Orioles spring training roster preview: Outfield full of young talent could help define team's rebuilding process

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

As the Orioles prepare to begin spring training next week in Sarasota, Fla., and with it the next chapter of the franchise's rebuild under the leadership of executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde, the focus will finally shift from the front office to the field.

Without a major league free-agent signing and with many of the familiar faces of past years no longer with the Orioles, the cast of players who will be charged with starting the organization's transformation on the field is a unique one.

This week, we'll break down by position groups who will be in camp, and who could factor in to the team's immediate plans, continuing with a fascinating cast of outfielders.

Who's at camp?

From proven major league performers such as Mark Trumbo (who will be listed here even if he's likely ticketed for designated hitter duty once he's healthy) and Trey Mancini to once and present top prospects such as Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays and DJ Stewart, the outfield will be the best collection of players the Orioles will have in camp.

In addition to that crew on the 40-man roster, there's the now-omnipresent Joey Rickard and Anthony Santander, plus non-roster invitees Yusniel Díaz, Ryan McKenna, and Mike Yastrzemski.

Who's gone?

For all those familiar names and exciting new faces, someone who once fit both of those categories for the Orioles is gone in former center fielder Adam Jones. Jones remains one of the premier free agents left on another glacial market.

The Orioles also jettisoned outfielder John Andreoli, who on Tuesday was designated for assignment for the fourth time this winter by the San Francisco Giants after the Orioles, Seattle Mariners, and Texas Rangers did the same.

Colby Rasmus was also technically declared a free agent this offseason after he used the occasion of the team's Independence Day trip to Philadelphia to declare he was done with baseball and leave in July, spending the rest of the year on the restricted list.

Who are the front-runners to make the team?

As long as Trumbo is healthy for Opening Day, something he said last month at FanFest that he planned to be, he'll come north with the team in the final year of his contract come late March. Mancini and Mullins are two of the team's most recognizable remaining players and are likely written in pen on the Opening Day lineup card, too.

That leaves a right field job open and at least one bench outfielder left to secure jobs, competitions that will be quite competitive this spring. In 2017, Hays spent the last few weeks as the team's right fielder with an eye toward winning the job the following spring, but was derailed by injuries. This year, Stewart holds that distinction. Those two and Santander, who struggled as the everyday right fielder early in 2018, will likely be the main candidates for that job, with each representing the kind of player who could be expected to take a significant step forward under the new coaching staff this year.

Rickard could reprise his extra outfielder role, and if Hays has a good spring but can't beat anyone out for an everyday role, the fact that he can play center field could make him a useful extra piece who gets enough playing time to justify being in the majors as opposed to playing every day in the minors.

What about the rest of them?

Santander didn't progress the way the team hoped once he was sent down to Double-A Bowie after the expiration of his Rule 5 roster restrictions, but ended his winter ball experience in Venezuela swinging the bat well. He could be a dark horse option to come north with the team if they'd rather give someone like Hays more regular at-bats in the minors to regain the good feelings from his 2017 after a lost 2018 season.

Rickard had nearly identical rate stats as Mancini last year and still has a minor league option remaining, which could put him back on the shuttle for a third straight season, even if it's not terribly deserved.

The non-roster players are likely more there for the experience and roster depth than anything else, though their presence is well-earned. Yastrzemski doesn't have the prospect shine he did in his first full season in the organization in 2014, but has gained plenty of admirers among his peers and will be a welcome addition to the clubhouse for the homegrown portion of their roster.

Díaz and McKenna, rated the No. 1 and No. 8 prospects in the organization according to Baseball America this offseason, both could push to join the major league outfield conversation at some point this season, but they have to overcome some fellow well-regarded young players to hold down major league playing time.

What's worth watching this spring?

In short, pretty much everyone. Trumbo's march back to full health and the subsequent ability to work his way into form at the plate will be important to adding some punch to the middle of a young lineup. Mancini isn't even eligible for salary arbitration yet, but he'll need to be the same kind of experienced, steady veteran to this young team.

As for the rest, every game the group including Mullins, Stewart, Hays, Díaz, McKenna, and Santander plays this spring will be paramount to the Orioles' present and future. Each of those players has their own strengths and weaknesses, but none is terribly more distinguished than the other in terms of their tools or future outlook, so this comes down to performance. Who can maximize his talents in the present and make it so the Orioles and their fans have someone to latch onto? Which of these players can succeed in the manner Hyde hopes for his players?

Even though there's only realistically two spots for anyone not named Trey Mancini to play in the outfield on a regular basis (or three if Trumbo and Chris Davis aren't playing first or serving as the designated hitter), these six players are going to be the ones who the Orioles' new coaching staff and player development strategy are judged upon. That evaluation begins this month.

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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