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Breaking down the Orioles' roster battles with two weeks to go until Opening Day

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

At a time in spring training when pitchers have been giving up their first runs of the Grapefruit League season and being sent out of big league camp, and touted prospects are clearing lockers so the major league fringes can be filled out, every data point manager Buck Showalter has to use to make roster decisions becomes vital.

On Tuesday, after watching a parade of roster contenders help the Orioles erase an early deficit to beat the Minnesota Twins, Showalter counted as many as seven roster spots still up for grabs with just over two weeks left before Opening Day.

The context of his comments was regarding the relief pitchers in camp, but it doesn't end there.

"We have a lot of competition still going on here. You'd be hard pressed to [count]," Showalter said. "Three, four, five, six or seven spots that guys are grinding on — not just pitching. I’m talking about all of them, between the catcher and the infield and the outfield, bullpen and starting pitcher. We're going to try to solve it from within."

With Opening Day two weeks from Thursday, here's a look at where the Orioles' various roster competitions stand and who might have distinguished himself so far.

Backup catcher

The candidates: Chance Sisco, Austin Wynns, Andrew Susac

While Susac was a late addition to the race with major league experience and three hits in his seven spring at-bats, Sisco and Wynns have both had strong enough camps to warrant their own consideration and leave him behind. Wynns has a pair of homers while batting .267/.450/.667, while Sisco has homered once while batting .381/.458/.667. Wynns is the more defensively advanced, but the Orioles believe Sisco can get to the point of being able to help this season.

A healthy and productive Caleb Joseph might make it so whoever wins this battle ends up losing the chance for regular at-bats, but there's so little between them at this point that either Wynns or Sisco could get the nod.

Utility infielder

The candidates: Luis Sardiñas, Éngelb Vielma, Danny Valencia, Pedro Álvarez

Valencia's inclusion in this conversation says everything about how this competition has gone so far. They're all performing fine at the plate, but when looking for someone he can trust among the group, Showalter is right to look at the evidence of camp and decide he might be best suited keeping someone like Valencia or Álvarez on the roster as an emergency, short-term corner infielder. Showalter would then have the ability to move someone like Tim Beckham back to shortstop or second base in a pinch if either of those positions needs cover. That will allow them to store the others in the minors for a rainy day.

Right field/outfield bench

The candidates: Colby Rasmus, Craig Gentry, Austin Hays, Anthony Santander, Alex Presley

Showalter told Rasmus upon his arrival at spring training after signing a minor league contract that he needed the veteran outfielder to make this team. And since Rasmus is a defensively capable, left-handed hitter, that makes sense. Rasmus, 31, has been treated like a veteran who is simply getting game-ready as opposed to someone fighting for a spot this spring, and him actually competing would make for eight spots up for grabs, so he's probably the primary right fielder.

Switch-hitting outfielder Anthony Santander swatted three home runs in his first 16 spring games and made it so the Orioles would likely keep him anyway even if they didn't need to keep him on the major league roster for six weeks to satisfy last year's Rule 5 requirements.

Hays probably saw his case harmed too much by time missed with a shoulder injury, and while Presley has played capably this spring, the speed/defense that can be brought by Gentry might put him ahead for a final spot if the Orioles go in that direction. If not, they can have Álvarez or Valencia around as another bench bat.

Fifth starter/long reliever

The candidates: Miguel Castro, Nestor Cortes Jr., Mike Wright Jr., Hunter Harvey, Gabriel Ynoa

The race for fifth starter and long reliever seem interchangeable now, and the candidates will probably be interchangeable during the season, too. Wright has pitched well and carries a 3.60 ERA through 10 innings, while Castro (6 2/3 innings, five earned runs) and Cortes (five runs on 12 hits in 10 1/3 innings) had a chance to make an impression against the New York Yankees on Wednesday. Castro struggled in his second spring start while Cortes pitched well in relief.

Harvey's candidacy continues to exist simply because he's in big league camp and will make a start the final week of the spring against these same Yankees in Tampa, though all conventional wisdom suggests he needs a good, healthy year in the minors in his first full season back from Tommy John elbow reconstruction. Ynoa's shin injury makes him a disabled list candidate to start the year, and that Wright is out of options makes him an attractive option to keep. There's a way that Castro pitches his way onto the team, and the Orioles' desire to keep both Wright and Cortes means they sacrifice something ...

Left-handed reliever

The candidates: Donnie Hart, Josh Edgin, Joely Rodríguez

With Zach Britton (Achilles injury) out for at least two months and Richard Bleier counted as a reliever who can pitch to both lefties and righties, long and short, there's a spot for one of these three to make the roster as a lefty situational reliever.

Edgin gave up his first run of the spring in his fourth appearance Tuesday, while Hart inherited a mess from Chris Tillman and let all the runners score. But Hart has fanned 10 and walked three while allowing only two runs of his own in seven innings so far. Rodríguez, a prized minor league free agent with a big fastball, hasn't allowed a run in 5 1/3 innings this spring. Hart's option could work against him in this case, but all three have distinguished themselves. That said, if they want to keep Cortes and hide him as a same-side weapon, while stashing all three of these short relievers in Triple-A, that takes away this spot.

One last reliever

The candidates: Pedro Araujo, José Mesa, Jimmy Yacabonis

This spot is a bit of a wild card, though the Orioles have use for all three. Araujo has been someone Showalter (as well as several would-be bullpen-mates) have raved about this spring, and he's been scored on twice in five innings with seven strikeouts and a walk. Mesa came into camp with starter buzz, but hasn't yet showed the arm strength that caused the Orioles to pick him in the Rule 5 draft. They could try to keep him if they want to see if he comes around. Yacabonis has allowed three runs in six innings this spring and remains intriguing with his fastball/slider combination, but has options that probably work against him.

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