baseball

The young talents are finding their way to the middle of the O’s order

They are going to be a great 1-2 punch in the Orioles lineup next season and quite possibly for many seasons to come.

A case could be made that the Orioles’ two best hitters going into next season are catcher Adley Rutschman and infielder Gunnar Henderson.

And while that talented young duo combined for 602 plate appearances last year, they might get a combined 1,100 or more next season.

Among Orioles with 100 or more plate appearances in 2022 – a list of 14 players – Henderson and Rutschman were first and second on the team in walking rate. They were also 1-2 in on-base percentage and OPS. They were first and third (with Terrin Vavra in the middle) in walk-strikeout ratio.

Both players last year were ranked at one time as the No. 1 prospect in baseball.

MLBPipeline.com’s Jim Callis told me he expects to see this duo in the middle of the Orioles batting order for a long time.

“I think Adley is the best catcher in baseball right now,” said Callis. And I don’t mean that long-term down the road, who do you want the next 10 years? For 2023, I’d take Adley over anyone out there. You can argue he’s the best catcher in baseball right now.

“With Gunnar, we are talking about a guy who, like Adley, neither of those guys have apparent weaknesses at the plate. I don’t want to go crazy here, but I could see Gunnar hitting .270 with 25 homers and a bunch of walks next year. I mean I think that is probably your number three and four hitters at least the next six years.”

A nice day for JJ – It was a pretty good trade made by former Orioles general manager Andy MacPhail. And no, I am not referring to the Erik Bedard deal that was huge for the Orioles for years. But I am talking about the one that brought James Jerry Hardy to Baltimore. You know him better as JJ and he was a heckuva an Oriole from 2011 through 2017.

He played for the Brewers and Twins previously, but much of his big league success came while wearing the orange and black. He won three Gold Gloves – all with Baltimore. He won his only Silver Slugger as an Oriole and made two All-Star teams – one with Baltimore.

On Dec. 9, 2010 at the Winter Meetings, MacPhail traded Brett Jacobsen and Jim Hoey to Minnesota to get Hardy, and it turned out to be a one-sided deal.

Hardy’s time in Baltimore came back to mind this week when he was one of 14 players to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. While he’s not likely to make it to Cooperstown, he became an Orioles Hall of Famer in 2021.

Hardy had a strong run with the Orioles. Not only was he a large part of the core group that ended a run of 14 straight losing seasons in 2012, a group that also made playoff appearances in 2012, 2014 and 2016. They completely turned it around at Camden Yards. Hardy was so rock solid on defense at short making every play he could get to and then some.

Beyond that, his clubhouse leadership was extraordinary. He was a huge mentor for two young infielders named Jonathan Schoop and Manny Machado. Machado would later get a huge contract and Hardy probably could have asked for a cut. He showed that kid how to play the game.

In his first year with the Orioles, Hardy hit 30 homers and produced an .801 OPS. It seemed that the Twins saw him more as a punch and judy type hitter, and the O’s told him to let it rip. Over many years and going way back, the shortstop position in Baltimore was in pretty good hands and we can’t forget to place Hardy’s name on that list. It was great to see his name this week on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Just sayin’- Since Machado and Henderson were both mentioned here today, here is a comparison of their time on the O’s minor league watch. It’s a fair comp in that both were drafted out of high school by the Orioles – Machado No. 1. 3 overall in 2010 and Henderson No. 1. 42 in 2019. The sample size is quite similar, too. Machado played 222 games on the farm with 941 plate appearances. Henderson is at 246 games and 1087 plate appearances.

Machado: .269/.349/.442/.791 with 51 doubles, 23 HRs, 116 RBIs
Henderson: .276/.378/.488/.866 with 57 doubles, 37 HRs, 161 RBIs

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