SARASOTA, FLA. — The Orioles’ major league camp cuts of eight players Sunday made at least one thing pretty clear: Executive vice president-general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde aren’t concerned that players likely to contribute to the major league club at some point this season are around for Opening Day.
If they were, the likes of three spring standouts — outfielders Austin Hays and Anthony Santander plus reliever Cody Carroll — plus intriguing homegrown reliever Branden Kline, right-handers Yefry Ramirez and Gabriel Ynoa, and infielders Stevie Wilkerson and Christopher Bostick all might still be around and vying for a spot on the roster.
"If you look at a majority of major league rosters last year on Opening Day, a lot changes," Hyde said. "It looks a lot different in June. There's always this deadline on Opening Day. It's always a special day, and it's a big deal to be on an Opening Day roster. At the same time, it's one of 162, and there's six months to go, and some guys are going to impact our club that aren't going to be on this Opening Day roster. That's just the way that falls."
There are still plenty of things to sort out, from the status of Rule 5 draft picks Richie Martin, Drew Jackson and Pedro Araujo to the fact that nonroster invitees Alcides Escobar, Jesús Sucre and Eric Young Jr. would need to be added to the 40-man roster to make the team.
But with a week to go in a camp that was once defined by competition for spots, much of the intrigue is centered on just a few roster spots. Here's a best guess on who will open the 2019 season with the Orioles on March 28 in New York.
Catcher: Chance Sisco, Jesús Sucre
It was interesting to hear Elias say that this was a position of concern, especially defensively, entering the spring, though he said everyone has shown the ability to be at least average behind the plate. That's not the strongest praise, but it matters considering the candidates.
Sisco’s power numbers from his crazy start to the spring haven’t carried over, but he's continued to show the patient approach that made him one of the more polished high school draft picks to come through the Orioles organization in years.
Sucre takes the spot of Austin Wynns, whose oblique injury seems as if it's going to keep him out of games long enough that it makes a difference in his Opening Day availability. Either way, a catch-and-throw complement to Sisco will be required.
Andrew Susac and Carlos Pérez have played well and will serve as depth at Triple-A Norfolk.
Infielders: Chris Davis, Jonathan Villar, Richie Martin, Renato Núñez, Alcides Escobar, Drew Jackson
Davis and Villar were givens this spring, even as the former dealt with a hip problem that kept him out earlier this spring.
Martin, a Rule 5 selection from the Oakland Athletics, has impressed with his defense and shown the ability to hold his own at the plate. The way Elias spoke Sunday about the idea of losing Rule 5 picks to their old team made it seem as if that's not something the Orioles are interested in doing, so that's good news for Martin and Jackson. Jackson will likely fill a super-utility role, and his ability to play the outfield will provide cover there.
It was interesting to see Rio Ruiz playing third base on an infield that included Villar and Martin, because Hyde said this weekend that while there wouldn't be lineups that were explicitly made with the season in mind, spring games would include infield groups and outfield groups that would play together during the season. But even with his slow spring, Núñez was the Orioles' most consistent hitter in the second half of the 2018 season, is still only 25, and is out of minor league options. It would be inconsistent to jettison a talent like his from the organization when Ruiz can be sent to the minors without consequence, even if Ruiz has had the better spring and is a better defender.
Escobar, a nonroster invitee, has done nothing to indicate he shouldn't be in the big leagues this year, even if adding him to the 40-man roster would require the Orioles to take someone off. Hanser Alberto, who has been through that process twice this spring, might end up in that cycle again. Fellow nonroster invitees Jace Peterson and Jack Reinheimer have played a lot and had productive springs in reserve roles, but there's just too much ahead of them on the depth chart.
Outfielders: Trey Mancini, Cedric Mullins, Joey Rickard, Mark Trumbo
Sunday's moves added more clarity to this position than any other, with Hays and Santander playing their way onto the club in the previous version of this projection but sent out Sunday in the name of player development.
Keeping them around had been plausible earlier because Trumbo wasn't in games then, but he hasn't shown any signs of being limited while starting four times in five days since returning. If all he has to do is hit four times a game, and his knee feels well enough to do that, he can cram at-bats into the last week-plus of camp and be the designated hitter on Opening Day.
Mancini and Mullins haven't had the best camps, but Elias said the club’s decision-makers saw enough last summer and this spring to believe Mullins can be their center fielder. It was interesting, however, that Hays played as much center field as he did this spring, and Elias said he hopes to see Hays grow into a fixture in center field with seasoning there in the minors. That's a vision that was previously held for Mullins, though an outfield with Mullins in left field and Hays in center would cover a lot of ground.
Rickard is having another great spring, with two hits Sunday giving him a team-high 15 and drawing praise from Hyde. If the Orioles are going to be as committed as they seem to be in keeping the likes of Hays, Santander and DJ Stewart in the minors, then Rickard might get a chance to recast himself as an everyday player.
The fact that Jackson can cover in the outfield makes having three true outfielders less dicey. However, Hyde has said he wants players to play where they will in the regular season at some point in a live spring game, and Jackson has played only center field so far.
Eric Young Jr. would take another valuable 40-man roster spot but has gotten plenty of plate appearances this spring. He hasn't stood out, but his continued presence in camp gives him a shot to go north. Dwight Smith Jr. had a lot of catching up to do after he was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this month, but he has minor league options, so he becomes cover at Norfolk.
Starting pitchers: Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, Dylan Bundy, David Hess, Mike Wright
Even if there's been no formal declaration about who will join Cobb, Cashner and Bundy in the rotation, the recent rotation points toward Hess and Wright sticking.
Hess had a forgettable day Thursday in Fort Myers, allowing four home runs, and Wright hasn't been as effective as he was during his four-outing scoreless streak, but no other pitchers in major league camp are being stretched out as starters the way these two are.
Wright, in particular is a flexible option for the fifth starter spot, which the Orioles will need when they wrap up against Toronto on April 3 but the schedule allows for a lot of maneuverability in keeping the veteran trio on schedule and moving the fourth and fifth starters between the rotation and bullpen as needed. Hyde has said the back-end starters can be used in relief early, too, and Wright has plenty of experience with that.
Left-handers John Means, who is showing some newfound velocity this spring, and Josh Rogers have opened some eyes in camp, but their starting opportunities have been limited. Only Rogers is pitching enough to make it seem as if he's stretched out enough to be a rotation option when the major league season begins.
Relievers: Mychal Givens, Richard Bleier, Miguel Castro, Nate Karns, Tanner Scott, Jimmy Yacabonis, Paul Fry, Pedro Araujo
This group transformed a bit since the last projection, and there’s some clarity now that Karns is back pitching regularly again and Carroll and Kline were optioned out of camp.
Givens hasn't had a good spring, but he and Bleier were essentially shoo-ins as long as they were healthy, and both are. Castro has been one of the best arms in camp, and Karns can be particularly effective in short stints if he's able to recover between the outings.
Scott has been inconsistent this spring, and certainly fits the mold of the types of players the new regime might just want to get some consistent success in the minors after an inconsistent development track. But his arm is too good not to keep at this point. Fry would be a third left-hander and could be used in a more traditional left-handed relief role than the other two, and is backing up his nice debut season with a scoreless spring.
The Orioles seem to be settling Yacabonis into a multi-inning relief role, and in a bullpen short on traditional long men, he could be an asset if he takes the benefits of his year as a starter in 2018 to turn a lineup over once and give the team some length out of the bullpen.
Araujo has had a difficult spring, and needs to be on the roster for 17 more days to fulfill last year's Rule 5 requirements. Hyde has praised his repertoire, so with a flexible pitching staff over that span, they could leave him on the roster for a few weeks just to keep the arm in the organization.
If they decide it's not worth it, Evan Phillips hasn't allowed a run all spring and would be the most logical choice to stick. Nonroster reliever Josh Lucas has shown a swing-and-miss breaking ball, but it's a pretty crowded relief situation for him to break through in.