As is the case with any season -- and any baseball team -- the 2015 Baltimore Orioles will have lots of storylines that will not only factor into whether they are a success this season, but that may factor into how the Birds are set up for the foreseeable future. Here are a few:
The Dan Duquette Effect
I am simply amazed at how much negativity has been tossed at Orioles vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette after reports surfaced he may be leaving to become president of the Toronto Blue Jays. Duquette will be staying in Baltimore, but he has been under rapid fire from a fan base that knew nothing of winning for 14 years.
This is a guy who couldn't get a job in the baseball for 10 years, and now has resurrected his career and his capability of earning big dollars. Pretty much anybody in Duquette's position would have wanted to see one of two outcomes: 1. Be allowed to go to Toronto with a more prestigious title of team president and the riches that would have come with the title; 2. Stay in Baltimore and be offered a similar position or even a decent bump in pay.
Duquette ended up with door No. 3, which was, "Hey, you signed a contract here in Baltimore, and you're not going anywhere." Duquette isn't thrilled with the choice that was made for him. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out for the team in the near future.
Will Dylan Bundy Ascend?
Orioles pitching prospect Dylan Bundy is perhaps the organization's biggest question, and his fate could go a long way in determining whether the Orioles have a true No. 1 among their young pitchers. Drafted out of high school as the No. 4 overall pick during the 2011 draft, Bundy looked every bit as good as advertised during his first season with the organization. He meteorically rose through the ranks from Single-A ball to the majors in 2012, becoming the first Oriole since Mike Adams in 1967 to make his debut before turning 20.
But 2013 was a lost cause for Bundy, as he missed the entire season after having Tommy John surgery. Then, he had mixed results the following season. The start of his 2014 campaign was delayed until mid-June. Bundy started three games with Single-A Aberdeen and compiled a 0.60 ERA during three starts that spanned 15 innings. In July, he was promoted to High-A Frederick -- where he had dominated in 2012 -- and he found it tough sledding this time around. During five starts in July he racked up a 5.78 ERA. After one impressive start during August, Bundy's season was cut short due to a strained lat muscle.
Now, he comes into spring training with the kid gloves removed. Bundy doesn't have to make an impact at the major league level in 2015, but he does need to re-establish himself as someone who is ready and able to make an impact in the majors.
Can The Orioles and Matt Wieters Find True Love?
It seems like only yesterday that then-O's director of amateur scouting Joe Jordan took a big risk in drafting switch-hitting, power-hitting and defensive savant catcher Matt Wieters with the No. 5 pick during the 2007 draft. The risk was all about whether the O's could sign a Scott Boras client. Jordan told his superiors he could get his name on the dotted line. A wrinkle developed as Jordan's superiors -- general manager Mike Flanagan and vice president of baseball operations Jim Duquette -- were supplanted and replaced by Andy MacPhail in 2007.
Jordan proved his mettle in ascertaining that Wieters would sign, and as the negotiations developed, Wieters pushed his agent to get a deal done with the Orioles. Now, it has all come full circle, but Wieters' value has been put in doubt somewhat following Tommy John surgery last season.
If he comes back with a big season in 2015, he'll most likely price himself out of Baltimore. But manager Buck Showalter loves this kid as his field general behind the plate. So, will history repeat itself, with Boras being told to get a deal done to remain in Baltimore? It is possible.
Will Dariel Alvarez, Mike Yastrzemski and Christian Walker become "No Doubt About it Prospects?"
Since Cal Ripken Jr. made it to the big leagues in 1982, the Orioles farm system has drafted and developed the following major league position players of any renown: Steve Finley, Jeffrey Hammonds, Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop. That's seven players in 32 years. But note that four have come in the last nine years. The farm system was a disaster at helping the big league club, and the results on the field were actually quite predictable.
It seems an impediment to success is about to be removed with an interesting group of three players -- Dariel Alvarez, Mike Yastrzemski and Christian Walker -- who could all be pushing for full-time spots in 2016. Of the three, many feel Alvarez is close, because he plays superior defense.
But all three will have one thing in common in 2015. They'll have all eyes on them in spring training, and how they are perceived going into 2016 will be a big storyline.
Will Orange Fervor Continue Among Youth?
I was at Babe Ruth's birthday bash Feb. 6, and I was standing around with five movers and shakers in the Orioles Advocates. And one longtime member pointed out how much joy she gets in how the young people are getting to experience exactly what folks in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s took for granted -- namely that when the Orioles are playing well, it is simply the best thing going.
If FanFest attendance was any indication, the glory days of the Orioles have returned, when a lot of veteran fans had become decidedly cynical. But with the young fans leading the way, Oriole Park at Camden Yards is electric like it's never been before.