Resetting the biggest Orioles spring training storylines heading into March

Sarasota, Fla. — Spring training is over two weeks old now, and despite a flurry of free-agent moves both major and minor, the Orioles still seem to be in a tenuous position in the same few spots as they were when they arrived in mid-February.

But since I just arrived and have been following only from afar until Thursday, here's a rundown of where things seem to stand, and which aspects of camp are the most intriguing to someone who approaches it with fresh eyes.


The starting rotation

In handing starts to the likes of Rule 5 draft pick Nestor Cortes Jr. and Hunter Harvey, plus old friends Mike Wright Jr. and Gabriel Ynoa, manager Buck Showalter seems to be slow-playing the only question that anyone wants to know the answer to. The answer seems a little less complicated now with Chris Tillman and Andrew Cashner in the fold, leaving one spot for any of that crew or Miguel Castro.

But anyone looking to know which of those young pitchers will distinguish himself or what the Orioles have in Cashner or Tillman will have to wait. Showalter will use simulated and "B" games to get his major league starters up to speed and leave the Grapefruit League starts largely to that crew of rotation strivers. That means there's over three weeks left of evidence before any decisions are made, which will make it difficult to really assess what this team will be until then.


The Ryan Flaherty consolation prize sweepstakes

Until former Orioles utility man Ryan Flaherty makes the Philadelphia Phillies roster and eliminates the possibility of a return, the Orioles have plenty of candidates to fill his spot in Engelb Vielma, Luis Sardiñas, Rubén Tejada, Erick Salcedo and Garabez Rosa.

Vielma got a slow start because of visa problems but made his full debut Thursday. Salcedo has done well at the plate but doesn't seem to be in that top tier with Sardiñas, Tejada and Vielma.

They'll all get plenty of time to state their case (in road games, of course), and if they're lucky, one of them will stick. However, the prospect of Flaherty opting out of his minor league deal with the Phillies and returning at some point is one that will loom over the proceedings and keep the team from committing to any as long as they can.

The corner outfield crunch

Since camp started, the Orioles have added Alex Presley and Colby Rasmus to an outfield mix that, except for fixtures Trey Mancini and Adam Jones, is muddled with the likes of Joey Rickard, Anthony Santander, Austin Hays and Craig Gentry.

Hays has been limited by a shoulder problem and Gentry has a hamstring pull that will keep both out until early next week, leaving opportunities open for the rest in the interim.

Rasmus' reputation of good defense and a useful left-handed bat put him in a good position for one spot, and Santander's Rule 5 status for the first seven weeks will make it tempting to keep him around. But that would exclude Hays or Gentry, and could create an awkward decision between playing for now and playing for the future.

Which bats are back?

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The adage of not trusting what you see in spring training is usually saved for those who outperform or underperform their pedigree, but for some of the players the Orioles will need most for a cohesive offense this summer, it'll be pretty clear in the spring how big of a role they'll play in producing runs.

It seems that shortstop Manny Machado has already started to show he's back to his All-Star form after a dip or two in 2017, and that's good news for the Orioles. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop typically rides steady springs into steady seasons, and will need to continue that.


And for the likes of first baseman Chris Davis and designated hitter Mark Trumbo, any sign of a return to their league-leading home run form will be welcome. Trumbo was a monster in the exhibition season in 2016 before leading the majors with 47 home runs, but didn't homer all spring last season and never found a groove. He'll be hoping to repeat the former.

Will someone sneak into the bullpen?

With established starting pitchers getting so many of their innings outside Grapefruit League games, others will get more chance to show themselves, and perhaps work their way onto the roster come Opening Day.

There's at least one spot to replace Zach Britton, and Castro's move to the rotation could make another.

The possibilities for that are too numerous to mention — just Thursday alone, newcomers Joely Rodriguez, Perci Garner and Tim Melville pitched well in relief — and the team has already worked in 37 pitchers during game action.

While there's no pressure to add any of the pitchers on minor league deals to a roster that will be tight on space with Rule 5 picks and out-of-option arms, last year's early promotions of Stefan Crichton and Jimmy Yacabonis show what can happen if you make your mark in spring training.