Spring training play is underway, and we’ve officially moved from purely speculating on player performance to overanalyzing small sample sizes. Can anyone blame us? I don’t think so. What would be the fun in a “wait-and-see” approach? If there are current/future Orioles on the field, you can bet that fans, media and even the organization will attempt to draw conclusions from their play.
Yesterday, Nick Cicere offered some early thoughts on Yusniel Diaz’s performance so far in camp. At the time, Diaz had only seven plate appearances in 2019, but Nick noted some quality information about Diaz’s swing and how he played so far.
At what point does the sample become large enough to draw conclusions from? Isn’t all of spring training a relatively small sample size? And yet, Mike Elias and the organization will use that time period to help determine who breaks camp with the O’s.
Paul Folkemer brought up the legendary Jake Fox award in Tuesday’s Bird Droppings. Paul reminded us all about Fox’s legendary spring-training performance in 2011, and how it led to a spot on the 25-man roster. Of course, Fox never lived up to his spring numbers, and he did not appear in the majors after 2011.
Many others have exceeded expectations in spring training only to come crashing back down to earth when given an opportunity in Baltimore. If there’s another Jake Fox in camp this year, the Orioles will obviously want to be wary of him. That brings about the larger question, what role should performance in spring training play when determining who makes the club?
This young Orioles team is filled with openings. The back of the rotation is not set, shortstop is up for grabs, and there are several openings in the bullpen. Will the Orioles fill all of these roster spots based on how guys play in late-February and March? It’s unlikely.
First-year manager Brandon Hyde faces a unique challenge in managing a team with so many openings. On the surface, competition is extremely healthy for a team. It serves as a tremendous motivator, and gives players an opportunity to prove themselves. Still, human nature can take over, and some young players may begin to press.
Hyde said he has spoken to some of the younger players about not trying to impress him, and only attempting to showcase their skills.
“Let your ability take over and let your ability take care of itself,” Hyde said after a win on Saturday. “I want them to take good at-bats and play hard. If that impresses me or not, I’m not concerned about it.”
Chance Sisco, who homered in that 7-2 victory, obviously holds a strong chance to make the Opening Day roster. Will he end up at Norfolk if his numbers don’t live up to Austin Wynns and Carlos Perez this spring? Probably not. Sisco just needs to show that he’s ready to handle his defensive duties and that there’s still some pop left in that once highly-regarded bat.
All of this sounds obvious, but it’s so tempting to get caught up in early numbers, especially when the club is so bereft of talent. What other factors will play a role in who wears an Orioles cap in April?
The “youth vs. experience” factor brings an interesting dynamic to this year’s club. While the sole purpose of this season will be developing talent, some young players may benefit from some extra seasoning in the high minors.
The Orioles’ brass likely has a rough timetable for several prospects, and guys like Eric Young Jr. and Alcides Escobar may end up serving as placeholders. The Orioles would also benefit from more experienced players drumming up some trade value and being flipped at the deadline, but that likely will not play a large factor into roster decisions.
Roster restrictions will also be considered. If the Orioles liked Richie Martin enough to take him first overall in the Rule 5 draft, they probably want to see what he can do at the major league level. Even if Martin struggles this spring, he’ll likely break camp with the club barring an injury or other developments.
An interesting matchup will pit another Rule 5 guy, Drew Jackson, against the veteran Escobar. If Jackson shows that he can play multiple positions, he could beat out Escobar for the utility infielder position. Only one of the two could end up a long-term contributor for the Orioles, and spring training performance could serve as a tie-breaker in situations like this one. Pedro Araujo, who must serve 14 days on the MLB roster to meet Rule 5 requirements, is all but a lock to start the season in the bullpen.
Nate Karns, if healthy, could make the team on reputation alone. The Orioles only have three locks in the rotation, and an experienced arm would go along way if he shows just enough in camp.
“High upside vs. low ceiling” could also come into play in the outfield competition. Mike Yastrzemski could have a tremendous spring, but still be passed over for Diaz, Austin Hays or even Anthony Santander if it comes to that. Which player has a greater potential could easily be a determining factor during a rebuild.
It will be easy to get wrapped up in some first impressions this spring, but fortunately for O’s fans, Mike Elias knows a thing or two about player development. The club will use a plethora of factors when trimming the roster to 25, and spring performance could play a role. At a minimum, the games in Sarasota should be entertaining.