Just like there were in March when the coronavirus pandemic shut down baseball and sent the Orioles packing from Florida, two weeks remain before Opening Day.
This time, rosters are expanded to 30 players instead of the original 26 to account for the possibility that pitchers might not be fully built up yet. That leaves a few more spots for Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde to fill from the original pool of 45 players they brought to Camden Yards last week to begin workouts.
A week in, Hyde said he feels like there’s “questions around the field” as the Orioles get into intrasquad games and decide how to put together their roster.
“I don’t feel like our team was set when spring training got canceled,” Hyde said. “I feel like we still had a lot of decisions to make, and I feel the same way right now, to be honest with you. We just have a 30-man roster instead of a 26.
“A lot is going to depend on how are starters are built up, which I’m really pleased about that right now so far. A lot is going to be health — how healthy are we staying through spring training, through this summer camp? I’m really taking it day-by-day … think we’re off to a really good start. I’m just trying to keep these guys healthy and hope we can give them the opportunity to win a job and be one of the 30 guys.”
Though it’s unclear what the Orioles will base their evaluations on in these two weeks at Camden Yards other than the eye test and past track record, that time of evaluating is already underway. Here’s a projection of who could go to Boston on July 24 as part of the Orioles’ Opening Day roster:
Catchers (3): Pedro Severino, Chance Sisco, Bryan Holaday
While the inclusion of Severino and Sisco shouldn’t be any surprise, there is likely to be room for a third catcher but different directions to go as to who it would be. Holaday would need to be added to the 40-man roster, which at this point shouldn’t be a problem for the Orioles. If they’d rather keep it simple, they could make Austin Wynns that third catcher and have the veteran Holaday at the minor league camp.
None of them will by 2019 first overall draft pick Adley Rutschman — at least for now.
Infielders (8): Chris Davis, Hanser Alberto, José Iglesias, Rio Ruiz, Renato Núñez, Pat Valaika, Stevie Wilkerson, Andrew Velázquez
The first five are locked in stone, with nothing but bad luck standing between Davis, Alberto, Iglesias and Ruiz at first, second, shortstop and third base, respectively, come Opening Day.
It’s a diverse group in terms of the reserves, with Núñez likely to get plenty of time as the designated hitter, and Valaika capable of filling in anywhere. Same goes for Wilkerson and Velázquez, who might be needed as depth outfielders since there are so few available in camp. Dilson Herrera would be the odd-man out in this situation, but even versatility gets redundant at some point.
Outfielders (3): Austin Hays, DJ Stewart, Mason Williams.
The Orioles didn’t need much by way of auditions to envision what their outfield would look like entering camp, with only Hays, Stewart, Dwight Smith Jr. and Anthony Santander invited to camp. One week in, Smith and Santander haven’t participated with no explanation from the club, and with two weeks left before Opening Day, it’s fair to wonder whether they’ll be ready for Opening Day.
Hyde said earlier this week that depending on what shape the player is in and how much time is left of the camp before he returns that someone who hasn’t participated to this point could still break with the team. That’s asking a lot, though.
So, while Williams was only recently added to the roster and Hyde said he’ll be going to the secondary camp once it opens, there’s got to be a point where having a third true outfielder in camp becomes necessary. It’s not like they won’t have the roster space, and how many relievers can one team need?
Starting pitchers (5): John Means, Alex Cobb, Wade LeBlanc, Asher Wojciechowski, Kohl Stewart.
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Hyde said this week that nine pitchers were being stretched out as starters, and the assumption is it’s these five with Tommy Milone, Thomas Eshelman, Chandler Shepherd and Ty Blach rounding out that group.
Milone has the best chance of making it a six-man rotation of that group, and that could ultimately be the way Hyde goes, at least at the beginning. But especially if Stewart is healthy, the team’s only major league free agent pitcher will likely get a chance to be in the rotation himself. If that’s the case, Milone seems like a fit to be in the bullpen as along reliever.
Relief pitchers (11): Mychal Givens, Richard Bleier, Hunter Harvey, Paul Fry, Miguel Castro, Shawn Armstrong, Tanner Scott, Tommy Milone, Hector Velázquez, Cody Carroll, Cole Sulser.
There are four extra roster spots available to keep pitchers safe and healthy during the long season, and here, three of them go to relievers. The core of relievers from last year — Givens, Bleier, Fry, Castro and Armstrong — stays in place, with no reason not to have the hard-throwing Harvey and Scott along with them. Milone is probably more useful as a depth starter who pitches in long relief in the meantime than at the secondary camp. Velázquez would be the other long reliever in this situation.
As for the beneficiaries of those extra spots, it’s likely to just come down to who is pitching best as camp ends. Carroll and Sulser probably would have made the team had camp continued in March, so they get the nod here. Branden Kline, Evan Phillips, David Hess, Travis Lakins Sr., Rob Zastryzny and Cesar Valdez round out the rest of the candidates.