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Orioles have few position battles with Grapefruit League games set to begin, but they are important

After 11 days of workouts on the west coast of Florida, the competition for roster spots officially commences Tuesday as the Orioles' spring training schedule begins.

The Orioles open their Grapefruit League schedule with a road game against the Atlanta Braves in Lake Buena Vista, beginning a string of five road games in their first seven contests.

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One of the results of an offseason focused on retaining core players — the Orioles re-signed Chris Davis, setup man Darren O'Day and catcher Matt Wieters — is that there aren't many position battles going into the exhibition schedule. But the battles that do exist are important ones.

Most of the Orioles' starting lineup is set, even though the batting order remains unclear. Unless an injury hits the starting rotation, the addition of right-hander Yovani Gallardo gives the Orioles their five starters.

The burning questions entering the Grapefruit League schedule center around the team's starting corner-outfield spots, the composition of the back end of the bullpen and how the Orioles round out their bench.

Barring another late acquisition on the barren free-agent market or the diminishing trade market, the Orioles brass won't have too many decisions to make.

"I think we've identified where the competition is and who they are competing [against] and where they're going to come from unless somebody from outside the group [emerges]," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Dan [Duquette], he runs something by me every day, something that's out there. And most of it we go, 'Hmm, we like where we are a little better.'"

The team's failed pursuit of Dexter Fowler leaves uncertainty in right field, arguably the biggest question mark this spring. Slugger Mark Trumbo will have every opportunity to win the job there, and he will see his share of time in right field. Trumbo is known to have a solid arm, but his range and playmaking ability are questionable, so the Orioles will see what Trumbo can do this spring.

The Orioles could also make a play to sign free-agent outfielder Austin Jackson or trade for veteran outfielder Jay Bruce, and the acquisition of either would shift Trumbo into the everyday designated hitter spot.

Provided Trumbo is in right field most games, the main outfield camp competition will be between Nolan Reimold and Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard for the remaining outfield positions. Reimold is out of options and Rickard must make the team's roster and remain all year to fulfill his Rule 5 status. Showalter said it's possible both make the team. Other outfielders in camp, like Dariel Alvarez, Henry Urrutia and L.J. Hoes, can all open the season in the minor leagues without consequences.

On the other side of the outfield, following South Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim's transition to the major leagues will be another primary storyline. Kim, who had been one of the top players in the Korean Baseball Organization for the past decade, will make $7 million over the next two years. The Orioles acquired Kim and his career .406 on-base percentage to improve a team OBP that was tied for third-worst in the American League, but the biggest question is likely how he handles the speed of playing left field at the big league level. The club believes his arm plays better in left field than right.

The Orioles also must figure out how to find designated hitter Jimmy Paredes a spot on the club's roster. Paredes was one of baseball's best hitters over the first two months of the season last year, batting .340 over his first 35 games, but he faded. This year, there's no secure roster spot for Paredes, and like last season he will likely have to have a strong spring to win a bench spot. Unlike last year — when he latched on with the club by hitting .364 in spring training — Paredes' route to a roster spot this spring appears more dependent on his ability to show he can play the outfield.

Even though the rotation is settled, the Grapefruit League games will serve as a sort of audition to determine the hierarchy of starting pitching reinforcements in case the club needs a spot starter. Right-handers Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson, as well as trade acquisition Odrisamer Despaigne, are the primary candidates there.

All three of those pitchers can also compete for a role in the back end of the bullpen. The Orioles' late-inning blueprint is seemingly set with Zach Britton at closer and O'Day again serving as the setup man. Right-hander Brad Brach and left-hander Brian Matusz are also locks and, if he's healthy, top prospect Dylan Bundy must be carried on the major league roster because he is out of minor league options. Because Bundy has pitched in just 17 games since 2013 Tommy John surgery, he will work out of the 'pen.

Given the success that right-hander Mychal Givens had at the end of last season — he posted a 1.80 ERA while striking out 38 and allowing just 20 hits over 30 relief innings — it seems as if he would have a secure spot in the bullpen. But he has minor league options so he could move back and forth between Baltimore and Triple-A Norfolk.

Taking into account that the Orioles rotation is completely right-handed, having left-hander T.J. McFarland serve as the team's long man makes sense, especially since he also has minor league options that would help keep the bullpen fresh. Veteran right-hander Vance Worley could fit into the long-relief role as well. Worley is out of options so he can't be sent to the minors without clearing waivers and the Orioles are paying him $2.6 million this season.

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Right-hander Jason Garcia, who was the Orioles' Rule 5 pick last year but can be now sent to the minors, is a dark-horse candidate for a bullpen spot. But the organization might prefer he start the season in Triple-A, where he could log innings as a starter.

Worley has big league experience and can also spot start, but having both Givens and McFarland offers Showalter two optionable bullpen pieces, something the Orioles didn't have early last season and struggled with when they had to carry Garcia.

Assembling the back end of the bullpen might be the most complicated issue this spring because there are so many candidates and with 31 pitchers in camp, innings will shrink quickly. The key will be assembling the bullpen flexibility the Orioles lacked early next season while creating a dependable corps of starters that can run eight or nine arms deep.

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