Nearly one third through spring training, the Orioles have failed to do much winning. The outcomes never matter in the preseason, but it’s more fun when a team expected to struggle sneaks out a few early victories down in Florida.
Even though the Orioles (2-6-1) have ended up in the loss column more times than not, a few Baltimore players have already won big this spring.
Two incumbent starting pitchers are the first that come to mind. While John Means arrived in Sarasota as Baltimore’s Opening Day starter by default, O’s’ skipper Brandon Hyde refused to anoint anyone else to the rotation.
Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer both made their major league debuts last season. While both starters pitched well enough to keep their spots, Hyde wanted to make them earn it. If either player felt they had reason to be concerned, they can sleep easy after these first two weeks.
Kremer struggled his first time out, but delivered three shutout innings yesterday afternoon. The righty touched 97 MPH on the radar gun and faced only 10 batters through three frames. Akin will start today against Toronto after allowing one run in two innings last week.
Meanwhile, the duo’s competition have yet to make their best pitch for the job. Matt Harvey allowed three earned runs in his first two innings, and Felix Hernandez failed to touch 90 MPH while allowing a pair of runs in his first start.
Wade LeBlanc allowed just one hit and struck out two in his debut this season but that will not clinch the second spot in the rotation. The Orioles are desperate for production on the mound, but it’s nearly impossible to picture anyone coming for either sophomores’ spot. Barring an injury, the O’s top three is set.
While Akin and Kremer may have been “competing” in name alone, the battle for the starting job in center field has been hotly contested. Austin Hays arrived this spring as the favorite to win the gig, and he’s done nothing to lose it. Hays has hit .400 with a homer, two RBIs and a walk so far this spring, but the underdog may be the true winner so far.
Mullins has posted an identical .400 average to Hays, but Mullins has two more hits (including a double and triple) and 3 RBIs through five games. The pair’s strong play has Hyde thinking outside the box.
“I can see a combination of Cedric and Austin in the outfield together,” Hyde noted earlier this week. That would likely result in Ryan Mountcastle and Trey Mancini taking extra at bats at designated hitter, and Anthony Santander getting some shine at DH as well. The domino effect likely chases DJ Stewart or Chris Davis from the lineup, but that might be in the club’s best interest.
While Mullins has earned the title of an early winner with his play, another Baltimore position player clinched the nod with inactivity. Rio Ruiz has hit just .083 (1/12) through four games, but the Orioles’ brass has yet to take any steps to replace him.
Tyler Young weighed the pros and cons of signing current free agent Maikel Franco, and Orioles’ management may be doing the same, but the job appears safe with Ruiz.
Prospect Rylan Bannon has hit just .163 through six games. That’s just not going to cut it for a young guy trying to steal a spot from a veteran. Ruiz slashed .222/.286/.427 over 54 games last season and .232/.306/.376 across 127 games in 2019. Ruiz has played streaky ball since arriving in Baltimore, but has benefited from a lack of competition. As of now, that competition has yet to emerge.
Similar to a team’s record, a player’s stat line is not indicative of their performance in the regular season. Spring training is already a small sample size, and the Birds have played just nine of those games so far this year. Still, the early numbers are slightly more than just water cooler talk.
Players need every edge they can get when battling for a roster spot. A player’s spring performance can serves as a tie breaker when it comes time to fly north. No one can take away Cedric Mullins’ success, and Rylan Bannon has dug himself into an early hole. Akin and Kremer have likely never felt more confident, while Harvey and Hernandez may end up battling for the final spot in the rotation.
You can't win a job in the first nine games of spring training, but you can start to trend in a certain direction. Are there any other early winners this spring? Let’s hear it.