The only thing on the baseball calender that's more boring than spring training is the offseason. Being as we are presently mired in the doldrums where, on a good day, we will take a minor league signing of J.P. Arencibia and we'll like it, that makes the approach of the Grapefruit League seem comparatively interesting.
On Thursday, MLB announced the start of spring training for each club, so now we even have a date to give us a countdown. The Orioles pitchers and catchers (now including Arencibia) will report on February 19, meaning that from this moment, spring training is six weeks. The full squad must report by February 24. The first game featuring players in Orioles uniforms will be on March 3. In spring training, that's not the same thing as saying the first game with Orioles players.
Spring training disdain aside, it's a time of the year that's more impactful for the O's than most. Under Dan Duquette, you never know which minor league signing will make a name for himself enough to either make the roster out of camp or get pegged for a call-up. After all, last year's playoff hero Delmon Young got his Orioles career started as one of these insignificant minor league signings.
Many Orioles roster spots are pretty well set in stone. It's safe to say that no one will be supplanting Adam Jones no matter how good of a spring they might have. A number of spots are up for grabs, though, including both corner outfield spots. Maybe David Lough will earn himself a bigger role than last year by performing better than last year. Maybe Dariel Alvarez will burst onto the scene with dazzling displays of power and defense.
At catcher, with lingering uncertainty about whether Matt Wieters will be ready in time for Opening Day, there will also be chances for an individual player to distinguish himself. Perhaps the newly-signed Arencibia will figure into the picture, or waiver wire refugee Ryan Lavarnway, or perhaps the existing combo of Caleb Joseph and Steve Clevenger will show they should hold down the job between the two of them until Wieters returns safely.
With six starting pitchers for five rotation spots, there will even be some competition to settle the rotation. Whoever gets left out will probably shuffle into the bullpen rather than off the roster, but it's still a shape of the team that we don't know yet. Will Ubaldo Jimenez look a bit more like the guy they thought they were signing? Will the Orioles be tempted to clear a spot by trading one of their soon-to-be free agent pitchers, like Bud Norris? Will Kevin Gausman finally get a chance to sit in the major league rotation all year, rather than being kicked between the bullpen and Norfolk?
In the bullpen, with not one but two Rule 5 picks in the mix, it's hard to say who will be left standing when the dust settles. While we can guess that Zach Britton, Tommy Hunter, and Darren O'Day are pretty safe, that leaves four or five spots that are uncertain. Returning Orioles like Brad Brach, Ryan Webb, and T.J. McFarland may have an edge in that they are known quantities, but that's no sure thing. Dan Duquette isn't sentimental, though he does love Rule 5 picks. He doesn't love players who are out of options.
The Rule 5 picks, Logan Verrett and Jason Garcia, will be fighting to hang on to a spot on a big league roster. Maybe one or both will earn it. Verrett seems like he could compete for the long relief role. Garcia throws really hard; perhaps he'll show enough control to be worth trying out into the regular season. Minor leaguers like Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, and Tim Berry will be looking to show they belong at the next level. So will Oliver Drake and knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa, both of whom are on major league deals despite never appearing in the majors.
There's always the chance that there's some player who none of us have ever once thought about who will show up, make an impression, and show up later in the year. This time three years ago, Miguel Gonzalez was no one, not even on the radar. He was there at spring training, one among the anonymous throng. Now, it's hard to imagine the team without him.
An injury to a key player could always create a space for further competition, too, though hopefully that doesn't happen. The Orioles' starting rotation was remarkably healthy last season. It would be an impressive feat if they did so for a second straight year. They are prepared just in case with plenty of depth. Better if they don't need it, but it's there if they do.
Each day of spring training is more boring than the last, more of a reminder that while this may be baseball, it sure isn't real baseball. When you step back and think of the big picture, you can almost convince yourself it might be interesting. No one is going to earn or lose a spot in the space of a day, but there are six weeks of spring training to evaluate players and then pick the best team to head north for the regular season.
The fun starts in six weeks. I can hardly wait!