Another ahead-of-schedule exit from the NFL playoffs for the Ravens began the transition to baseball season on the local sports calendar, though shifting from a traditionally scheduled sport to one with so much uncertainty is a bit messy.
As it stands, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde and their respective staffs are hard at work preparing for spring training to begin in less than a month. Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report Feb. 16, with position players reporting the following week for the first full-team workout Feb. 22.
Many reports suggest that spring training will continue as scheduled, and on that and other issues such as roster size and rules, all anyone can do is assume they’ll be normal until told otherwise.
That means spring training begins in just over four weeks. Here’s a look at how the Orioles roster might be shaping up for Opening Day on April 1 in Boston.
Catchers (2): Pedro Severino, Chance Sisco
One of the more stable positions on the Orioles’ roster the past few years is liable to stay that way this year, with Severino and Sisco still a tantalizing combination of offensive backstops who will break camp with the team. They’re usually quick-starters, too, and the team would do well to have them keep hitting all throughout the season to quiet the drumbeat for top prospect Adley Rutschman.
There could be a third catcher in the mix the way Bryan Holaday was last year, and minor league free agent Nick Ciuffo could fill that role this year with Austin Wynns sticking around as depth.
Infielders (6): Trey Mancini, Yolmer Sánchez, Richie Martin, Rio Ruiz, Pat Valaika, Chris Davis
The return of Mancini to this bunch from his battle with colon cancer in 2020 and expulsion to the outfield in previous years certainly makes the infield a more productive group than it otherwise would have been, considering mainstays José Iglesias, Hanser Alberto and Renato Núñez are no longer with the team.
Sánchez, a former Gold Glove award winner at second base, might get some looks at shortstop, but at this point is an easy like-for-like replacement for Alberto. Richie Martin and Pat Valaika, barring an outside acquisition, could split the shortstop duties, with Ruiz back at third base.
Valaika could be a super-utility type who can back up at all the infield positions if need be, but this group seems incomplete without a true starting shortstop in the mix yet.
Davis will likely be ticketed for a bench role. At every position, the Orioles could have true depth options with Tyler Nevin, Chris Shaw, Rylan Bannon and Ramón Urías all on the 40-man roster and biding their time.
Outfielders (5): Anthony Santander, Cedric Mullins, Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Hays, DJ Stewart
As ever, the Orioles’ outfield group is the one packed with the most promise, even if some players’ inconsistencies are starting to cast doubt on their futures. Santander, the Most Valuable Oriole from last season, should be the everyday right fielder with Rookie of the Year candidate Mountcastle getting the bulk of his time in left field.
Hays and Mullins will compete for time in center field but could easily make for a tidy platoon with the switch-hitting Mullins sticking with his strength and playing often against right-handed pitching while Hays plays against left-handers. Stewart could handle left field while Mountcastle is the designated hitter, or vice versa.
Though there likely won’t be a place for Yusniel Diaz or Ryan McKenna on Opening Day, each could force the issue with their work at Triple-A Norfolk (or the camp equivalent).
Starting pitchers (5): John Means, Alex Cobb, Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin, Jorge López.
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The group the Orioles ended the year with could be back wholesale in 2021, so long as everyone makes it through camp healthy. That’s never a given, though. Means had plenty of indicators that his struggles early last season was more of a fluke than a true regression, and he found a way forward in September. Elias said Cobb would be around all season, so they’ll hope he’s like the 2020 vintage to end his time with the Orioles on a good note.
Akin and Kremer, both rookies, will have tough assignments in holding down rotation spots for their first full seasons but will likely get plenty of chances to do so. López hasn’t been spoken of much this offseason by the club, but unless Bruce Zimmermann supplants him in camp or the Orioles sign a free-agent starting pitcher, that spot is probably his. Rule 5 picks Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells could also be in the starting pitcher mix in camp.
The Orioles will hope for a meaningful Triple-A season to begin quickly so that other pitchers on the roster such as Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther, and Alexander Wells can get their last bit of seasoning in the minors before possible debuts this summer.
Relief pitchers (8): Tanner Scott, Hunter Harvey, Cole Sulser, Paul Fry, Shawn Armstrong, Cesar Valdéz, Dillon Tate, Mac Sceroler
After midseason trades of Richard Bleier, Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro last summer, the Orioles bullpen ended the year with a much different look — and was much better than years past.
Scott and Harvey will provide the velocity, though it doesn’t seem as if there’s a closer who has been anointed yet. If the past few years are any indication, Hyde won’t be in any rush to give out that role, either, though Sulser led the team with five saves last year and Valdez had that role late in the season and closed out three wins.
Fry and Armstrong are reliable middle relievers at this point, and Sceroler is listed here because he was the first Rule 5 pick. It seems with their roster situation the Orioles are more likely to keep one than both, so he gets the nod over Wells and they’ll battle it out In camp. That would be bad news for someone like Travis Lakins Sr., who also has options but lacks Tate’s upside.