You’re only as old as you feel, right? Wrong. Not in baseball at least. In a game where teams are skewing younger and younger, veteran players over 30 seem to be increasingly left behind. That’s what happened to former Oriole Adam Jones this offseason, for example.
Jones signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks only a few days ago — well into Spring Training. And as the outfielder said in this recent Forbes article, “It’s an unfortunate situation especially for guys over 30 who have a lot to offer, who still have a lot in their tank. You just have to ride the wave and play it through.”
Last season Jones was part of an Orioles team that ranked middle of the pack in MLB in terms of age — 14th out of 30 teams with an average player age of 28.4. The oldest team in 2018 was the Toronto Blue Jays at 30.3 and the youngest was the Chicago White Sox at 26.2. Interestingly enough, none of the teams listed above were any good last year.
Flash forward to present day and the Orioles have managed to get two years younger, so to speak. Looking at the 40-man, there are four players who have been optioned thus far: Luis Ortiz, Dillon Tate, Hunter Harvey and DJ Stewart. That leaves 36 players — excluding non-roster invitees — whose average age is only 26.4.
And that number will obviously change a bit once the Birds finalize their 25-man Opening Day roster. In terms of non-roster players who bring more experience than the average camp attendee, outfielder Eric Young Jr. (33 years old) could make the team and push the average age up. With Austin Wynns recovering from an oblique injury, maybe catcher Jesus Sucre (30) even makes the club.
Of the 36 players left in camp from the 40-man roster, only six are over the age of 30 — Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, Richard Bleier, Nate Karns, Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo.
So the majority of the roster is on the young side. It’s evident in the myriad position battles taking place in Sarasota, where there are five spots in the everyday lineup up for grabs — excluding Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, Trey Mancini and Jonathan Villar.
Despite the relative young age of the roster, there are only a few players with rookie eligibility that have the potential to make the Opening Day roster. MLB rules state the following:
A player shall be considered a rookie unless he has exceeded any of the following thresholds in a previous season (or seasons):
• 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues.
• 45 total days on an active Major League roster prior to Sept. 1, when clubs are allowed to expand their rosters from the 25-player limit to include any player on the 40-man roster.
From Sept. 1 through the end of the regular season, both at-bats and innings pitched count against rookie eligibility but days on a big league roster do not.
The two Rule 5 picks currently on the O’s roster — Richie Martin (24) and Drew Jackson (25) — are true rookies, having never played a game above Double-A. Austin Hays still meets rookie requirements, having only played in 20 games with 60 at-bats for the O’s in 2017.
A few players who just miss the mark for this status are Chance Sisco and Cedric Mullins. The former has 178 at-bats in 70 games the past two years and the latter had 170 at-bats in 45 games last year.
Looking back at some of the most impactful young players of the recent past, the Rookie of the Year in the American League the past three years has included a pitcher, a hitter and a two-way player as well.
Most recently, the Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani won 2018 ROY in the AL. At the plate, he hit .285/.361/.564 with 22 home runs, 61 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 104 games. On the mound, he went 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 63 strikeouts in 51.2 innings.
In 2017, New York Yankee and Oriole killer Aaron Judge won the honors for best rookie. In 155 games, he put up a .284/.422/.627 triple slash line with 52 home runs, 114 RBI and nine steals.
The 2016 AL rookie of the year was Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer, who went 11-7 with a 3.06 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 132 strikeouts in 159 innings.
Would it be fair to compare someone like Hays to Judge or Ohtani? Of course not. But heading towards a season where most people aren’t expecting much from the O’s, to hypothetically have a player contend for ROY would make things more bearable. Who knows what could happen?
Remember not too long ago, when Trey Mancini was in the running for ROY. In 2017, he came in 3rd place in the voting, batting .293/.338/.488 with 24 home runs and 78 RBI. Will any Oriole rookie put himself into the conversation this year?