell me they feel for me having to cover a team that losses so much. I tell all of them that I love what I do and that I truthfully enjoyed covering the 2019 Orioles a great deal.

We knew it would not be a winning season and the year would be about players getting a chance and seeing what they could do with it. When you are in that clubhouse so much each season, you hope a good relationship develops with the players and the year produces some interesting stories to track, write and follow. The 2019 O’s were fun to cover and Brandon Hyde’s patience with the media was impressive. For me, it was a positive experience.

So looking ahead to the new season, I’m wondering what provides fans reasons to watch and keep following the club. A club that is expected to see losses mount yet again. Here are a few reasons to watch:

Who will be the next Means?: Maybe a better question is: Will there be another John Means in 2020, an unheralded pitcher that becomes a key member of the rotation? Yes, it would be nice to do that again.

Means went 12-11 with a 3.67 ERA in 31 games and finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. Not bad for a player who almost never was on any of those top 30 team prospects lists.

Producing another player like that would be great, but you certainly can’t count on that each year. Still it will be a big year for young pitchers in the organization. Some took big steps in 2019 and we’ll see if that continues. We’ll see which pitchers struggle when moving up a level and which ones thrive. It will be a big year for the group moving up from Double-A Bowie - pitchers like Zac Lowther, Alex Wells, Michael Baumann, Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmermann - to show what they can do at Triple-A and get closer to the majors. Some of that group could get major league shots this year.

Mountcastle arrives, Rutschman gets closer: With players like Trey Mancini, Austin Hays and Anthony Santander, we can see the beginning of a solid batting order and one that could have some thump in the middle of the order.

Mountcastle-Swing-Tides-Sidebar.jpgRyan Mountcastle should get his chance to join that group in 2020. At Triple-A in 2019, he batted .312/.344/.527 with an .871 OPS in his first season at that level. He added 35 doubles, one triple, 25 homers, 81 runs and 83 RBIs. Mountcastle led the International League in hits (162) and total bases (274), and ranked second in extra-base hits (61), third in doubles, fifth in average, runs and RBIs, sixth in slugging and 11th in OPS.

He was the International League MVP and the Orioles’ Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year. His arrival, whenever it happens, will be a big deal. O’s fans are dreaming on a day when Adley Rutschman joins that young group to make the lineup stronger yet.

Who will they draft No. 2 overall in June?: This will be a big moment during the 2020 season, even though it won’t be one that has any impact on the Orioles during the season. They will select No. 2 overall for the first time in team history. They’ve selected No. 1 twice now and drafted Rutschman 1/1 last June.

This will be the Orioles’ 12th top five pick in draft history and the fourth time they select in the top three. The Detroit Tigers will pick No. 1 for the second time in three seasons.

The draft will be held in Omaha, Neb., this year from June 10-12 and the College World Series starts there June 13. By moving the draft date, Major League Baseball has ensured that no college player will be taking part in an NCAA playoff game at the exact moment they are drafted. Also some top college players may now be able to attend the draft’s first night, including those taking part in the College World Series.

The 2020 season will also be about seeing if players that showed promise in 2019 like Means and Santander to name two, do it again or can get even better. Will some players emerge to surprise and who will disappoint?

What will fans be following during the 2020 season?

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