SARASOTA, Fla. — The Orioles’ first five spring training games have been eventful, featuring their top prospects, a half-inning without umpires and narrowly avoiding a no-hitter.
Baltimore will open the regular season in four weeks, and in that time, the makeup of the roster and breakdown of playing time could change dramatically. But these initial games also offer the chance for insights.
Here are five takeaways from the Orioles’ first five spring training games.
They’re stacked on the infield.
This isn’t exactly breaking news, but the combinations manager Brandon Hyde has been able to deploy through five games have showcased the Orioles’ abundance of talent.
For the first time since Baseball America started ranking organizations’ minor league system in 1984, the publication deemed Baltimore’s No. 1. The Orioles’ collection of infielders played a key role in that honor, with six of their top 10 prospects playing on the dirt.
Here are the combinations of second basemen, shortstops and third basemen the Orioles have started and ended their first five exhibitions with:
- Game 1: Adam Frazier, Joey Ortiz, Coby Mayo to Terrin Vavra, Jackson Holliday, César Prieto
- Game 2: Connor Norby, Jordan Westburg, Vavra to Prieto, Holliday, Josh Lester
- Game 3: Frazier, Jorge Mateo, Ramón Urías to Norby, Ortiz, Mayo
- Game 4: Westburg, Ortiz, Gunnar Henderson to Prieto, Holliday, Lester
- Game 5: Frazier, Mateo, Urías to Norby, Holliday, Mayo
All but Lester are either ranked among Baltimore’s top 30 prospects or guaranteed an opening day roster spot if healthy. The Orioles are talented in the outfield, too, with 2020 No. 2 overall draft pick Heston Kjerstad impressing in what’s at last his first big league spring training, but much of the excitement stems from the infield.
The backup first baseman competition might actually be compelling.
It seemed as if every transaction the Orioles made this winter brought in a potential backup first baseman or at least a left-handed hitter.
From the start of December, the Orioles made 20 moves that affected their likely camp roster, meaning trades, major and minor league free agent signings, waiver claims and Rule 5 draft picks. Seven are candidates to back up Ryan Mountcastle at first base, and that doesn’t include Nomar Mazara, who signed a minor league deal and is battling for a spot on the bench.
The early returns from that group and the incumbents have been promising. Curtis Terry, the lone right-handed hitter of the nonroster options, hit Baltimore’s first home run of spring, with Lewin Díaz and Franchy Cordero also going deep.
Terrin Vavra has gotten time at second, third and left field and will play first base before camp is over. He’s 5-for-9 to start spring training with a home run and impressed in left-on-left at-bats over the weekend.
Versatility will be key here, as Mountcastle ideally plays the overwhelming majority of games at first base. Whoever makes the roster behind him will likely need to spend time elsewhere on the field or simply serve as a pinch-hitter; Lester has played third base, while Ryan O’Hearn has gotten time in the outfield.
This mix could be viewed as the battle for the 26th spot on the roster, but a compelling competition throughout the spring would bode well for the Orioles’ depth entering the season.
The nonroster relievers are off to a rough start.
The start to spring training has not been kind to this group.
Kyle Dowdy, Reed Garrett, Wandisson Charles, Eduard Bazardo and Darwinzon Hernandez have combined to allow 14 earned runs in seven innings. Of nonroster pitchers new to the organization this spring, only Ofreidy Gómez has yet to allow a run, and he and Bazardo are the only ones who haven’t issued multiple walks in their limited time.
Hyde has said he doesn’t put much stock into a pitcher’s first spring outing, and that’s good news for this group. They collectively have impressive stuff but, as they’ve shown through these first few games, the question is whether they can consistently hit the strike zone.
Hyde said many of these pitchers “are in similar shoes” as Félix Bautista, Cionel Pérez and Bryan Baker were at this time last year before they ended the season as late-inning options in Hyde’s bullpen. But last spring, all three were already on the 40-man roster.
Clearing that hurdle amid a crowded bullpen competition would mean throwing more strikes.
There have been no clear rotation giveaways.
The Orioles have 12 pitchers in camp competing for five rotation spots, and they have yet to make any indication about the direction they’re leaning.
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It’s likely offseason acquisitions Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin will be part of that starting five, though Irvin said after his outing Wednesday he hardly feels secure in his spot. Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has said he would like to see top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez in the rotation, too. That leaves only two spots for Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer, Tyler Wells, Spenser Watkins and Austin Voth, who all made between 17 and 23 starts for Baltimore last year. Although they can’t all fit in the rotation, they’re all being stretched out as starters.
Whenever Hyde has been asked about the possibility of a candidate moving to the bullpen — a likely eventuality for at least one of them — he said he wants each pitcher to focus on being a starter, and the Orioles will make decisions when it’s time to do so.
Until the message changes or an injury alters the picture, there isn’t a lot of information to work with.
The pitch clock is hardly noticeable.
Outside of when it was a focus during the Orioles’ first exhibition, baseball’s new pitch clock has largely been where it will hopefully be much of the year: in the background.
Through five games, the clock has hardly changed the experience of watching a game, though pitchers, hitters and coaches are still adjusting. Hyde has joked about how he’s put his head down to jot a quick note, only for the next pitch to be halfway home by the time he looks up.
But for a casual viewer, the clock is barely noticeable. Long innings still feel long. Games in which pitchers struggle to find the strike zone still can drag. But in each of the Orioles’ games, by the time the 27th out has come, the three-hour mark hasn’t.
And it still feels like baseball.