The American League East division was expected to be turned upside down in 2013. The Toronto Blue Jays were written in as the favorites to win the division while the New York Yankees were expected to struggle mightily. The Boston Red Sox were predicted to hover around the bottom of the division and the Tampa Bay Rays' expectations were to win under the guidance of manager Joe Maddon.
Meanwhile, the Baltimore Orioles were one giant question mark. Could the pitching perform as well as last season? Is the slugging here to stay?
Regardless of what one thinks, the Orioles remain a formidable threat within the division thanks to the core of their roster, while several other components are contributing at a rate that will bode well for the club as well.
Leadoff hitter and center fielder Nate McLouth is having the best season of his career thus far. Third baseman Manny Machado is showing that his late-2012 cooling was only temporary. Meanwhile, the pitching is showing that it is not as bad as it was just a couple of years ago.
Altogether, the Orioles have a lineup that can do damage in the AL East. At 15-11, the O's sit in third place in the division. Just three-and-a-half games behind the first-place Red Sox, this club has the makeup to generate more production as the season advances.
However, one particular player who is not currently with the club will be key to the Orioles sustaining a winning record while competing for the AL playoffs.
Outfielder Henry Urrutia is a switch-hitting prospect that isn't projected to need much seasoning in the minor leagues. Despite never playing in a major league organization until this year, the Cuban defector is off to a hot start with Double-A Bowie.
In 40 plate appearances thus far, Urrutia is hitting .286 with an .918 OPS. With two home runs and seven RBI in just nine games, it is apparent that Urrutia will stroll through the minor league level.
If anything, expect Urrutia to receive treatment similar to what Machado received last year. While Machado had two seasons of developmental and minor league ball prior to 2012, he made the jump from Double-A Bowie to Baltimore late last year. Since then, Machado hasn't looked back.
Urrutia's experience stems from playing professionally in Cuba. In 2009, he represented Cuba in the World Baseball Classic.
While some consider Orioles outfielders L.J. Hoes and Xavier Avery better prospects right now, it is Urrutia who has the most upside. In 2012, Hoes was the Orioles' minor league hitter of the year, but he offers very little in terms of power.
Avery is not a power hitter either; he is an athletic player who is still working on his hitting. In a promotion to Baltimore last year, Avery hit .223 in 94 AB with 23 strikeouts.
Urrutia has been said to lack serious power, but his production in 2013 will likely dismiss such a notion. The only obstacle in the way of Urrutia is the 40-man roster. Unlike Hoes and Avery, Urrutia was left off at the end of spring training. Why? The organization felt it needed to see Urrutia and his ability on an every-day basis in the U.S.
The fact that Urrutia is not as highly touted as other Cuban defectors like Yoenis Cespedes and Jorge Soler hurts him. Being named to the 40-man roster is not a difficult hurdle to leap, though. The 26-year-old will eventually see time in the majors, and if McLouth's production eventually dwindles down to where it was the last few seasons, the O's may be forced to give Urrutia a shot.
Until then, keep your eyes glued to this situation, because another reinforcement may be added in late-2013 to help the Orioles make their second consecutive trip to the postseason.