Orioles manager Brandon Hyde is preparing for the 2021 season under the impression that spring training will start as scheduled in February. Regardless of whether the coronavirus pandemic allows that to be the case, Hyde expects Trey Mancini to be with the club whenever it begins.
During a video conference call Monday, Hyde offered some insights on what the Orioles’ first base competition could look like come spring training, whether it be in Baltimore or Sarasota, Florida. In addition to expressing his excitement over Mancini rejoining the team after missing the 2020 season following a colon cancer diagnosis, Hyde said Chris Davis, the roster’s oldest and most veteran member who has mostly struggled since signing a seven-year, $161 million deal after the 2015 season, would have to earn playing time in 2021.
“Chris has had a few tough years,” Hyde said. “Still a part of the club. He’s going to come in like everybody else and try to get playing time and try to get as many at-bats as possible. I’m going to give him opportunity. I’m gonna give him a ton of at-bats in spring training and try to get him right, like we’ve done the last couple years, but we have younger players that are getting here, also, other guys that play his position, and he’s going to have to perform to get at-bats in the season.”
Those alternatives include Mancini, a natural first baseman who has mostly played the outfield as an Oriole because of Davis’ presence, and Ryan Mountcastle. The latter was the 2019 International League Most Valuable Player with Triple-A Norfolk while primarily playing first base, but Mountcastle’s major league debut was delayed as the Orioles had him spend the early portion of the 2020 season at their Bowie alternate site to train as a left fielder and hone his plate discipline.
Those efforts proved fruitful. While playing a solid left field, Mountcastle hit .333/.386/.492 with five home runs and a 2.72 strikeout-to-walk ratio that was a steep improvement on his minor league mark. His Aug. 21 arrival to the majors coincided with Davis going on the injured list with left knee patellar tendinitis.
Davis has said he arrived for the team’s summer camp in early July already suffering from pain in his left leg, which he said was the result of wear and tear from continuing to work out during the sport’s nearly three-month shut down. When the pandemic canceled spring training March 12, Davis had a 1.682 OPS to go with nine walks, the most of any player.
In 16 games in the 2020 regular season, Davis hit .115/.164/.173 with no home runs in his 55 plate appearances, including three hitless at-bats between IL stints in September. In the first five years of his contract, Davis has hit .196/.291/.379.
“Starting with spring training 1.0, I thought he had a great spring,” Hyde said. “He was off to a great start, he was in a great place mentally, physically, taking really good at-bats, showing great leadership on the field. Just having a really good spring training, and unfortunately, the two-month layoff affected a lot of people around the league. Especially for a veteran player, it’s hard to re-ramp up your workout and how to do that and when to do that.
“I knew pretty early when we got back to Baltimore that his leg was bothering him a little bit, and we were gonna try to manage that ‘cause I loved the signs that I was seeing in the first spring training and was hoping that those at-bats would then carry over into when the season started. Unfortunately, he got off to a little bit of a slow start.”
The same day spring training halted, Mancini was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer. He has since been declared cancer-free and is preparing to be a full participant in spring training, hoping to build on a 2019 campaign in which he had an .899 OPS with 35 home runs.
His readiness for the 2021 season could have a direct impact on Davis, who has said he hopes Mancini “just absolutely lights the world on fire.” If Mancini’s health or his potential status as being at-risk for the coronavirus’ effects prompt a delay to his return, that could allow Davis to be in the Orioles’ Opening Day starting lineup for the ninth time in past decade, assuming Hyde doesn’t put Mountcastle at first base instead. But the last time Hyde spoke with Mancini a couple of weeks ago left Baltimore’s manager full of belief regarding the return of the 2019 Most Valuable Oriole.
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“He’s doing great, feels great, looks great,” Hyde said. “I’ve got video on him from hitting in the facility that he works out in, and he looks exactly the same. Excited to have Trey be a part of a full spring training in February and can’t wait to see him. All signs are great, and he looks fantastic.”