Resetting the Orioles' roster battles with two weeks left in spring training

A welcome day without baseball for the Orioles on Monday meant there are just two weeks left for a manager Brandon Hyde to sort out who among the 46 players remaining in camp will be coming north for Opening Day in New York.

The first-year manager wanted a camp full of competition on the young, unproven roster largely built by former baseball operations chief Dan Duquette and tweaked by current executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, and the Orioles have obliged.


Some of the intrigue in who will break camp with the team was sapped with a series of roster moves Sunday that sent top prospect Yusniel Diaz and the outfielder who ended last year as the everyday right fielder, DJ Stewart, to minor league camp.

Orioles top prospect Yusniel Diaz had a strong spring training in major league camp, but was reassigned to minor league camp Sunday as part of the team's second wave of cuts.

But there's still plenty left to sort out, so here's a breakdown of some of the most important roster battles playing out in Orioles camp, including the starting rotation, catcher, shortstop, third base, and the outfield.


The rotation

Behind the seasoned trio of Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner, and Alex Cobb, the Orioles have plenty of contenders who have pitched themselves into good positions this spring.

Right-hander Nate Karns, the only major league free agent the Orioles signed this offseason, is still on one-inning stints after his arm didn't recover as quickly as he'd hoped after his first start and is unlikely to be able prepare as a starter and be ready for Opening Day. That means there's two rotation spots up for grabs, but more than two contenders.

Mike Wright hasn't allowed a run in 10 innings this spring entering his start Tuesday against the New York Yankees, and is pitching with renewed confidence after years of volatile performance. David Hess ended last season with confidence and has allowed four runs in 10 1/3 innings over four outings.

Orioles executive vice president Mike Elias has made some familiar trades of international signing bonus pool money, and explained where the club is in its efforts to build up that neglected portion of the organization under the stewardship of senior director of international scouting Koby Pérez.

Jimmy Yacabonis took to starting only last year but has allowed one run all spring as the team tries to stretch him out, and left-handers Josh Rogers and John Means have each had good springs. The only player in this mix who really has struggled is right-hander Yefry Ramirez, who has allowed five home runs in four outings.

Depending on whether Hyde wants a dedicated long reliever or two in the bullpen, there might not be too many players actually left disappointed in this mix, though those decisions have yet to be made, either.

"That factors into all of those decisions — how they fit on our club, what's best for the player, if we want to have them start the year in Triple-A to make more starts, maybe to repeat the level," Hyde said. "There's all kinds of things that factor into that, for sure."


Former top prospect Chance Sisco filled up his stat line with home runs early in the spring, and looks like a lock to get another chance to continue his defensive development at the major league level. Who joins him is less clear. Austin Wynns made a good impression last summer, but some oblique soreness has kept him out for the last week, and those are tricky injuries that can be made worse by rushing back.

If he's not ready, the recently-arrived Jesús Sucre is primed to deputize. He and fellow nonroster catcher Carlos Pérez bring more major league experience than either of the Orioles' homegrown options, so if Wynns isn't ready to go, there are worse fallbacks to have.

Orioles left-hander Josh Rogers is popular on the mound for his quick work, but he's also coming to embody the team's mantra of being yourself, acting like you belong in the big leagues, and not apologizing for it.


No position has gone over more of a makeover since Elias was hired, with Richie Martin and Drew Jackson acquired via the Rule 5 draft, Hanser Alberto claimed off waivers (twice), and Alcides Escobar signed as a minor league free agent.

Alberto has had his camp interrupted by a trip out west to play for the San Francisco Giants before the Orioles re-claimed him, but the rest have been among the more impressive players in camp. Martin is getting rave reviews for his defense, Jackson has played shortstop, second base, and center field while putting together good plate appearances, and Escobar might be the toughest out of anyone in an Orioles uniform this spring.

There are ways to keep all three of Martin, Jackson, and Escobar (which would mean another waiver experience for Alberto), and those scenarios aren't that far-fetched. What's clear is that the Orioles are trying to get as much young talent into the organization as possible, and sending Martin or Jackson back to their old clubs would not accomplish that.

Third base

Considering Renato Núñez's fine second half at the plate and his defensive improvement at third base, this wasn't really ever considered up for auditions, yet here we are. Núñez is coming around at the plate, but some of his defensive deficiencies are showing up right as waiver claim Rio Ruiz is playing well.


Ruiz was a relative unknown in these parts when he was claimed in November, but has shown a knack for big hits and has handled his assignments at third base and first base well. He's also a left-handed bat in a lineup that doesn't have many of them, but this decision could come down to the simple fact that Ruiz has minor league options and Núñez does. If a bad spring is enough for the Orioles to risk losing a talented young hitter, that might run counter to their mandate to get younger and better.


Before Diaz and Stewart were sent out, Hyde joked that instead of choosing between all the outfielders they have in camp, he might just keep 10.

Now, it seems like half that would work. Trey Mancini will start in left field and Cedric Mullins came into camp with the center field job his to lose. He's not hitting at the moment, but is doing everything else well enough that he hasn't lost it yet.

Joey Rickard had the same rate stats at Mancini last year with better defense, but wasn't considered a lock by any means. He should be now, and as good as he's been, Anthony Santander has been even better. Eight of Santander's 11 hits have gone for extra bases. Hyde was asked Sunday about whether there have been any surprises in camp, and he mentioned both Santander and Austin Hays by name. Hays has five extra-base hits himself and is showing he's fully healthy after basically a lost 2018.

Dwight Smith Jr., acquired on Friday from the Toronto Blue Jays, hasn't debuted yet and will have a lot of catching up to do to get into the conversation with these spring standouts. His skillset seems redundant with non-roster invitee Eric Young Jr., but both find themselves on the outside looking in at the moment.

The only way one of Rickard, Hays or Santander might not start with the team is if they decide to keep 13 pitchers, or if Mark Trumbo is healthy enough on his way back from knee surgery to make the Opening Day roster, thus taking away one position player spot.

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