One of the constant refrains from Orioles spring training so far has been about the wide-open competitions for a lot of the roster. In contrast to past years where you could know all but a handful of players on the Opening Day roster as soon as players reported to camp, there are a lot of spots that seem to be up for grabs a third of the way into the Grapefruit League schedule.
Even the people who will be setting up the roster probably don’t know exactly who will make this team right now. With another big refrain from spring training being that the results don’t matter yet, figuring out the roster makeup is more complicated than just deciding “who looks good” - the important thing for them to figure out is who will be good starting in about three weeks.
The expectation is that the Orioles will not be good. There is likely not any combination of players they can put together from this camp to change that trajectory for this season. If O’s fans are lucky, the brain trust will assemble a group that, when bolstered by some mid-season prospect call-ups, ends up somewhere in the realm of “less bad than last year and trending up for the future.”
Keeping in mind that it’s all premature at this point, Opening Day is close enough that it’s not outrageous to wonder who’s going to make this squad. What follows are my best guesses, assuming that there are no unfortunate injuries to cloud the picture between now and then.
- LF: DJ Stewart
- CF: Cedric Mullins
- RF: Austin Hays
- Reserve: Joey Rickard
In a fair world, this group would include Yusniel Diaz in the Opening Day outfield instead of Stewart. Diaz, 22, is probably ready to make the leap. However, there’s always the dreaded “keep them down for three weeks to get an extra year of service time” that teams employ with young, soon-to-be-rookies who are poised to make Opening Day rosters.
If the O’s wait to call up Diaz, they will control him, barring a rule change, through 2025 instead of 2024 - seven seasons instead of six. General managers cannot resist this, and so Diaz is probably ticketed for Triple-A Norfolk until at least May.
The early spring results (which don’t matter but are all we have to go on) have made it look like Hays has bounced back from something of a lost 2018. Plug him in out there and don’t mess around. Stewart should be fine enough until Diaz can join the party.
One wild card will be how the new regime views Mullins. His minor league performance as a switch-hitter suggests he’s just much better batting left-handed and facing right-handed pitchers. If you’re going to suck against one type of pitcher, it might as well be lefties because there aren’t as many of them. Still, that tends to mean a platoon player, maybe with Rickard, maybe with Eric Young Jr.
- 1B: Trey Mancini
- 2B: Jonathan Villar
- SS: Richie Martin
- 3B: Rio Ruiz
- Utility: Drew Jackson
- DH: Chris Davis
Maybe the most significant question the Orioles will grapple with in spring training is when they’ve seen enough of Davis. He has done nothing yet to make it seem like any solution has clicked that will get him to bounce back from a bad 2017 and legendarily-bad 2018. I’ll be surprised if they’re ready to cut him loose by Opening Day. The new crew might as well take a last stab to try to salvage him. If he still stinks by June, so long and thanks for fewer dingers than we hoped.
GM Mike Elias joined the stream of Monday’s Orioles game and talked about the need to improve on the infield defense from last year. I think that sounds like a sign he’s looking to plug in some of “his guys” there. Martin and Jackson were the Rule 5 picks he added. Ruiz was originally drafted by the Elias-era Astros. Sorry, Renato Núñez. The guy who liked you is gone.
Another question to be answered is when Mark Trumbo will be ready to play. MASN’s Roch Kubatko wrote over the weekend that Trumbo views March 12 as a “realistic” time to make a spring debut. Can he get to game shape by Opening Day if he starts on March 12? Elias and company don’t need to be in a rush to proclaim him ready.
- Starter: Chance Sisco
- Backup: Austin Wynns
This is what I want to be true. It seemed like Sisco ended up in the doghouse last year and that harmed his confidence. I’d like to see the O’s give him that job back and work on any problems he has at the MLB level. If it doesn’t work out for Sisco behind the dish or at the plate, hey, Adley Rutschman is coming.
- Dylan Bundy
- Alex Cobb
- Andrew Cashner
- Nate Karns
- Josh Rogers
The Orioles had the worst starting rotation by ERA in all of baseball last year. They also had the worst rotation in 2017, and in 2016... well, they weren’t the worst, but they were 7th-worst. Can the Orioles finally joining the analytics revolution help some of these guys? For the sanity of Birdland, let’s hope there is some improvement, especially from Bundy and Cobb.
Maybe it’s aggressive to put Karns in this predicted rotation when he already had a setback after pitching once. I think the O’s signed him because they want him in the rotation for as long as he’s able, so it’s his. Rogers gets the fifth spot to begin the season under the theory that the O’s might decide they don’t want to have an all-right-handed rotation.
The 4/5 spots of the rotation figure to cycle a lot. Unlike in past years, it’s likely that an entire Triple-A Norfolk rotation will be on the 40-man roster: Hunter Harvey, David Hess, Luis Ortiz, Yefry Ramirez, Dillon Tate. I didn’t even mention John Means. If Karns gets hurt or one of those other pitchers is looking better than Hess, make a change.
- Mychal Givens
- Richard Bleier
- Mike Wright Jr.
- Pedro Araujo
- Tanner Scott
- Miguel Castro
- Paul Fry
- Jimmy Yacabonis
Unlike the infield, the bullpen candidates haven’t been bolstered by a bunch of “Elias guys.” He seems content to sort out what Dan Duquette left for him, maybe because the Orioles are just going to be bad so the relievers won’t be pitching many high-leverage innings to begin with.
I’ve gone with an eight-man bullpen even though I don’t like eight-man bullpens. Maybe Elias will go with seven to squeeze on an extra bench player, especially if he has Davis/Trumbo creating a logjam on the Opening Day roster and he’s not ready to make final decisions about either one yet.
The bullpen includes Givens and Bleier, the players with past significant MLB success, and some “Eh, might as well” guys like Wright Jr. and Castro who have never quite clicked. Araujo doesn’t have to stay long before satisfying the Rule 5 requirements, which also puts him in the “might as well” category for Opening Day; expect him to be optioned, perhaps never to be seen in MLB again, the day that the O’s are allowed to do so without losing him.
Waiting at Triple-A if anyone falters: Branden Kline, Cody Carroll, Evan Phillips, and probably others, depending on how generous you are about assessing the MLB potential of jabronis.
The Opening Day roster is the thing to talk about now because it’s March and Orioles baseball is almost back, but the most important roster they will have all year is probably the one that we will end up seeing in September. If some fresh faces have showed up by then, the future will look a little brighter.
What do you think? Do you have other favorites for making the roster? Let us know in the comments below.