Five Orioles with Much to Prove in 2019

Dylan Bundy throws in Sarasota.
photo: Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Photo

Entering the first full year of the Baltimore Orioles’ rebuild, all the fans keep talking about is how the Orioles are going to have a few terrible seasons in order to become great. But what some aren’t discussing is the individual aspect of how it’s going to come together.

Several players need to improve upon their respective prior performances to be a part of not only an expedited rebuild, but to be an asset for a good team going forward – whether that be with the future-contending Orioles or to be a valuable trade acquisition for an immediate contender.

The 10 players below have much to prove to the O’s and/or other ball clubs in 2019. I’ve excluded prospects from this list primarily because, well… they’re prospects. They obviously have a lot left to prove.

 

Dylan Bundy

Dylan Bundy jogs in Spring Training.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Dylan Bundy, the once-elite prospect, has now had three full seasons at the big-league level, and has shown glimpses of why he was once ranked the second-best prospect in all of baseball, via MLB Pipeline.

After posting a 4.02 ERA in his first major-league season in 2016, then a respectable 4.24 ERA in his first full starter workload year in 2017, many looked for the young right-hander to take a step forward in 2018.

Bundy started last season strong, recording a 1.42 ERA and 11.37 K/9 over his first five starts. This raised some eyebrows, showing promise in the then-25-year old. However, he lost his groove and became very vulnerable on the mound, finishing the season with a 5.45 ERA and a 2.15 HR/9, which was the worst among qualified major-league pitchers in 2018 (next highest was 1.67 HR/9 by Mike Fiers).

Bundy needs to, at worst, bounce back to his 2017 self this upcoming season. Although he pitches in one of the most well-known hitters’ parks in the big leagues, he needs to keep the ball in the park and show why he was once the best pitching prospect in baseball. With three years left of team control, he needs to provide a reason why the Orioles should consider either shopping him for a quality return, or look at the right-hander as an extension candidate to keep him in the club’s future contending plans.

Bold Prediction: Bundy has the first sub-4.00 ERA of career. The Orioles shop him midseason but end up holding onto him for at least the remainder of 2019.

 

Alex Cobb

Alex Cobb of the Orioles pitches.

In trying to keep their “window” open in 2018, the Orioles signed Alex Cobb to a four-year, $57 million contract during spring training.

He pitched to a 4.90 ERA in his first season in Baltimore, but that doesn’t tell the story of his season. By signing so late, Cobb wasn’t able to go through with a regular spring training heading into the season, which could have impacted his ability to settle in early on.

In the veteran right-hander’s first 16 starts of 2018, he sported an abysmal 6.67 ERA. He turned a corner, though, posting a 2.59 ERA over his final 12 outings.

In 2019, Cobb should look to have a healthy, successful bounce-back campaign, helped by a full spring training to get prepared for the season. If he can prove that his struggles last season were due to the lack of spring preparation, he could become a valuable trade asset for the O’s, despite his contract. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported earlier this offseason that the Orioles have gotten calls on both Cobb and Bundy.

Bold Prediction: Cobb will be a solid innings eater but nothing much more than that. The Orioles will move him at the deadline by either eating salary or taking a low return to get his salary off the books.

 

Chris Davis

Chris Davis trots around the bases.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Should I post the numbers? I shouldn’t.

But I will.

.168/.243/.296 slash line, 16 home runs, -3.1 fWAR.

Yikes.

A couple weekends ago at O’s FanFest, Chris Davis opened up about his embarrassing season, and acknowledged that he needs to do whatever it takes to turn it around, including relying on any analytical advice provided to him by the new staff in place. You can read what he had to say here.

Obviously, the once-feared slugger is probably hoping to return to his dominant 2013 or 2015 self. But, in reality, I’d say returning to a .300-plus on-base percentage, 30-plus homer season should really be seen as a successful bounce-back season.

Bold Prediction: Davis loses everyday starter status, but still plays multiple days a week. His numbers fall somewhere between his 2014 season (.196/.300/.404, 26 HRs) and 2017 season (.215/.309/.423, 26 HRs).

 

Mychal Givens

Mychal Givens pitches.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

At no point in his career has right-handed side-armer Mychal Givens been a below-average reliever. He posted his career-worst 3.99 ERA and 9.27 K/9 in 2018, yet managed to post a career-best 1.7 fWAR. This could be in part due to a 3.07 FIP and 0.47 HR/9.

In 2019, Givens needs to prove that he can now be much more than just a reliable reliever. With Zach Britton, Brad Brach, and Darren O’Day all out of the picture, it’s possible that Givens could be handed closing duties on Opening Day.

Even if he’s not named the closer – or if the O’s opt against naming one closer – Givens still figures to be relied on heavily in high-leverage situations. He needs to take advantage of these opportunities and make the best of them. His name came up plenty in rumors leading up to last year’s non-waiver trade deadline, and he could resurface as a highly-coveted reliever on the trade market if he proves to be a dominant presence on the mound late in ball games.

Bold Prediction: Givens has the best season of his career in his first year as closer, and the O’s trade him in July for a package of prospects.

 

Trey Mancini

Trey Mancini watches the ball after making contact.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Fans and scouts had different opinions on Trey Mancini when he got called up to the big leagues. He wasn’t a highly-ranked prospect coming up through the Orioles farm system, but he did produce at the minor-league levels, so it was intriguing to see how he’d do when he got his call to the bigs in late 2016. In five games, he hit three homers, raising many eyebrows.

Then, after fighting for an Opening Day roster spot, he rewarded the O’s decision by slashing .293/.338/.488 with 24 home runs in 2017, earning third place for American League Rookie of the Year honors, behind Andrew Benintendi and Aaron Judge, who received second and first place, respectively.

Many expected good things from Mancini in 2018, his second full season. He hit 24 homers again, although he recorded just a .242/.299/.416 batting line. It is worth noting that he batted .216/.292/.363 in the first half, but had a second half that featured a .276/.307/.484 slash line.

In 2019, Mancini needs to return to at least close to his 2017 ways. He’s a below-average defender in the outfield and belongs at first base, but he’ll need to hit enough to be able to keep his spot.

Entering just his third full year in the big leagues, the soon-to-be 27-year old has spoken about becoming an early veteran and leader in the clubhouse. This is great to see, but he’ll need to put up better numbers in 2019 than he did last season if he wants to become and remain a leader in Baltimore.

Bold Prediction: Mancini struggles early on and sees a decrease in playing time, but gets it together enough to start frequently in the second half. He finishes with a slash line of around .255/.310/.430 with 20-to-23 homers.

 

Click here for five more Orioles with plenty to prove in 2019.

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