Orioles beat writers Eduardo Encina and Jon Meoli discuss what Tim Beckham's role on the team might be this coming season. (Ulysses Muñoz, Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
A month from now, position players will have reported to Sarasota, Fla., for the start of spring training, and the Orioles roster as currently constructed shows just how much work the club will want to do before the season starts.
The Orioles will already have a full camp by virtue of their many minor league free-agent invitees, but fishing through the lists of players they'll have at their disposal now — still 2½ months from Opening Day — will require some imagination.
Here's a rundown of what a 25-man roster built from players currently in the organization would look like, with the standard four-man bench and a seven-man bullpen that manager Buck Showalter said was likely going to be used early in the season.
Infielders: Chris Davis, Jonathan Schoop, Tim Beckham, Manny Machado, Luis Sardiñas (5)
For all the questions about whether Manny Machado would be on the team and where he would play if he is, the infield at present looks largely the same as it did at the end of last year, at least personnel-wise.
J.J. Hardy and Ryan Flaherty are gone and waiting for jobs in free agency, but all four of Chris Davis, Jonathan Schoop, Tim Beckham and Machado are back in one form or function this year. Going strictly off the current roster, the nod for the utility man would probably go to 24-year-old Luis Sardiñas.
Though Rubén Tejada was up with the club last year, Sardiñas could provide better defense and hit .319 with a .767 OPS last year for Triple-A Norfolk. This is a spot that could be filled by someone else — even a returning Flaherty — but absent that, Sardiñas gets the nod.
Outfielders: Adam Jones, Trey Mancini, Mark Trumbo, Austin Hays, Anthony Santander, Joey Rickard (6)
Though some challengers to Adam Jones' spot in center field might be on the horizon, none will arrive this spring. Same goes for Trey Mancini in left field. And while he might not get any more opportunities in right field than he did last season, Mark Trumbo will be back in his familiar role in 2018 as well.
Whether rookie Austin Hays, who was called up in September after one of the best seasons in all of minor league baseball, gets to open the season on the major league roster seems to depend on two things. The first will be whether Hays holds his own in spring training and comes in ready to seize the job. The second will be whether the team finds its preferred left-handed-hitting outfielder on the trade or free-agent market.
Absent that, Hays will get a chance to play often in right field (and maybe spell Jones in center). He could also split time with Rule 5 outfielder Anthony Santander, who needs 44 days on the major league roster to lose his roster restrictions. The last man to make the outfield crew at this point would be Joey Rickard, whose bat fell behind his glove last year but can still make an impact defensively if given the chance.
Before Welington Castillo turned down his option and hit free agency, executive vice president Dan Duquette said he felt good about the catcher position. Caleb Joseph had rebuilt his value after a nightmarish 2016, while Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns are on the 40-man roster as depth for now and could grow into more.
Whether the Orioles add someone to bridge the short-term gap to Sisco remains to be seen, though it seems as if it's low on the list of priorities. Absent that, Sisco probably gets the nod behind Joseph to give the club at least some left-handed presence on the roster.
Here's where it gets fun. Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy will be relied on even more heavily than they were last year, and with good reason — they're first-round draft picks with pedigree who should be anchoring a rotation by now.
Mike Wright gets the nod for one spot given how gun-shy the Orioles should be about losing a big-armed pitcher who’s out of options and could thrive elsewhere. He'll be given another opportunity to hold down a rotation spot, as will Gabriel Ynoa, the only young pitcher who got a chance to do that in September.
Miguel Castro was a star in relief last year, and the team wants him to work as a starter this spring. He has an option to work with, but provided his arm is built up enough in the spring and no one comes out of nowhere to beat him for a spot, it'll probably be better to figure out if he can do it in April rather than jerk him around for the entire season.
Relief pitchers: Brad Brach, Darren O'Day, Mychal Givens, Donnie Hart, Richard Bleier, Nestor Cortes Jr., Jimmy Yacabonis (7)
Without the injured Zach Britton for the first half of the season and with Castro considered a starter, there actually should be some flux in the bullpen, unlike in years past. Brad Brach will get a chance to close once again, with Darren O'Day and Mychal Givens his primary setup men.
Beyond that, no spot is guaranteed, though it'll probably be hard to omit Richard Bleier given how well he pitched last season and how valuable someone who can pitch in any role is to this operation. Donnie Hart struggled early, but solidified himself as a left-handed specialist last year and could fill that role again.
The last two spots will be fun to watch. Given his sterling minor league track record with the New York Yankees, Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes Jr. has already shot into the forefront of some of the top spring training storyline conversations and will be given every chance to make the team. Expectations are he does, and while he could be joined by one of the other two Rule 5 picks — José Mesa or Pedro Araujo — the last spot could go to Jimmy Yacabonis by virtue of his improvement in September and his right-handedness.