Orioles Outlook: Who Is Most Capable Of A Breakout Year?
As we count down to the Orioles' opening day on Friday, April 6, we're asking Stan "The Fan" Charles, Jim Henneman and Matt Palmer to look into their crystal balls and make some predictions for the season ahead.
Check back each day as our experts tackle a new question about the O's outlook for 2012.
• Andy MacPhail's Lasting Legacy | Most Likely To Be Traded •
Which Orioles player is most capable of a breakout year in 2012?
By Jim Henneman
Trying to pick the Oriole most likely to have a "breakout" year is a little tricky for a couple of reasons, one of which being the strict interpretation of "breakout," another a lack of preseason encouragement from some of the hoped-for candidates.
Did Adam Jones' 25 homers constitute a "breakout" a year ago -- if so, you can scratch him. If not, then he's my leading candidate. On the other hand, it would have been nice to get some preseason indication from Chris Davis and/or Nolan Reimold that they were standing on the threshold of stardom, but that hasn't happened, despite a couple of brief glimpses. It would be particularly nice to think Davis might live up to his minor league numbers and hit 25-30 home runs, which the first baseman seems capable of doing, but right now it looks as if Nick Johnson may cut into some of his at bats (and cut down on some of his Ks).
| Nolan Reimold
The Orioles are still hoping Reimold can step up with his intriguing blend of power and speed, but his strikeouts overshadowed a lot in spring training, and it looks as if he will open as half of the left-field platoon with Endy Chavez. The Orioles may have to hope for a Gary Roenicke/John Lowenstein type tandem.
Having said all that and still unsure about the total offensive package, I'm going to say that Matt Wieters is the Oriole most likely to have a "breakout" year, which means I'm assuming that his 22 home runs last year weren't his maximum offensive potential. He's not going to improve on his Golf Glove defense, and I'm already on record as saying he's most likely to have a Jorge Posada-type career. If he can approximate an average Posada year, that will be enough of a "breakout" for me.
| Matt Wieters
But I'm not closing this without mentioning my dark-horse candidate in this category, even though he's not currently on the 25-man roster. I'm thinking this is the year Chris Tillman establishes exactly where his career is headed -- and he showed enough in spring training to indicate he could be on the verge of tapping into the potential that made him equally as appealing as Adam Jones when the Orioles acquired him from Seattle in the Erik Bedard trade.
By Stan "The Fan" Charles
To answer this question, move immediately to those that toe the rubber, and the names Jake Arrieta (just named the Opening Day starter), Brian Matusz and Zach Britton immediately come to mind. Chris Tillman showed some flashes of the brilliance predicted for him, and it would be amazing if he were given another opportunity this season in an Orioles uniform and put it all together.
But there are two candidates that are best positioned and prepared to reach the highest levels of their abilities. The first and most gifted is reliever Jim Johnson. Johnson is now 28 years old, and he is about to get his big opportunity to parlay his talented right arm into bigger paydays ahead.
| Jim Johnson
He had a brilliant 2008 rookie campaign, pitching in a seventh-inning role to the tune of a 2.23 ERA. It was more of the same during the first half of 2009, as he pitched in a setup role with an ERA of 3.00. Things changed during the second half of the season. While he did record nine saves, it was clear by his 5.79 ERA that the pressures of closing out games wore on him.
The 2010 season was lost because of Johnson's battling injuries, but the 2011 season erased questions about his health. More importantly, when closer Kevin Gregg struggled, Johnson stepped up and lowered his overall ERA from 5.14 down to 2.67 by pitching his final 77 innings of the season with a 2.22 ERA, while saving nine games.
If he is truly ready to handle the mental aspects of the closing job, he could easily be one of the league's more formidable stoppers, and 30-plus saves would qualify as a breakout for him.
The second player is one Ozzie Newsome would love. He played his baseball at the University of Alabama, yet right-hander Tommy Hunter hails from Indianapolis, Ind.
| Tommy Hunter
This is not some new kid on the block. Hunter has pitched in professional baseball since 2007, yet has only pitched a total of 309.2 minor league innings. Because of some immediate success at the major league level, Hunter already has amassed 335.2 big-league innings.
In the heat of the 2010 pennant race, Hunter started 22 games for the Texas Rangers, and earned every bit of his 13-4 record by pitching to a 3.73 ERA. While his results weren't great during the postseason, Hunter at 25 can say he started three postseason games. Nobody else on the Orioles pitching staff can make such a claim.
Hunter's 2011 season was a mess. A strained groin early in spring training put him in what seemed like a season-long rehab to get back to his 2010 level of performance. It never fully happened and led to his inclusion in the Koji Uehara trade.
Posted April 4, 2012