A day off, a workout and a flight are all that separate the Orioles from beginning the 2021 season Thursday against the Boston Red Sox.
Barring any late additions — which have already come this spring and previous ones — the Orioles completed Grapefruit League play Monday with a roster that’s seemingly set in terms of position players who will make the club, though there are some battles to be sorted out at certain positions. Despite manager Brandon Hyde having named his first three starters over the weekend and finalizing his rotation Monday, there are decisions to be made on that side, particularly in a bullpen that will feature two Rule 5 draft picks and a handful of out-of-options arms.
Hyde said Sunday that he doesn’t expect the Orioles’ roster to be trimmed to 26 by the end of the day Monday, with the club’s final workout Wednesday possibly offering players a last chance to make an impression. Still, here’s one last projection of the team the Orioles will field on Opening Day.
Catchers (2): Pedro Severino, Chance Sisco
The Orioles’ primary catching duo since June 2019 will remain so to start 2021. Both have had their ups and downs with Baltimore, but with no other catchers on the 40-man roster and top prospect Adley Rutschman not yet banging on the door, this has been the easiest to sort out of the Orioles’ position groups throughout camp.
Infielders (6): Trey Mancini, Pat Valaika, Ramón Urías, Freddy Galvis, Rio Ruiz, Maikel Franco
To this point, Mancini’s return from colon cancer has been a successful one. He’s checked all of the boxes and will be Baltimore’s starting first baseman Thursday. Galvis is similarly locked in at shortstop.
Ruiz, the Orioles’ primary third baseman the past two years, started at second Sunday, but the preference would be for that to be an emergency option rather than a regularity. Franco’s contract with the Orioles gave them the ability to have him start the year at the alternate site, but that doesn’t seem like it will be needed. In addition to some designated hitter duties, he could join Ruiz to form a right-left platoon at third.
Outfielders (4): Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander
With DJ Stewart’s injured hamstring keeping him from returning to full activity, this group of four has been locked in for most of the spring. That was at least until a sore side kept Santander out of the lineup in recent days, but Hyde said Sunday he has no doubt about the reigning Most Valuable Orioles being ready for Opening Day, though Santander remained out for Monday’s spring training finale.
“I’m just being cautious with him,” Hyde said. “I feel like he’s physically ready to go. His legs are underneath him. I don’t need to see him play defense. He’s got enough at-bats this spring. Now, it’s a little bit of getting him tuned up before Opening Day, not having too long of a break.”
Regardless, this group should be the Orioles’ most exciting among position players, with Mountcastle considered a strong contender for Rookie of the Year, both Hays and Mullins putting up strong springs as they battled for the center field job, and Santander trying to continue a breakout that an oblique injury stopped short a year ago.
Starting pitchers (5): John Means, Matt Harvey, Bruce Zimmermann, Jorge López, Dean Kremer
In recent days,Hyde announced Means, Harvey and Zimmermann will start the team’s first three games in Boston and the club will begin the year with a five-man rotation. Monday, he formally announced López and Kremer will occupy those last two spots.
Entering spring, Keegan Akin and Félix Hernández seemed primed to be in the rotation, but Akin battled his command and will instead start the season at the Orioles’ training site, while Hernández never returned to game action after experiencing elbow discomfort and has since opted out of his minor league deal with Baltimore.
Since Hernández left his March 16 start, López has taken his turn in the Orioles’ rotation. He followed a rough start against the Minnesota Twins with five shutout innings against the New York Yankees on Friday.
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Like Akin, Kremer has had issues with his command, but he was sharper in what turned out to be his final start of the spring, striking out five Red Sox over 4 ⅔ innings of two-run ball Wednesday.
Relief pitchers (9): Tanner Scott, Shawn Armstrong, Paul Fry, César Valdez, Adam Plutko, Wade LeBlanc, Mac Sceroler, Tyler Wells, Dillon Tate
This is where most of the remaining intrigue is. Effectively since the dawn of spring training, Hyde has been asked whether the Orioles would carry 13 or 14 pitchers and has always said it would depend on several factors. But the most important one is something he has brought up repeatedly: The Orioles are going to need a lot of arms to cover a lot of innings.
The club’s decision to cut Sánchez rather than simply returning either of their Rule 5 picks, Wells and Mac Sceroler, to their original organizations suggested that each is well-positioned to head north. In a season in which the Orioles are going to need as many arms as possible, retaining both would benefit them.
That’s what they’ve decided to do, but it also makes their pitching staff somewhat inflexible. Sceroler and Wells need to be on the major league roster for the entire season to remain in the organization, while LeBlanc, Plutko, Armstrong and Valdez are out of options and would need to clear waivers to go to the alternate site. Scott and Fry were the Orioles’ top two relievers in 2020.
Carrying both Rule 5 arms leaves the Orioles with one spot for three optionable pitchers in Tate, Cole Sulser and Travis Lakins Sr., all of whom played significant roles in a Baltimore bullpen that was much improved in 2020. Tate gets the nod here, both because he offers greater upside and also because he was a full-season starter as recently as 2018, suggesting he could be a greater source of the length the Orioles will covet early in the year.