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In Orioles spring training, attention should be turned to the prospects

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There are many questions left to be answered before the Orioles kick off the 2018 season. That includes the famous unknown — the prospects.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

We’re not terribly far away from the start of Orioles spring training in Sarasota, and the team still has plenty of questions to answer before the start of the regular season. They don’t need to be addressed before action in Florida kicks off, but you’d imagine Dan Duquette wants to fill in the 2018 puzzle much sooner rather than later.

Outside additions aside, we can’t forget about the prospects set to hit big league camp here in just a few weeks. The team has holes to fill — it’s not entirely possible that some answers come from the young guys looking to make an impact.

Pitching help

At the end of the day, the storylines for starting pitching aren’t exactly going to solve themselves with the prospects heading to camp for the Orioles. Sure, there are pitchers that’ll be taking the hill. But prospects with expectations? That’s a different story.

For the hottest day-to-day storylines, it’s all about flame-throwing reliever Tanner Scott (#6) and that Hunter Harvey (#7) guy who you might’ve heard of over the years. For both, you’d really like to see a touch of consistency above anything else. About this point in their careers is when those “flashes” need to turn into reliable productivity. And if that happens, it’s good news for the state of the future. Spring training will be particularly helpful in deciding whether or not that can become even close to a reality in 2018.

The fringe names on the MLB.com Top 30 that do stand out: Chris Lee (#21) and Jesus Liranzo (#22). Both come with their fair share of question marks, but there’s little doubt that their contributions could be important in 2018 if the roster looks anything similar to the way it currently does. If either one of them takes a major step in the right direction, they’ll get a chance to be a regular member of the rotation.

Top prospects, top questions

There are a lot of really good prospects heading to camp this year despite the trendy “the Orioles don’t have any farm system talent” talking point that tends to creep into conversations. There are quite a few things to keep track of as March rolls on, but a few points stand out a bit more than most.

First, how good is Austin Hays (#2)? He’s impressed and has done nothing but tear the cover off the baseball since he’s been with the organization. How good he really is, though, could get answered by the end of camp. With Hays, you’d think the coaches are looking more along the lines of quality at-bats rather than final results in the next few months. Sure, you’d like to see those numbers continue to progress, but it’s more important to watch his overall development at the dish against quality competition. With that — deeper at-bats and advanced pitch selection — those results are going to come.

Of course, it’s impossible to talk prospects this spring without giving well-deserved shoutouts to Chance Sisco (#1) and Ryan Mountcastle (#3). They’ll both warrant watching quite a bit, but if we’re talking in terms of the most important performance to track, it’s without a doubt that of Sisco. He needs a big camp, both behind the dish and at the plate. Pinpointing the most important thing to watch, though — it’s without a doubt his contributions on defense. His performance behind the dish carries quite a bit of weight heading into 2018.

Cedric Mullins (#5) also deserves a shoutout if for no other reason than the fact that he might be the most promising non-roster invite to this year’s camp. He was bitten by the injury bug last season, but his promise is unquestioned. You can’t help but wonder what happens if he ends up impressing over the course of a few weeks.

The wild card

He might not qualify as a wild card being a whole first-round pick and all, but it’s D.J. Stewart (#18) that I’ll be interested to see as a non-roster prospect. Don’t forget, he slashed .278/.378/.481 over 126 games at Bowie in 2017. He’s not quite ready, but keep an eye on his looks at the dish early when he’ll figure to get plenty of time in the lineup.

Also, he isn’t a prospect, but watch for Jayson Aquino on the mound throughout the early weeks. He’s proven his abilities at AAA — in the bigs, not so much. In this his age-25 season, you'd like to see the light turn on so he can hit the ground running.