5 Baltimore Orioles They've vowed to rebuild, which is good, because this franchise is in ruins

March 26, 2001

For nearly two decades Cal Ripken was the Baltimore Orioles. In
the 1990s he was a monument to the team's annual plan of riding a
veteran lineup to the postseason. Lately, though, that blueprint
hasn't worked; despite having one of the top three payrolls in
the game each of the last three years, the Orioles haven't
cracked the 80-win mark. With the 40-year-old Ripken entering
what will likely be his final season, a new symbol is needed. Say
hello to Ryan Kohlmeier, 23, who in less than a year went from
spring training nobody to full-time closer. Kohlmeier laughs at
the notion that he's the franchise's new front man. "I don't know
if I'll be pitching in 15 years," says the righthander, who has
all of 25 major league appearances on his resume.

After years of ill-advised spending on veterans, the Orioles want
the world to know that they're dedicated to rebuilding the
chaotic franchise from within. Since last spring more than half
of the Orioles' 40-man roster has been overhauled, and since last
July they've infused their farm system with six pitching
prospects through trades. They also showed unusual restraint in
the free-agent market this winter, spending a relatively low (for
them) $47.1 million to sign first baseman David Segui, shortstop
Mike Bordick and righthander Pat Hentgen. True, some of that
restraint was involuntary, so difficult was it to woo free agents
to Baltimore, but it's a start. "This is an exciting, adventurous
time for us," says general manager Syd Thrift. "We're changing
from one type of team to another."

That's the company line, anyway. For all the bravado over the
long-overdue youth movement--the team's new ad slogan exhorts fans
to BRING THE KIDS TO SEE THE KIDS--there will be few young'uns on
the field in 2001. Seven of the nine position players in the
Orioles' likely Opening Day lineup are 29 or older, and the
average age of their projected 25-man roster is 29.6. "We may not
be young chronologically," says Thrift, "but we have a lot of
players with zero to three years of experience."

That translates into a team that, in the words of one AL scout,
will be "very, very bad." And even worse, now that rightfielder
Albert Belle will likely retire because of a degenerative hip.
The absence of Belle creates a chasm in the lineup, as Segui is
the only other current Oriole to have driven in 100 runs since
1996. The free-agent loss of Mike Mussina leaves an equally
massive gap in the rotation. Righthander Sidney Ponson has
top-of-the-rotation stuff but is inconsistent, righthander Jose
Mercedes is an enigma, and Hentgen is more workhorse than ace.

The Orioles will consider this season a success if they turn up a
few more players like Kohlmeier. Unable to crack the team's
40-man roster last spring, the native of tiny Cottonwood Falls,
Kans. (pop. 889), went to Triple A Rochester hoping to earn an
invite to the big league camp in 2001. But when Mike Timlin was
traded to the Cardinals in July, the Orioles called up Kohlmeier
and thrust him into the closer's role. He nailed down his first
11 save opportunities.

His fastball reaches only the low 90s, but Kohlmeier has a
darting slider and a deceptive delivery that makes picking up the
ball difficult for hitters. He finished with 13 saves (blowing
just one) and brought some sanity to a bullpen that finished with
the AL's second-worst relief ERA (5.58) and was tied for the
third-most walks despite pitching the fewest innings. His
emergence also signaled the Orioles' commitment to giving their
kids a chance. "A few years ago the common thinking [among
Orioles minor leaguers] was you were pitching for every other
major league team," says Kohlmeier. "If you pitched well, maybe
you'd get traded somewhere you could get a shot."

After two seasons of shuttling between the majors and Triple A,
second baseman Jerry Hairston will get a shot too. If the
11th-round pick in '97 holds the job, he'll be the first
every-day player the Orioles have drafted and developed since
Ripken in the early '80s. There aren't many more on the immediate
horizon: An examination of Baltimore's farm system reveals a
youth movement that's still several years away from bearing
fruit, especially since top pitching prospect Luis Rivera, 22,
went down with a torn labrum during spring training. "You have to
plant the seeds and allow them to grow before you can harvest,"
says the 71-year-old Thrift, a former high school English teacher
who can still kick around the occasional metaphor. "For us, 2003
is the year for fruition."

--S.C.

COLOR PHOTO: DOUG PENSINGER/ALLSPORT A sign of the youth movement, Hairston is vying to become the first every-day player the Orioles have developed in nearly two decades. COLOR PHOTO: JERRY WACHTER KOHLMEIER

[ENEMY LINES]
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Orioles

This isn't a pretty picture. Why did they sign David Segui?
They're definitely in a rebuilding mode, but it's like the money
was burning a hole in Peter Angelos's pocket....They got a great
hitter, Jay Gibbons, in the Rule 5 draft, and he tore it up this
spring. I'd rather see him get the at bats at first base than
Segui. If the Orioles don't keep Gibbons on the big league
roster and have to give him back to the Blue Jays, someone
should be shot....Cal Ripken can still produce because he's such
a smart hitter. He's still a good defensive third baseman, and
his work ethic is important for the young players to
see....Jerry Hairston has good range, and he turns the double
play well. He has some pop but needs to calm down a little at
the plate--he thinks he's Davey Johnson and is going to hit 40
homers....Mike Bordick gives them some offense, and he's still a
steady shortstop. But it'll be interesting to see how his range
looks in August. I think he wore down at the end of last
year....Jose Mercedes became a very good pitcher last year. He
changes speeds well--his fastball ranges from 85 to 93 mph--and
he throws strikes. He really keeps hitters off balance....
They're moving Chuck McElroy into the rotation, but I think he
helps the bullpen more. Give the starting spot to Josh Towers, a
young guy with some upside....Ryan Kohlmeier isn't a classic
closer--his fastball isn't overpowering, and it doesn't have
much life. But he's very deceptive, and this spring he started
throwing a decent changeup.

[THE LINEUP]
projected roster with 2000 statistics

2000 record: 74-88 (fourth in AL East)
Manager: Mike Hargrove (second season with Baltimore)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

DH Brady Anderson L 177 .257 19 50 16
SS Mike Bordick*[1] R 149 .285 20 80 9
LF Delino DeShields L-R 90 .296 10 86 37
1B David Segui[1] S-L 84 .334 19 103 0
RF Chris Richard* L 131 .265 14 37 7
3B Cal Ripken R 199 .256 15 56 0
C Brook Fordyce R 187 .301 14 49 0
CF Melvin Mora* R 191 .275 8 47 12
2B Jerry Hairston R 216 .256 5 19 8

BENCH

OF Jeff Conine R 213 .284 13 46 4
IF Jay Gibbons[1](R)[2] L 262 .321 19 75 3
IF Mike Kinkade[2] R 300 .358 13 72 18
C Fernando Lunar* R 401 .171 0 6 0

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Pat Hentgen[1] 77 15 12 5.9 1.50 4.72
RH Sidney Ponson 85 9 13 6.9 1.38 4.82
RH Jose Mercedes 90 14 7 6.1 1.47 4.02
RH Jason Johnson 279 1 10 5.8 1.67 7.02
LH Chuck McElroy 320 3 0 5.5 1.48 4.69

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Ryan Kohlmeier 69 0 1 13 1.71 2.39
RH Mike Trombley 162 4 5 4 1.46 4.13
LH Buddy Groom 240 6 3 4 1.42 4.85
RH Alan Mills* 349 4 1 2 1.84 5.29
RH Calvin Maduro 326 0 0 0 1.93 9.64
RH Josh Towers (R)[3] 354 8 6 0 1.20 3.47
LH John Parrish 356 2 4 0 2.06 7.18

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 156)
*Combined AL and NL stats
[2]Double A stats
[3]Triple A stats

"I'd rather see Gibbons get the at bats at first than Segui. He's
torn it up this spring."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)