Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has his first chance to have all of his players in one place this week, and when the team breaks camp in five weeks and heads north to begin the season in Boston, his Opening Day roster will be set.
As with everything about this rebuilding club, 2021 will be about focusing on the future. But there’s not much room for those considerations when it comes to building a big league roster for the present.
There are plenty of ways Hyde and executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias can put together the Orioles this spring, but they’ll always be guided by a few principles that have emerged over the past few years.
For starters, they aren’t going to rush a prospect to the big leagues before he’s truly ready, meaning it’s unlikely there are going to be any debuts on April 1 in Boston. They also won’t take a nonroster player unless they have to; every player they add to the roster often means someone has to come off it.
With all that in mind, here’s a forecast of what the Orioles’ 26-man roster could look like on Opening Day with five weeks left in spring training.
Not a lot of intrigue to this group this spring, especially with top prospect Adley Rutschman spending the majority of his time at the minor league complex thus far and not really even training with the big leaguers.
In the interim, Severino and Sisco will each get another chance to solidify himself as Rutschman’s future catching partner behind the plate.
Infielders (6): Trey Mancini, Yolmer Sánchez, Freddy Galvis, Rio Ruiz, Chris Davis, Pat Valaika
This group will be relatively straightforward as long as everyone stays healthy, with Davis giving up the everyday first base role to Mancini, who moves in from the outfield. Valaika, who played shortstop at times last year, would have to cover all of the other infield positions as a backup.
Sánchez and Galvis will be the everyday middle infielders to replace José Iglesias and Hanser Alberto, and Hyde will hope that he can call on Galvis at shortstop more often than he could the injury-hampered Iglesias.
Outfielders (5): Anthony Santander, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays, DJ Stewart
Hyde said Monday that there was going to be an open competition between Hays and Mullins in center field, and that’s the only real question with this group, even if it’s a deep one. It’s not time for Yusniel Diaz or Ryan McKenna yet.
Mountcastle will likely be the everyday left fielder, Santander will be a fixture in right field and whoever isn’t the starter in center field will be some kind of super sub, with the corner starters also strong candidates to be the designated hitter.
Stewart ended 2020 well enough that he should have an inside track to be a bench bat who also starts as the designated hitter against right-handers, but his spot is likely contingent on the Orioles keeping 13 or 14 pitchers. He’d be a luxury if they kept 13, and would be considered a hard-luck exclusion if they went with 14.
Starting pitchers (5): John Means, Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin, Félix Hernández, Matt Harvey
It’s not often that the Orioles can boast such a rotation full of interesting pitchers who, whether out of enjoyment, hope for the future or simple curiosity, are worth tuning in to watch. But this group fits that bill.
Means will likely be the Opening Day starter, and barring a disastrous spring or injury, Kremer and Akin will be behind him in the rotation. Likewise, just by virtue of being with the Orioles, it seems as if veterans Harvey and Hernández could have an inside track to making the team.
If the Orioles are able to get either back to even half their peak selves, they’ll be valuable at just $1 million apiece. There are a lot of checkpoints to get there, and someone like Wade LeBlanc could push them for that spot. So too could Jorge López or Bruce Zimmermann, who could easily make the team as bulk-inning options.
But there’s a better chance the Orioles get short-term value from Harvey and Hernández, so that’s likely how they’d have it lined up now if all goes well this spring.
Hyde is hoping for his relievers to all be able to pitch multiple innings this spring to prepare for what will be a challenging year for the pitching staff, and how that goes will probably decide the makeup of the bullpen. Scott, Armstrong, Fry, Tate and Harvey are the fixtures.
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Valdez will be stretched out to possibly be a starter or long reliever, but that length will still be useful out of the bullpen. Sulser was often asked to pitch two innings last year and can cover that, and Lakins could do the same.
If Hyde doesn’t feel as if he can count on this group for length, someone like Lakins or even Harvey might have to wait his turn in the minors while a long reliever like Zimmermann, López, LeBlanc or Thomas Eshelman breaks camp with the team.
López is out of minor league options, so if the Orioles don’t want to expose him to waivers, he’ll have to be kept on the roster for Opening Day.