SARASOTA, FLA. — Three weeks from Thursday, the Orioles will properly begin their new era of baseball on Opening Day against the New York Yankees. More than half of the Grapefruit League schedule is left to decide whom the Orioles take north with them, but through over two weeks of games, some obvious front runners have emerged.
Manager Brandon Hyde has demurred on roster questions at every turn, whether it's on carrying two or three catchers, seven or eight relievers, or anything else. The only thing he's been clear on is that players dealing with injuries won't be rushed.
Otherwise, the Orioles have plenty that's wide open. Some possible injuries have alleviated a few tougher decisions, but three weeks out, here's an educated guess at the Orioles' Opening Day roster.
Chance Sisco, Austin Wynns
Sisco's spring has been a step forward on a lot of levels, and while the left-handed hitter is not really being pitched the way anyone will pitch him during the season, the fact that he's doing the damage on the pitches he gets counts for something. His real measures of success will be behind the plate, but he's been empowered by Hyde and the coaching staff to be bold on the field, and he's responded. Wynns has always been a good complement, as a right-handed bat with more advanced defensive skills to help balance out the behind-the-plate package.
The rest of the options:Jesús Sucre is on deck if Wynns' oblique soreness grows into something more significant, and could provide some major league experience, albeit a shade over one full season's worth spread over six years. Carlos Pérez and Andrew Susac will serve as fine Triple-A depth, and if any or all of them don't end up there, Martin Cervenka could be tested at Triple-A, too.
Chris Davis, Jonathan Villar, Richie Martin, Renato Núñez, Drew Jackson, Alcides Escobar
As long as he's healthy, it would take a fantastically outsized bold move from the new Orioles front office and whomever it answers to for Davis to not be on the Opening Day roster (though with Luis Severino's shoulder injury, the prospect of facing lefties CC Sabathia, James Paxton or J.A. Happ early could show immediately whether Davis will be in a platoon). Villar will be the everyday second baseman, while Martin has done everything he's been asked so far to win the shortstop job for a club that's hoping for upside. Núñez hasn't had the best spring, but his lack of options will mean he'll get a chance to get it going on the major league roster.
Jackson and Escobar would serve as utility-type players, with Jackson making the team as up-the-middle depth that can play all over the infield and outfield, and Escobar being able to back up Martin and Núñez. Escobar might not be terribly exciting, and might’ve been signed as insurance against underperformance of Rule 5 players Martin and Jackson. But that simply hasn't come, and he's valuable cover. He won't have the emotional hold on an everyday job the way he did with the Kansas City Royals last year, so all you're losing is opportunity cost that might not be there otherwise.
The rest of the options: Hanser Alberto could likely do all the same things Escobar could and is six years younger, so if the Orioles don't want him to be exposed to waivers again, they could do worse for an extra infielder. Rio Ruiz is useful corner infield depth, and could be a left-handed option off a bench that doesn't have another one on the infield, but the Orioles can cover those positions elsewhere. Stevie Wilkerson might have been ticketed for the job Jackson will likely assume, but he can get more practice in Norfolk after a tumultuous 2018.
Ryan Mountcastle looks like he might have found a home at first base, but it's a little early for him to break through in the majors. If his power stroke plays in the vast expanses of Norfolk's Harbor Park, then the Orioles will have an impact bat on their hands, though they likely do either way. Jace Peterson, Jack Reinheimer and Christopher Bostick, if they end up sticking around as nonroster infield depth at Norfolk, will represent vast upgrades over the players who held those roles last year.
Trey Mancini, Cedric Mullins, Joey Rickard, Austin Hays, Anthony Santander
Mancini and Mullins were two players who came in pretty well assured of their jobs, with a pinkie injury for the former and a slow start for the latter still unlikely to change that. Mancini will also be the top deputy first baseman behind Davis, and those two could alternate between first base and designated hitter if Mark Trumbo starts on the injured list. This projection is operating under that premise.
Rickard got a raw deal last year and isn't doing anything that will deserve a trip to the minors this spring, and the switch-hitting Santander could provide a platoon option for either Rickard or Hays. Hays isn't even the best prospect in the outfield, but considering Yusniel Diaz isn't on the 40-man roster and the Orioles will want to stay flexible on that front, Hays might be the feel-good prospect who makes the club Opening Day. There's also maybe only two spots for a touted younger player in the outfield, not counting Mullins. Especially in a scenario where Mancini isn't playing much left field, Santander and Hays could rotate through and those two, Mullins, and Rickard can play plenty.
The rest of the options: Trumbo is progressing well on his way back from knee surgery, but still isn't in game action and is one of several players Hyde has said he won't rush. There's little reason to, either.Diaz has done everything anyone can ask, and seeing the guy the Orioles acquired for Manny Machado in the lineup when they finally get to Camden Yards would be a draw, but sentimentality hasn't driven much to this point with this version of the Orioles and this would be driven by that alone.
DJ Stewart played right field down the stretch last year, but simply hasn't outperformed anyone else in contention for a major league job to win one this spring, while Eric Young Jr. has a tough climb to pass so many players who could be part of the team’s long-term future.
Starting pitchers (4)
Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, David Hess
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There's never been any doubt about the statuses of Bundy, Cobb and Cashner, but everything after them has been up for grabs. Nate Karns was signed with the idea that he'd be the fourth starter, but has pitched just twice in spring training because of arm soreness and Hyde said that could hinder him being ready to start at the beginning of the season. He could start on the injured list (or could be optioned to the minors, as he still has one remaining) and be ready when the team first needs a fifth starter two weeks into the season. Hess, who had the most success of any of the team's young starters last year while improving down the stretch, has enjoyed a good spring and would get first crack at holding down a long-term rotation spot.
The rest of the options: Karns will be in this mix if and when he's healthy and stretched out, but not until then, and that might not be the case Opening Day. Yefry Ramirez could be the next man up in Karns' absence, though Jimmy Yacabonis has had a very good spring himself. He might still benefit from being able to go past the 90-pitch mark in the minors and turn over a lineup three times to see if last year's starter conversation can really take hold. Josh Rogers, John Means and Luis Ortiz each got starts last year but would be assigned to Norfolk to build up in their rotation (though this often includes trips north on the shuttle), and Dillon Tate, an interesting pitcher himself, might join them there.
Mychal Givens, Richard Bleier, Miguel Castro, Tanner Scott, Paul Fry, Mike Wright, Evan Phillips, Pedro Araujo
Givens is in what Hyde called "early-spring form," and Bleier hasn't pitched in a game after midseason lat surgery last year, but Hyde said those two will be on the team provided they're healthy. Bleier could be on a tight schedule, but they're planning on him being ready. Castro has been one of the best arms in camp, and after pitching poorly in his first outing, Scott isn't far behind in that assessment.
Fry pitched well enough last year and this spring to keep the spot he earned last year, while both Wright and Araujo would have to be risked on waivers if they didn't make the team, so it's easier to just keep them. Wright, who's also a rotation candidate, is out of minor league options. Araujo has two-plus weeks of roster time required before his Rule 5 draft stipulations from last year expire and he can be optioned to the minors. Phillips would fill what could be a very flexible right-handed early relief spot at the beginning.
The rest of the options: Branden Kline and Cody Carroll would be easy candidates to rotate through or assume Phillips' spot in the bullpen, with Kline possibly having the best overall stuff but simply short on experience, even at the Triple-A level. Josh Osich will be left-handed depth, and even if Bleier isn't a left-on-left guy, having Osich with him, Scott and Fry would likely be redundant. Nonroster veterans Bo Schultz, Josh Lucas and Sean Gilmartin could find themselves as midseason options, if not earlier, and there's no telling what the team can even expect from Gregory Infante (illness).