Orioles a Team of Rising Stars


Jul 24, 2009

Orioles a Team of Rising Stars The Red Sox are in the middle of a five-game losing streak, but they will be happy to return to Fenway Park and see the Orioles in the visiting dugout. The O's have struggled mightily against the AL East this season and could be a confidence builder for the Red Sox over the weekend.

Bill Duck of Camden Chat joined us to answer a few questions about the Orioles, as the Red Sox host Baltimore for a three-game series to kick off a seven-game homestand.

NESN.com: Adam Jones is having a breakout season this year, and with each game Mariners fans must feel more depressed about trading him away. On the other side, how excited are Orioles fans for his future?

Bill Duck: We’re very excited. As much young pitching as we have stocked in the minors, the Orioles have a dearth of position players. Jones, it can be argued, has the greatest upside of any player on the Orioles, with the possible exception of Matt Wieters, and I’m not so sure about that. He’s a kid that just gets it — he worked with Brian Roberts and former Oriole Mark McLemore in the offseason, and he was pretty upset in spring training when national baseball sites were projecting him to hit .260. Orioles fans of a certain age see Jones and think of Paul Blair and Ken Singleton, except he’s a better hitter.

He spoke in the winter of wanting to be a No. 2 hitter and knew that meant showing more patience. Jones is currently batting .307, and although he’s just coming out of a power slump, he’s on track for 20-plus home runs and 90 RBIs. He earned his first All-Star Game appearance this year and drove in the winning run. And he’s just 23 years old. There’s reason to be excited.

NESN.com: Roberts has been the face of the franchise for a while now, but Jones and Nick Markakis should be with the O's for quite some time. Who is the newer face of the franchise between the two?

Bill Duck: I can’t speak for all of Orioles fandom, but my thought is it will be Jones just due to the personality differences of the two. Markakis is a really good player — we love his consistency. You can put him down for hitting about .295 and knocking in 90 RBIs with 20 home runs every year for the next six years. But he’d be the first to quietly say he’s not a vocal leader. He’s a Cal Ripken type — show up, play every day, make good baseball decisions and let others do the talking.

Jones is by nature more gregarious. He’s having fun being a baseball player, and doesn’t mind if you know it. He’s blowing bubble gum while chasing down balls in center field, he’s the one with the shaving cream pie at the end of a game, he’s the first one to step up and say when he’s made a mistake. And as time goes by, I think he will be the first one to step up and challenge his team to do better. It’s just his personality, and that’s not the way Markakis goes about his job. Good teams need both types of players, I’d argue. And they get along great — just watch the “jump and bump” they do after home wins in the outfield on occasion.

NESN.com: Wieters debuted with unfair hype and hasn't had the easiest time adjusting to the majors. But he is extremely young and a catcher nonetheless, so what type of offensive numbers should we expect to see from Wieters once he reaches his potential?

Bill Duck: The phrase “Joe Mauer with power” has been thrown around since he was drafted. That’s a pretty lofty set of expectations to place on anyone. He tore the cover off the ball in every level of minor league play, hitting .345 and slugging .576 at high Single-A. Then, he did even better at Double-A, when he produced one of the best offensive seasons for a catcher in the history of the minor leagues by batting .365, slugging .625 and hitting 12 home runs in just 61 games.

But he played just 169 games in the minors. The Orioles made the decision to delay his arbitration clock and brought him up in May instead of heading north with the big club in April. His first few weeks were painful to watch at times — at the plate, at least. Behind the plate, he’s better than advertised on defense, has the cannon arm we thought he did and calls a great game. Runners are stealing off the Orioles’ pitchers, not Wieters.

What to expect? I honestly don’t know. Orioles fans have been joking about Matt since he was in the minors with lines like “Matt Wieters took batting practice today. There were no survivors.” Entire websites, like mattwietersfacts.com, have been devoted to it.

But until he catches up to a MLB fastball with movement and learns that pulling the ball can be a good thing on occasion, we’re in for a slow growth curve. None of us doubts he will get there, as Markakis and Jones struggled mightily in their first few months of everyday duty, and none of us is ready to declare his choice a wasted draft pick. To pick numbers out of the air, I’d say it’s fair to expect a .285 average next year, with 20 home runs and 75 RBIs. After that, things could get really interesting.

NESN.com: Who has been the most reliable reliever out of the Orioles bullpen this season?

Bill Duck: As shocking as this may seem to Orioles fans, I’d say George Sherrill. We grew so accustomed to “Never A Doubt, Georgie” walking two batters and letting two runs score in a three-run game that we never developed full confidence in him. Roberts gave him that name last year after another stress-inducing performance in which Sherrill managed to close out a game with multiple base runners allowed.

But he’s developed a new variation of his slider this year, was challenged by Dave Trembley to keep his job and has been lights out most of this year, July 1 notwithstanding. He’s saved 20 out of 23, his BAA and WHIP are lower than last year, and his ERA is a full two runs lower at 2.52. He’s also healthy, as he spent almost 1/3 of last year on the DL.

Jim Johnson and Danys Baez have gone through long stretches of being dominant this season but came crashing back down to earth. Sherrill seems to be pretty consistent this year, and that’s the last adjective I would have used for him last year.

NESN.com: Are there any Orioles who could be moved before the July 31 deadline?

Bill Duck: Anyone older than 30 is available, I can tell you that. The Baltimore Sun gave a pretty extensive rundown on Friday and noted that the Orioles are most interested in moving Baez and Melvin Mora. Sherrill is probably their most attractive trade bait, and general manager Andy MacPhail is asking for an MLB-ready corner infield prospect and the new team to assume all of the salary — or, if the O’s have to eat salary, two MLB ready prospects, one being corner infield. I’d be surprised if he gets it. Then again, I was shocked at what he got for Miguel Tejada the day before the Mitchell Report. I won’t put anything past MacPhail.

Interestingly enough, the one player I think has the best chance of getting traded is Gregg Zaun. He’s quietly gone on a tear the last month and is batting close to .500 in his last 10 games. He’s going to be attractive to some team, and someone (like the Cubs) just might pry enough for Andy to make the deal.

NESN.com: What are the keys for the Orioles to winning the series against the Red Sox?

Bill Duck: Food poisoning? Competent umpiring? OK, I kid. Obviously, the O’s will have a tough time at Fenway. The O’s are 1-14 on the road in the AL East. The O’s are above .500 at home, but anywhere that the pillow at night isn’t familiar means we’re losing two out of three, with a record of 15-32. Looking at the pitching match-ups, the O’s best chance is Friday, with Rookie of the Year candidate Brad Bergesen going against Brad Penny.

I’ll be an optimist and say Jeremy Guthrie looked much better after being out for basically two weeks with a viral infection as he faces Jon Lester. The O’s could win a 2-1 game here, but if the O’s win two out of three, this is the one they lose.

David Hernandez is pitching much better of late. His last start was great, going six innings with just three hits and one earned run. John Smoltz has struggled in his 2009 campaign, and it’s possible the O’s take this one. The O’s could take two out of three with the matchups, but don’t go to Vegas with that.

Thanks for giving me the chance to talk Orioles baseball. I’ll leave you with three pitchers to remember for 2010 and 2011: Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz. You will see those names again, and soon. And the letter "W" will be next to them more often than not.

Thanks again to Bill Duck for sharing his insight on the Orioles. Don’t forget to check out his blog, Camden Chat.

Stay tuned Monday for a series preview of the A's, as the Red Sox take on Oakland for four games at Fenway.

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