JUPITER, FLA. — In three weeks, the Orioles will host the New York Yankees on Opening Day at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, formally introducing the 2020 edition of the club to the fans who are sticking with them through their long rebuild.
Which players will be running down the orange carpet is becoming more and more clear with each passing day.
So even with the caveat that two members of the 2019 Opening Day roster weren’t even in Orioles camp at this point last spring, and nine players on that roster didn’t end the year in the majors with them, there’s still some meaning to making the Orioles out of camp.
A lot can change in the interim, but here’s a breakdown of what the Orioles’ 26-man roster could look like on March 26 when they face the Yankees to open the season.
Catchers (2): Pedro Severino, Chance Sisco
One of the more straight-forward positions on the roster seemed to be simple last year too, and then Severino came in on waivers during the last week of camp to make him a roster shoo-in. Hyde said that Severino would get the bulk of the catching time once the season starts, and it stands to reason that Sisco will again get every chance to be the other half of that platoon. Whatever development behind the plate he has left to show will be accelerated by the presence of three great catching minds on the coaching staff in Brandon Hyde, Tim Cossins and Fredi González.
In the mix: If Sisco doesn’t show the progress that the team is hoping for with his bat this spring, he could cede his spot to Bryan Holaday, the veteran backstop in camp on a minor league deal. With the likelihood that they’ll add at least one pitcher and maybe an infielder to the 40-man roster as well, that might not end up being a priority. Holaday, Austin Wynns and Taylor Davis will likely stay in spring camp until the end as depth.
Infielders (7): Chris Davis, Hanser Alberto, José Iglesias, Rio Ruiz, Renato Núñez, Pat Valaika, Andrew Velazquez
Davis’ hot start to spring makes him more than a perfunctory inclusion here, and there’s really no doubting that Alberto and Iglesias will be the starting middle infielders on Opening Day if they’re healthy. Ruiz and Núñez might form more of a left-right platoon at third base than they did last year if the latter passes the defensive tests at the position that he’s frequently handed in spring training. Núñez can still get plenty of run as the designated hitter if they need to.
Where it gets complicated is the bench infielder spot, or more likely spots. With an extra major league roster spot available with MLB’s new rules, the Orioles can actually have a utility player if they want one this year, and still have another infield spot to play with.
Valaika and Velazquez have been the most impressive of the utility crew this spring, with Valaika continuing the power breakout he had last year in the Rockies’ minor league system and Velazquez bringing versatility and the ability to steal bases. Velazquez can also play center field, which in a pinch could be a real asset to the Orioles.
In the mix: Richie Martin is among the many players moving all around the infield this spring in an effort to build his versatility, but the Orioles will likely value everyday at-bats for him more. Stevie Wilkerson and Dilson Herrera are names Hyde mentioned as being firmly in that utility race, with José Rondón also in that conversation.
Outfielders (4): Trey Mancini, Austin Hays, Anthony Santander, Dwight Smith Jr.
Perhaps the Orioles’ most straight-forward position, they could end up establishing a nice stable group with Hays in center field, Mancini and Santander in the corners, and Smith as a fourth outfielder. Smith doesn’t have the traditional fourth-outfielder skill set as he’s limited to left field, but with Velazquez able to play center field and Santander doing a suitable job in that role last year, they could be covered in the short term with this roster setup.
In the mix: Mason Williams isn’t on the roster but would be a candidate to be added if the Orioles want a true center fielder on the bench. Cedric Mullins would also qualify, though it seems as if he’ll be given more time to continue his development reset in the minors. Ryan Mountcastle is getting a ton of work in left field, even if he’s likely to be the Opening Day starter there at Triple-A Norfolk instead of with the Orioles. Yusniel Diaz is having another impressive spring, but it’s not time for him or Ryan McKenna just yet.
Starting pitchers (5): John Means, Alex Cobb, Asher Wojciechowski, Wade LeBlanc, Tommy Milone
Milone’s trapezius issue could hamper him getting fully ready for the season, but that spot is about the only one in question right now for the Orioles. Both Means and Cobb have simulated games set for Friday in lieu of traveling to Tampa to face a New York Yankees lineup that the Orioles could see on the first week of the season, putting both on turn to start on Opening Day. Wojciechowski and LeBlanc have each had good springs and shown nothing that would lead the team to question their spot in the rotation.
In the mix: Kohl Stewart was a big part of this mix before his biceps injury and could end up finishing his preparation for the season on a rehab assignment as he’s planning to make his spring debut Sunday. But time is running out for Stewart. Plenty of other starting candidates have made an impression this spring, and some could end up in the bullpen to keep them in the mix. The likes of Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin and Bruce Zimmermann will have to wait as rotation depth.
Relievers (8): Mychal Givens, Richard Bleier, Hunter Harvey, Miguel Castro, Shawn Armstrong, Paul Fry, Brandon Bailey, Michael Rucker
There seems to be a group of six that made up the best parts of the Orioles bullpen when at their best last year, and should be shoo-ins to break camp with the team if they’re healthy: Givens, Bleier, Harvey, Castro, Armstrong and Fry. Fry, in particular, has shown an increase in velocity and stuff this spring.
The last two spots are fluid, but at least early in the season, it wouldn’t be surprising if one or both of the Rule 5 pitchers — Bailey and Rucker — are in the bullpen as long relievers. That will make things pretty complicated in terms of flexibility with a 13-pitcher maximum and neither pitcher able to be optioned to the minors. But with both likely to be stretched out, they could mitigate that early in the season around days off and not necessarily need an optionable bullpen.
In the mix: David Hess is being stretched out for a long relief/starting role somewhere, so he could get one of the backend spots in lieu of a Rule 5 pitcher. Tanner Scott has the best stuff of anyone in this group, save for maybe Harvey, but might end up being the odd-man out, at least on Opening Day. The fact that Scott, Cole Sulser, Travis Lakins Sr., Dillon Tate, Cody Carroll and Evan Phillips all have options might end up working against them.
Thursday, 3:05 p.m.
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