With Super Bowl aspirations for a Ravens team that called itself revolutionary, this seemed like a year when a championship run for the football team would have bled right into the beginning of Orioles spring training. That ended Saturday night when the Ravens lost to the No. 6 seed Tennessee Titans, 28-12, in the divisional round.
Now there’s a month-long gap before pitchers and catchers report Feb. 11 in Sarasota, Florida, leaving plenty of time to get familiar with a changing Orioles team.
This offseason, the first full one under executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, has been another of organization-building. Some of the Orioles’ moves will impact the 2020 team, though.
In December, they traded infielder Jonathan Villar to the Miami Marlins and Dylan Bundy to the Los Angeles Angels in moves that brought back young pitching and lowered the payroll significantly, even if that made areas of need for the major league team even more pronounced.
They’ve signed free-agent pitcher Kohl Stewart and shortstop José Iglesias to address those gaps, and added a pair of Rule 5 pitchers in Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker, who will get to show in spring training whether they’re part of the solution.
With no FanFest on the horizon and the most recent offseason deadline of agreeing to salaries with their arbitration-eligible players passing Friday without much of note, there’s not much left to happen between now and the report date next month.
But as Friday’s waiver claim of infielder Richard Ureña from the Toronto Blue Jays shows, and last year’s spring training additions made clear, the Orioles won’t be a finished product roster-wise until Opening Day actually arrives.
That said, it seems pretty clear which direction the Orioles will go in some spots. Here’s a projection of their Opening Day 26-man roster a month before spring training.
Catchers (2): Chance Sisco, Pedro Severino
In the mix: Austin Wynns
Between the beginning of January and the end of spring training, the Orioles’ catching situation changed quite a bit last year. It seemed like a set platoon with Sisco and Austin Wynns, but then the Orioles signed Jesús Sucre to a minor league deal and claimed Severino off waivers to round out their Opening Day catching crew.
Severino will keep that role, and if Sisco carries himself the way he did in camp last year while showing some offensive improvement from his new offseason regime, it will be difficult for the Orioles to start him in the minors again. Wynns will continue to be a worthy deputy, but it remains a possibility that an outside acquisition could knock everyone down the depth chart, off waivers or otherwise.
Infielders (6): Chris Davis, Hanser Alberto, José Iglesias, Rio Ruiz, Renato Núñez, Richard Ureña
In the mix: Richie Martin, Ryan Mountcastle, Dilson Herrera, Pat Valaika
With Davis penciled in at first base as long as his contract is on the books, Alberto almost winning a batting title last year, and Iglesias signed to start at shortstop, there’s not a ton of flux expected on the Orioles’ infield once the Jonathan Villar-sized hole is acknowledged. Ruiz and Núñez will return to round out the group, but the only real question is who the backup infielder is.
With Richie Martin, the Orioles will be caught between two minds: keeping someone who can run and play shortstop off the bench behind Iglesias, and getting the former Rule 5 pick some Triple-A time to play every day. Claiming the 24-year-old Ureña gave them a natural choice to keep on the roster while sending Martin down to get some Triple-A work.
Otherwise, Valaika, a waiver claim himself who could remain in the organization if he clears waivers, or minor league free agent Herrera could fill a utility role without providing shortstop cover, and someone like Alberto could cover in a pinch if something happens to Iglesias and the Orioles need to get through a game. As for Mountcastle, his time will come. It will likely take a prodigious offensive performance in spring training to make that time Opening Day.
Outfielders (5): Trey Mancini, Austin Hays, Anthony Santander, Stevie Wilkerson, Dwight Smith Jr.
In the mix: Cedric Mullins, Ryan McKenna, DJ Stewart
If there’s going to be a strength to this Orioles team, at least offensively, it’s the projected starting outfield. Mancini is the team’s unquestioned star, Santander was the team’s breakout bat in a half-season in 2019, and Hays had a strong September cameo. Mancini and Santander in the corners with Hays in center field is how it lines up now, but a lot can change.
As far as deputies, Wilkerson can cover all three positions and Smith should get another crack to reprise his hot April from a year ago with Stewart recovering from ankle surgery. Mullins will need to show a far better version of himself than 2019 to be considered, while McKenna might still be tasked with mastering Double-A. It could be interesting to see if Yusniel Diaz makes more noise in spring training, too.
Starting pitchers (5): John Means, Alex Cobb, Asher Wojciechowski, Kohl Stewart, Brandon Bailey
In the mix: Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer, David Hess
With Means, Cobb and Wojciechowski in the rotation as long as they make it through the spring healthy, there are still a few spots to be spoken for. By virtue of his free-agent signing and the fact that the Orioles gave him a major league deal, Stewart gets the nod to see what the former fourth overall pick of the Minnesota Twins can do in an extended look.
After him, it’s far more muddled. Rule 5 pick Bailey will likely get a long look in spring training, with this his most natural role. Otherwise, there are plenty of pitchers on and off the roster who could get stretched out in the spring. It’s probably too early for Akin and Kremer, so Hess, Ty Blach, Chandler Shepherd, Luis Ortiz and Tom Eshelman will be in the conversation as well. And if there are any veterans willing to take minor league deals to join this mix, they might go to the top of that list.
Relievers (8): Mychal Givens, Richard Bleier, Hunter Harvey, Miguel Castro, Paul Fry, Shawn Armstrong, Tanner Scott, Michael Rucker
In the mix: Cody Carroll, Evan Phillips, Cole Sulser, Branden Kline, Dillon Tate
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This group has plenty of room to grow, but they’ll be in good shape if this is the relief corps that breaks camp. With Givens and Bleier the most established arms and Harvey the most electric, that could make for a pretty consistent back-end. Castro, Fry and Armstrong all showed flashes of that last year and easily could again, with right-handers Castro and Armstrong out of minor league options. Scott showed some improvement in 2019 and has the ability to dominate in spring training, while Rucker, as a Rule 5 pick, could be the team’s long reliever.
There are plenty of worthy names left out, including the intriguing waiver claim Sulser. But he, Carroll, Phillips, Kline and Tate will all be with the Orioles before long.
Orioles spring training schedule
Feb. 11: Pitchers and catchers report for spring training at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida.
Feb. 16: Full-squad report date.
Feb. 22: First spring training game, visiting the Atlanta Braves in West Villages, Florida.
Feb. 23: First spring training home game, hosting the Boston Red Sox.
March 23: Final spring training game, at home against the New York Mets.