The Orioles continued the routine run-up to spring training on Friday afternoon by announcing the 18 players who will be the non-roster invitees to O’s camp. Pitchers and catchers are due to report on February 12. It’s not long now.
The list of players invited this year includes two of the organization’s top prospects, outfielder Yusniel Diaz and infielder (and possible future outfielder) Ryan Mountcastle. Pitchers Dean Kremer and Zach Pop, who along with Diaz were also in the Manny Machado trade, as well as outfielder Ryan McKenna, are also among the actual prospects getting invites.
With a new general manager and a new manager on the team, the prospects getting invited to spring training might matter a bit more than it has in past years. Mike Elias and Brandon Hyde aren’t as familiar with these players as they would have been if they had been around when those players were drafted or acquired.
The extra time in big league camp for the new decisionmakers to evaluate the near-MLB-ready prospects could be significant. Since there’s no illusion that the team might contend this year, they might even keep the prospects around for longer to see how they adjust as the MLB-caliber players start getting more of the playing time heading towards the season.
Is Diaz just about ready for prime time? Can Mountcastle stick at third base? Will McKenna be able to carry over his 2018 success into strong performance in 2019 at higher levels? If the O’s can get a head start on answering those questions, they’ll have more of an idea of what kind of talent might be joining the team in the next couple of years.
Last year, non-roster invitees Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart both made it onto the roster during the season, though their performance in the minors and the trades making space come August and September had a lot to do with that, too.
It’s interesting that actual pitching prospects are among the non-roster crowd. The last time the O’s had a non-retread pitcher among their non-roster invites was 2016 when Hunter Harvey, then a few months away from getting Tommy John surgery, was brought into camp. The whole future of the rebuild doesn’t hinge on whether Kremer and Pop pitch well this spring or even this season, but it’ll be more fun for O’s fans if they do.
The entire 40-man roster is invited by default. Here are the rest of the players who will be joining them, at least unless there’s a surprise signing between now and then:
- LHP Sean Gilmartin
- RHP Gregory Infante
- RHP Dean Kremer
- LHP Chris Lee
- RHP Josh Lucas
- RHP Zach Pop
- RHP Bo Schultz
- RHP Gabriel Ynoa
- Martin Cervenka
- Carlos Perez
- Andrew Susac
- Chris Bostick
- Ryan Mountcastle
- Jace Peterson
- Zach Vincej
- Yusniel Diaz
- Ryan McKenna
- Mike Yastrzemski
The 2018 Orioles gave out minor league contracts with big league camp invites after camp was already under way to four players who ended up making the Opening Day roster: Pedro Alvarez, Craig Gentry, Colby Rasmus, and Danny Valencia. For a variety of reasons, we can hope things don’t repeat quite like that. A big difference is that the 2019 team doesn’t have to chase that illusion of one last season of trying to contend.
Gilmartin, Peterson, and Ynoa were all outrighted off of the 40-man roster last November, during the transition period between Dan Duquette and Elias, and re-joined with minor league contracts during that same time. I will go out on a limb and guess Elias doesn’t care too much about those guys, but even these O’s will need some potentially quasi-competent options just to fill innings and get through a full season.
With only Austin Wynns and Chance Sisco as catchers on the 40-man roster, the competition among the three non-roster catchers could factor into the Opening Day roster. The new brain trust might decide that they like one of these other choices more than Wynns for the MLB roster, and they might open up another space if the new crew decides that the best place for Sisco is Norfolk to polish his skills after a tough 2018 debut season.
Opening Day is 62 days away and pitchers and catchers report in just 19 days. There will be baseball soon. It’s just that no one can promise that will be good baseball.