With Orioles pitchers and catchers reporting next Tuesday to spring training, we’re less than a week away now. The first spring game is just over two weeks away on Feb. 22.
So with that all coming fast, let’s take a look today at a few more random spring questions. They may not be the biggest facing the team, but just a few questions and topics to be considered over the next few weeks and leading into a new season.
Will John Means regress?: This is a very fair question of a pitcher that looked headed for Triple-A on opening day last year. But instead he was an All-Star, the team’s most reliable starter and a second-place finisher for American League Rookie of the Year.
Means went 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA and 1.135 WHIP. He joined the AL All-Stars after going 7-4 with a 2.50 ERA in the first half. The last O’s starter with a better season-long ERA was Wei-Yin Chen at 3.34 in 2015. Means came up seven innings short of qualifying for the ERA title, but if he had he would have finished seventh in the AL.
That is going to be a hard act to follow.
But, as I pointed out in this entry, Means became a pitcher using his third and fourth pitches more as last season went on. He wasn’t just mainly a fastball-changeup hurler. In August he threw his slider 17.1 percent and his slider and curve a combined 23 percent. In September he threw his slider 18.5 percent and the two pitches a combined 25 percent.
As last year went on, Means was giving hitters more to think about with an ever better pitch mix with his secondaries. And he pitched to a 3.26 ERA over his last eight starts. So, his finish exceeded his yearly numbers.
I think he gave hitters enough to think about, and with his quality pitches has a good chance to have another year as strong as the last one.
Which Austin Hays will we see?: Will it be the one with very modest numbers, as he showed on the farm last summer? Or the player that looked like an All-Star last September?
The Orioles called up Hays on Sept. 7 after a season in which he was limited to 87 games by two separate injuries. In the spring, he dislocated his left thumb. During the season, he suffered a right hamstring sprain. On the farm in 2019 he batted .248/.299/.464.
But the tools and talent were there for all to see - albeit in a small sample size - last September. In 75 plate appearances over 21 games, he hit .309/.373/.574 with six doubles, four homers and 13 RBIs. He recorded two steals and a .947 OPS. He made great catches in center field.
Hays didn’t do that with smoke and mirrors or luck, it was with talent. He was an O’s prospect that showed talent on both offense and defense.
Sure, he might not put up the kind of numbers he did in September over a full season, but he might turn out to a real plus for the team and provide it a young player who continues to add on to that elite talent pipeline.
He starts spring training as the starter in center field. It’s his chance to lock down the position, not just for this season, but maybe for years to come.
Sure, but what about Chris Davis?: Yep, I went there, killing the good vibes created by talk about Means and Hays.
But Davis, again, will be closely watched this spring. In this interview he said he didn’t make any big swing changes this winter, but has looked to add some bulk and strength. He lost some bulk in recent years to try to offset getting older with staying more flexible and athletic.
But did the leaner Davis lose power?
He sure did on the stat sheet. No doubt, fans are extremely skeptical, and with good reason. He’s gone from one of the feared hitters in the game to one of the worst.
He continues to do good things in the community and seems to be well liked in the clubhouse. But once the game starts, his performance comes up well short.
Can he improve at all? Spring training may begin to provide some answers.
Even more rankings: Yep, we have more prospect rankings. This is not a top 100 list, but it’s FanGraphs.com’s Orioles top 40 list. The top five, in order, are Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall, Ryan Mountcastle and Gunnar Henderson.