The hometown Baltimore Orioles are looking for a fresh start this coming season after letting go of a couple of over-the-hill veterans in exchange for younger talent. The departure of 32-year old Ramon Hernandez makes room for the 6-5, 230 pound power hitter, Matt Wieters. With the 27-year old Guillermo Quiroz no longer with the O's, Wieters should be in the lineup in time for the April 6 home-opener.
I was fortunate enough to catch a Bowie Baysox game back in early August and see both Wieters and young LF Luis Montanez--who jumped all the way up to the majors two days later--play Double-A ball. Wieters hit a home run in the game while Montanez made a few nice plays in left. Chris Tillman--another future Orioles (according to the scouting report I made of him in my head)--started on the mound for the Baysox that day, and pitched superbly.
So far, it seems as though Orioles' owner, and lawyer, Peter Angelos, actually decided to pay a few scouts some hard cash and bring in some fresh guys. The rotation consists of four u-30 flame throwers, and one over-30 Japanese ace, Koji Euhara, who was signed yesterday. Euhara was a Youmiuri Giants starter (same team Hideki Matsui played for in his early days) since 1999. As a Giant, Euhara posted a career record of 112-62 with an ERA of 3.01.
Other key additions for the O's young squad include utility man Ryan Freel (acquired in the Ramon Hernandez trade), starting pitcher Mark Hendrickson from the Florida Marlins and, finally, the O's were able to sign an everyday shortstop, Cesar Izturis. Baltimore has not had a definite SS since dealing all-star Miguel Tejada on December 12, 2007.
Freel will make a nice addition especially considering the fact that he has played OF, 2B and 3B in his seven year career with two other teams. This will give the Orioles many options when he comes off the bench. This will be a big factor, especially if newly signed SS Cesar Izturis goes down with another injury. Izturis has played in 100+ games in just five of his 10 major league seasons. That stat alone doesn't look promising for the Orioles and their lineup.
This is a team with a good mixture of youth and experience. The O's have kept team leaders, second baseman Brian Roberts and third baseman Melvin Mora around for quite some time now, and with the 32-year old Aubrey Huff most likely in the every day lineup starting at 1B this season, the O's infield looks to be pretty well-balanced. Huff, who may DH some as well, led the team in HR's last season with 32 with an average of .304, plus 108 RBI's. Huff was, no doubt, the O's MVP in '08 and he will look to add on to that this season.
Without a doubt, it's the outfield that's the Orioles' biggest strength. Luke Scott, 30, Adam Jones, 23, and Nick Markakis, 25, all played up to their expectations last season, though Jones missed some time due to an injury. Markakis had an all-star caliber season with his.306 BA, 20 HR's and 87 runs batted in, not to mention his superior outfield play, thanks to his strong arm from RF. Scott hit only .257, but added 23 homers with 65 RBI's. Pretty good for a first-time MLB starter, who was pretty much just thrown in there at the beginning of the season. Adam Jones played 132 games out in centerfield, hitting for .270 with 9 HR's and 57 RBI's, plus his 10 stolen bases. But, Jones is better-known in Baltimore for his speed and glove out in center. He made several appearances in Sportscenter's top 10 plays by using his glove.
It is said that the O's are also pursuing starting pitcher Braden Looper, who will also be a welcome addition to the Orioles team say the O's do sign him. As of today, January 8, 2009, my BOLD prediction for the upcoming season is that newcomer Koji Euhara leads the O's in wins and K's in '09... You heard it here first! Euhara--who was signed to a two-year deal--was NOT a waste of money.