During spring training in Ft. Lauderdale, Orioles President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail made it clear that he expected to see progress on the field and in the won-loss record as the 2009 season progressed.
MacPhail stated the Opening Day roster would look different by Memorial Day, still different in July, and probably more changes would be made down the stretch. And the bulk of the players moving to Baltimore would come from the Orioles minor league system.
An immediate goal for the Orioles is putting together a winning month. The O's went 9-13 in April; 14-15 in May; and 12-14 in June. Winning 4 of the last 5 games prior to the All-Star break left the Orioles at 5-6 so far in July and in position to have their first winning month since going 14-12 in June of 2008. The O's have had six consecutive losing months dating back to last season.
But with the roster turnover continuing, the Orioles are becoming a more competitive team. Now, they need to get more consistent to have the opportunity to win more games.
The biggest positive this season has been the quality and performance of the O's prospects MacPhail has added to the major league roster this season. His plan has been well documented: Build from within and then, if necessary, go after a free agent veteran as a final piece to becoming a contender.
The Orioles have three rookies in their starting rotation. Brad Bergesen has become the O's most reliable starter and David Hernandez and Jason Berken have gained valuable experience with pitching and winning in the big leagues.
But what's even more encouraging is the presence of Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz in the minor leagues. Quality depth is the life blood of a successful franchise and it pushes the players on the major league roster. If they don't perform, there is talent waiting to take their spot. The O's have the pitching talent who are just waiting for the call to the come to the big leagues.
The pitching depth also gives MacPhail the option of moving a pitcher to the bullpen to open a starting spot for someone else. Any of the prospects might prove to be valuable in the long term as relievers if a better option emerges for the rotation. That scenario makes the overall staff deeper and better would help them to compete in the tough AL East.
The everyday lineup has also gone through changes with Matt Wieters taking over as the starting catcher and Nolan Reimold becoming the starting left fielder. One step below, at Triple-A Norfolk Brandon Snyder continues to attract attention at the plate.
Looking ahead, first base and third base are the positions not spoken for long term. Aubrey Huff and Melvin Mora are in the final years of the guaranteed portions of their contracts. One or both may have to be replaced for 2010. The upcoming trade deadline might reveal some answers. If a veteran is dealt, that either opens a spot for an O's prospect or for a younger player acquired in that trade.
Also to be watched over the second half of this season is how the young players adjust to everyday life in the majors and to their longer, more challenging schedule. Baseball is a game of constant adjustments and the major leagues are so heavily scouted, holes in a player's game are quickly identified. The good players learn to adjust and improve.
The length of the season is also a grind. Minor League seasons are usually finished by Labor Day weekend. The major league schedule still has at least three more weeks of games after Labor Day. Going through the extra games and the additional days of the season for the first time is a revelation. It is physically and emotionally challenging.
The experiences learned this season will be a tremendous benefit to the Orioles in the short term future and should begin to show in the won-loss column. It's one thing to be a prospect, capable of playing in the majors. It's quite another thing to stay and become a consistent player.
The O's roster continues to be molded into a contender. And the prospect is exciting.