SARASOTA, Fla. — Kyle Stowers is happy with how feels mentally and physically. The young Orioles outfielder is as “confident as I think I’ve ever felt.” But each of his past few games, he’s been left with one at-bat he’s unhappy with.
“If I feel like I’m swinging at pitches with the intent I want to have on those pitches, and if I get out doing that or strike out, then so be it,” Stowers said. “But if I go through an-bat and kind of seem to be on the pitcher’s terms a little more, that’s the thing that can be a little more frustrating.”
Each at-bat will be vital for Stowers over the next two weeks as the Orioles sort out the final spots on the offensive side of their roster. He doesn’t set numerical benchmarks for himself and, amid spring training, he’s not even necessarily concerned with getting hits. But he wants to do everything he can to show he deserves one of Baltimore’s 26 roster spots come March 30.
His competition is doing the same. Of the 20 infielders and outfielders still on the Orioles’ camp roster, seven are part of a roster battle for what appears to be two spots earmarked for left-handed hitters. Nearly all of them are performing well this spring.
After getting sporadic playing time as rookies, Stowers and Terrin Vavra are both impressing, with Vavra showing the potential to be a super utility player. Nonroster invitees Franchy Cordero, Ryan O’Hearn, Lewin Díaz and Josh Lester have all performed offensively, though O’Hearn and Díaz have recently been sidelined with injuries. Only Nomar Mazara has struggled, and he still delivered a two-run single Thursday.
“I love the competition that’s going on with those guys,” manager Brandon Hyde said earlier this week.
Here’s a player-by-player look at how each has performed this spring.
Stowers recorded a hit in each of his first five games this spring, believing he was locked into each at-bat, attacking the pitches he can do damage against and hitting them hard. It showed in the results, with a .385 batting average and .962 OPS. He’s faded of late, with three hits against five strikeouts as his overall line has faded to .276/.382/.414, boosted by a run-scoring triple Thursday.
“I hold myself to a very high standard and feel like there’s still more in the tank,” Stowers said.
Stowers performed well in limited playing time last year, his first stint in the majors. His place on the 40-man roster might help his effort to make the roster, though opening one for any of the NRIs doesn’t figure to be too difficult for the Orioles.
“There’s a lot of guys that are playing well, and they’re all super good dudes, so it’s super easy to pull for them,” Stowers said. “There’s been so many guys that have put together really good springs, and it ups the ante for everyone else.”
Like Stowers, Vavra got his first taste of the majors last year and did well when he actually got to see the field. He spent his offseason training to play “everywhere,” and although he’s come short of that this spring, he’s still shown the most versatility of this group.
Vavra has played second, third and the outfield while getting some practice reps at first base, a position he could play in a game before the spring is over. He acknowledged third base, a spot he had played one inning at as a pro before this spring, is not a position he feels “ultra-confident” at, though he believes he’ll grow comfortable.
“Ultimately, I’m pretty confident in my ability to adapt,” he said last week.
Offensively, he’s hitting .409 with a 1.114 OPS around missing time with left shoulder discomfort.
Last year with the Kansas City Royals, O’Hearn played sporadically. More than a fifth of his plate appearance came as a pinch-hitter, which he called “a thankless job.”
“Not having consistent at-bats, your timing is not what it could be,” O’Hearn said. “You’re not constantly in there hitting, and then when you get a chance to play, it’s usually a big situation against a pitcher that the rest of the league hits .130 off.”
But in those opportunities, O’Hearn hit .367/.406/.567, compared with .200/.260/.232 in his infrequent starts. He could return to that role after Baltimore acquired him in a trade for cash before, as Kansas City did, designating him for assignment. He said last year’s experience taught him how to embrace it.
Before tweaking his right knee, he was among the Orioles’ top spring performers, hitting .474 with a 1.230 OPS and an even strikeout-to-walk ratio. He acknowledged the timing of his injury is “definitely not great,” though he said the swelling has gone down and he was able to run pool sprints Thursday.
Cordero’s career has been defined by untapped potential. He’s shown this spring what’s possible when he puts it all together.
After Thursday’s three-hit day, Cordero is 14-for-26 this spring, with half of those hits going for extra bases. He said Orioles hitting coaches Ryan Fuller and Matt Borgschulte have assisted with his posture at the plate and on “finding out good ways to attack the ball,” he said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones.
Cordero can play first base and the outfield, but how capably he can do so is a question. He had a two-base error in left field Thursday, having a single skip past him, and was one of baseball’s worst-rated defensive first basemen while with the Boston Red Sox in 2022 before signing a minor league deal with Baltimore this offseason.
Díaz’s offseason was an odyssey; he was designated for assignment five times, including twice by Baltimore.
After finally clearing waivers to remain with the Orioles, he’s left an impression this spring. Although he’s perhaps the least versatile of the group as strictly a first baseman, Hyde noted he’s a “special defender” there.
The bat has come around, too, as Díaz had an .875 OPS while regularly hitting the ball hard before being scratched Tuesday with left shoulder discomfort. He said Thursday he expected to take batting practice Friday and hoped to be back in games soon after.
“I’ve been able to show that I’m capable of being a big league player,” Díaz said through Quinones. “I know that I have what it takes to be at the big league level.”
After a 1-for-11 start, Lester has gone 12-for-20 with four extra-base hits. On Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, he put four balls in play at 102 mph or harder. His eight balls in play at 100 mph or more in road games this spring are three more than any other Oriole; the Orioles don’t have public Statcast data at Ed Smith Stadium, where their regulars have played most of their games.
“I like to think it’s always kind of been there,” he said. “I’ve been trying to stay on the barrel as much as possible.”
Lester credited Fuller and Borgschulte’s work for helping him form a plan on how each pitcher will go after him and how to use his strengths against them. He signed with the Orioles as a minor league free agent because they wanted him to be versatile, and he’s delivered by playing first, third and both outfield corners.
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“Wow,” Hyde said, “he’s hitting every ball on the nose.”
Mazara’s single Thursday was his fourth hit of the spring, a good result he welcomed. But his third at-bat was perhaps more emblematic of his camp.
A lineout to first left Mazara at 4-for-26, another case of how he feels he’s “been hitting the ball better and just right at people.”
“The results haven’t been there, but that doesn’t mean anything,” Mazara said. “I’m working really, really hard. I know what I’m capable to do, and I know I can help this team.”
Unlike the rest of the NRI candidates, Mazara doesn’t play first base, with the minor league free agent’s playing time bound to the outfield, designated hitter or pinch-hit duties.
“Obviously, everybody’s here to help the team, and that’s a good thing,” Mazara said. “That’s a tough decision on the front office. They know what they’re looking for, and we’re talented.
“The competition has been good. And hopefully we can continue to do that moving on.”