In the aftermath of last week’s moves to protect six prospects from potential selection in the Rule 5 draft, the Orioles possess something they haven’t often during this time of year: a full 40-man roster.
It’s one that, as executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias nears completion of the first month of his third year at the helm, has his fingerprints all over it and is full of youth. With the addition of the six prospects — outfielder Yusniel Diaz; infielder Rylan Bannon; and pitchers Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther, Alexander Wells and Isaac Mattson — the Orioles’ roster features 13 players who will be rookie-eligible in the 2021 season. Sixteen members have been acquired during Elias’ 25 months as general manager.
“I look at the players that either are already on our 40-man roster or soon to be on our 40-man roster,” Elias said before last week’s additions, “and it’s a very functional group that all of whom have settled roles for the team or we want to audition some of these guys and leave paths open for them this year.”
Those players not only represent a wave of Baltimore’s young talent reaching or nearing the majors, but also provide the roster flexibility of being optionable, allowing the Orioles to better navigate what they hope will be a full 162-game season next year.
With the non-tender deadline for arbitration-eligible players less than a week away, the Orioles’ 40-man roster might not be full for long, but as it stands now, it’s a group that includes young talent and positional versatility.
Keegan Akin, Michael Baumann, Alex Cobb, Dean Kremer, Jorge López, Zac Lowther, John Means, Alexander Wells, Bruce Zimmermann
Elias has said the Orioles will try to add one or two more starting candidates as the offseason continues, possibly mimicking last season’s minor-league signings of veteran left-handers Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone. There are nine in this group already, but six of them will be rookies next season, with the three who were recently added to the roster unlikely to break camp with the club.
Akin, Kremer and Zimmermann had mixed results with the major league club, but each will be part of the rotation competition. Assuming no injuries or trades, Means and Cobb seem to be the only locks for the Orioles’ 2021 rotation. With López splitting time between the rotation and bullpen in 2020, it’s possible he does the same in 2021, and another member of this group could join him.
Shawn Armstrong, Paul Fry, Hunter Harvey, Travis Lakins Sr., Isaac Mattson, Tanner Scott, Cole Sulser, Dillon Tate, César Valdez
The Orioles’ bullpen was much improved from the atrocious 2019 version, even after it lost three mainstays in Mychal Givens, Richard Bleier and Miguel Castro to in-season trades. A first-time arbitration-eligible player, Armstrong could find himself non-tendered if the Orioles believe it would be more effective, both in terms of cost and performance, to give his middle relief innings to a younger, pre-arb pitcher such as Lakins or Mattson.
In Fry and Scott, the Orioles return a strong duo of left-handed pitchers, while Tate and Harvey offer the same from the right side. Sulser began 2020 as the Orioles’ closer; Valdez surprisingly ended the season with the role.
Pedro Severino, Chance Sisco, Austin Wynns
Severino could get non-tendered, as well, possibly opening the door for Sisco, once considered Baltimore’s top prospect, to get the bulk of playing time behind the plate. Wynns was a member of the Orioles’ player pool all season, but he never joined the major league club as Bryan Holaday, now a free agent, served as the third catcher. Regardless of how they handle Severino’s arbitration, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Orioles add another catcher on a minor league deal, a la Holaday. Adley Rutschman’s time will come, though it’s hard to see it being this season.
Hanser Alberto, Rylan Bannon, Chirs Davis, José Iglesias, Richie Martin, Tyler Nevin, Rio Ruiz, Yolmer Sánchez, Ramón Urías, Pat Valaika
Trey Mancini and Ryan Mountcastle could both fit into this category, also, given that one of them will likely be the Orioles’ primary first baseman. Otherwise, Davis will try to snap his yearslong funk.
The only other position where there’s remotely any certainty is shortstop, where José Iglesias will play when he’s healthy. Alberto, Sánchez and Valaika are arbitration-eligible, while Ruiz posted a .628 OPS after Aug. 15 as his defense at third base also suffered. Bannon, Urías and Martin could each serve as a utility infielder, with Bannon’s lack of time at shortstop to his detriment for that role. Nevin, one of three prospects from the Givens trade with the Rockies, will likely be the starting first baseman in Triple-A.
Renato Núñez, designated for assignment when the Orioles added the prospects to the roster, would’ve fit in this category, but his below-average play at each corner infield spot, his power-dependent offensive approach and looming raise as an arbitration-eligible player prompted the Orioles to cut ties with him ahead of the non-tender deadline. He was released Wednesday, entering free agency after Baltimore was unable to find a trade partner.
Yusniel Diaz, Austin Hays, Trey Mancini, Ryan McKenna, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Chris Shaw, DJ Stewart
Before Wednesday, this was the only of the Orioles’ position groups that didn’t include at least one player acquired during Elias’ tenure. Then the Orioles claimed Chris Shaw on waivers from the San Francisco Giants, adding a left-handed bat with power potential to their outfield picture. But it’s one that has had success in the minors but not yet the majors; he has a career .520 slugging percentage in the minors, with 21-plus home runs each year from 2016-19, but in 82 plate appearances between 2018 and 2019, he managed a meager .153/.244/.222 batting line. He’s played the outfield corners and first base.
Even if Mancini and Mountcastle spend all of 2021 splitting designated hitter and first base, the Orioles still have several other young outfielders to rely on from their deepest position group. Santander was the 2020 Most Valuable Oriole. Hays, Mullins and Stewart all had bright stretches. Diaz was once the organization’s top prospect, while McKenna came close to making his major league debut last year, joining the Orioles on their taxi squad for a trip to New York. Sorting out which of these players belong as part of the organization’s long-term plans should be among the Orioles’ biggest priorities in 2021.