While sitting here waiting for the 50,000 calories I've consumed over the past three days to fully convert to fat, I've been thinking back over the many conversations I had with Orioles players, Buck Showalter, scouts and front office personnel over last season. Most of these conversations were just in passing and at the time didn't mean much to me.
Now they do, as I'm trying to wrap my head around what the Orioles are realistically bringing into 2012. Like many of you, I'm facing the reality that if the season started today (luckily it doesn't) the O's lineup would look exactly the same as it did Sept. 28, 2011, with the addition of outfielder Endy Chavez on the bench.
For most of the offseason, my blogs have focused on available players who might make the O's better. The Birds' lack of transactions has me now scouring the current roster trying to figure out who still has upside and could be poised for a breakout 2012.
I've formulated a list based on the opinions I gathered from those conversations with players, scouts and executives around the ballpark.
The first came from an interview I did with O's catcher Matt Wieters around July. I asked Wieters which O's pitcher had the best stuff on the team. He said Jake Arrieta. Remembering that, I have to wonder, when we discuss the O's rotation for 2012, why doesn't anybody talk more about Arrieta's potential?
Every scout I've ever spoken to likes him - mostly as a No. 4 starter in a good rotation with No. 3 upside. He throws all his pitches with confidence and, as Wieters says, has good stuff. With Arrieta, I think it's a matter of figuring out his mechanics which will lead to more consistent command. Still, he's only 25 and is one of the most competitive pitchers I've seen come through Camden Yards. Looking forward to 2012, I think Arrieta might figure it out and his consistency could finally catch up with his stuff.
The second on my list came from that same interview with Wieters. I asked him which O's pitcher has the best mental makeup. Wieters named Brian Matusz without hesitation. Remember, this interview happened mid-summer and Matusz was well into his disastrous skid by then. It's interesting that Wieters still felt he was the strongest mentally considering many have speculated Matusz's regression was because his head wasn't in the right place.
Recalling that assessment, it made me think maybe the experts (meaning the media who make assumptions) have been wrong. We don't really know why Matusz had such a terrible year, going 1-9 with and ERA over 10.00 after such a promising start to his big league career in 2009 and 2010. If Wieters is correct, we could see Matusz bounce back in 2012, and that would be huge for the Orioles. The expectations surrounding Matusz were beyond high. Let's see if 2011 was a wake up call for the lefty. At just 24, he has time on his side.
How about Jim Johnson for the next on our list? I know Johnson wanted to know early in the offseason if he was going to be a starter so he could prepare. So far I haven't heard anything about him converting back to a starter, so my hunch is the Orioles might keep him in the 'pen especially because Dan Duquette hasn't signed or acquired a closer. The Birds can't go into 2012 with Kevin Gregg penciled in as the ninth-inning guy.
Some conversations I've had with members of the O's scouting department feel Johnson has starter stuff. He has three solid pitches starting with good command of a high 90s fastball. His changeup is effective off the heater and he throws a 12-to-6 curveball that keeps hitters off balance. With the O's in dire need of starters I wish there would be more of a definitive decision to move Johnson to the rotation. If given the time to prepare, I'd like to see what he can do over the course of six to eight innings.
Lastly, and I've mentioned this before, one of the most interesting comments I heard around the ballpark came from Adam Jones at the end of the season. He told me how big the loss of Brian Roberts has been. He said, "Do you know how many more RBIs I could've had if B-Rob was here?"
Based on that comment, you have to recognize how imperative it is for the Duquette to find a leadoff man for 2012 if Roberts can't go. Taking stock of the O's lineup, there's a lot of production there and a lot of potential that can be even better with the proper table setter.
I could continue with my inventory, but someone just put out more leftover Christmas cookies. I'm thinking, what's another 500 calories, right?
I'll leave you with this: Where do you see the most upside on the Orioles' current roster? Hitters, I'm going with Wieters.
Talk amongst yourselves.