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The Orioles touted their potential versatility again this spring. It’s still unclear whether they can follow through.

Competition and versatility returned this spring as the buzzwords of big league camp for the Orioles, with the promise of roster spots to those who win camp battles and show themselves ready, and an advantage coming to those who aren’t locked into one specific position.

Last year, though, it became clear that competition wasn’t based on spring performance, but more so who held their own in camp and was on the 40-man roster already. And as the season wore on, it was evident that versatility wasn’t going to be as valuable to a team that used every roster spot it could to provide pitching cover on a nightly basis and didn’t have the most flexible lineup at their disposal.

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Manager Brandon Hyde said last month that this spring’s plan was to continue to build that versatility in as many players as possible, and while he didn’t say so, the addition of a 26th roster spot come Opening Day, and the requirement that only 13 of those players can be pitchers means there’s a chance for someone who plays all over the field in spring training to play in Baltimore once camp breaks — whenever the coronavirus pandemic allows that to happen.

“I just think it’s wide open,” Hyde said of the competition as games were just beginning. “I think the more positions you can play, the better. If you have the ability to play shortstop, that’s a huge bonus. So I think we’ll see how the roster looks like at the end as we’re putting the pieces together. You definitely would like — you need an extra shortstop and you need utility guys to offer different things.”

Last spring, there were plenty of candidates who Hyde deployed all over the infield to prepare them for possibly do-it-all roles during the season. Circumstances prevented the Orioles from being too flexible.

Drew Jackson, one of their two Rule 5 draft picks, was set to fill that role and serve as a backup infielder and outfielder, but was designated for assignment after the first week of the season.

Hanser Alberto prepared to back up at second base, shortstop, and third base, but grew into an everyday role spelling Rio Ruiz at third base against left-handed pitchers and moving to second base with Jonathan Villar playing shortstop instead of Richie Martin against right-handed pitchers.

Jackson and Alberto were part of a large contingent of do-it-all utility candidates in Orioles camp last spring. Jack Reinheimer and Stevie Wilkerson were outrighted off the roster at various points in the spring, but those two, plus Christopher Bostick and Jace Peterson, played all over the field and played often.

The only one to really get that chance once the season came was Wilkerson, and that opportunity came in center field — a position he’d never played until the week before he was summoned from Triple-A Norfolk.

“I just had no idea what the lineup was going to look like, or what a guy like Alberto last year in spring training, he played three spots but never played shortstop [in the season],” Hyde said last month. “He’s going to again this spring. It’s a just-in-case. You want to have guys prepare in case things happen in the season, which they usually do. But I’m going to continue to move guys around.”

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Many of the same impediments to a super-utility type exist for the Orioles this year as did last year, though any long absence for Trey Mancini as he deals with the fallout from his surgery to remove a malignant tumor from his colon earlier this month could create an extra roster spot that allows Hyde to be more creative.

With Chris Davis locked in at first base, his top deputy might be Renato Núñez, who spent a lot of time in spring at third base but isn’t the defender Ruiz is there.

With José Iglesias the everyday shortstop, and Ruiz and Alberto projected to be the primary players at either spot beside him, there could still be a chance for a super-utility type or two to take a roster spot whenever Opening Day comes around.

Martin worked at second base and third base before games started, but eight of his 11 spring training appearances were at shortstop with the rest at second. Pat Valaika played all four infield positions and was one of the top performers in camp, with shortstop, second base and first base time during games showing that the Orioles might be serious about carrying him north.

Speedy waiver claim Andrew Velazquez adds a center field wrinkle to his positional mix, though a majority of his spring appearances were at shortstop. Wilkerson had seven games in the infield and seven games in the outfield, though, like Valaika, he’s not on the 40-man roster and would need to be added.

Those four could all be playing for two or three roster spots once play resumes, though it will be down to a lot more than their own skills to determine just how versatile the Orioles lineup can be if they’re on the team.

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On a conference call last week, Hyde said that any decisions the team makes on roster spots will be based just as much on what happened at spring training before the shutdown as what happens after.

“It’s such a unique situation, one that we’ve never been in,” Hyde said. “I want to look big picture. I want to make sure that I’m giving everyone a fair opportunity. I think we were doing that for the month that we were together. That will continue for the week to 10 days — if that’s what it is — I have no idea. I don’t know if any of us have any idea how long a second spring training we’re going to have when the season starts.”

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