Since Keegan Akin closed out last season in the Orioles starting rotation, it’s seemed like a given that he was headed for an Opening Day rotation spot in this season. That’s what you might have assumed, but things haven’t worked out that way. In a series of Friday evening roster moves, the Orioles shook up that presumptive Opening Day roster picture by optioning Akin to Norfolk.
The other players optioned along with Akin were infielder Jahmai Jones, received in the Alex Cobb trade, and former Rule 5 pick Richie Martin. Martin missed the early parts of camp due to a wrist injury suffered in winter ball. In addition, non-roster invitees Chris Shaw and Fernando Abad were reassigned over to the minor league camp.
It’s not much of a mystery who will be stepping into the spot left open by Akin. The Orioles announced that Wade LeBlanc has been signed to a major league contract for 2021. LeBlanc had opted out of his minor league deal a couple of days ago.
Apparently, the Orioles needed LeBlanc more than LeBlanc needed them, since he’s back promptly on an MLB deal. To make room on the 40-man roster for LeBlanc, Chris Davis was placed on the 60-day injured list with the mystery back ailment that’s sidelined him since he took two at-bats in the second Grapefruit League game. With no public diagnosis and no apparent timeline for return, Davis being added to the IL was really just a formality. He will not be missed on the roster.
Akin had not gotten great results in his four spring training games. The lefty prospect gave up ten runs in nine innings across four outings. He battled command issues that led to lots of walks and elevated pitch counts. Akin’s most recent game on Thursday was his worst yet, with Akin unable to complete the third inning in a game where the offense staked out six runs in the early innings. It seems the Orioles saw enough to decide Akin would be better served working some things out at the alternate training site to begin the season.
This shakeup still doesn’t settle some of the remaining questions about the pitching staff. With Akin out of the picture, the six-man rotation possibility that’s been bandied about seems less likely, but then, the Orioles could still send out these six: John Means, Dean Kremer, Matt Harvey, LeBlanc, Jorge López, and Bruce Zimmermann.
Or, the Orioles could send out a more traditional five-man rotation with any one of LeBlanc, López, or Zimmermann as a long reliever. I would be surprised if LeBlanc was “only” a swingman after the O’s went out of their way to bring him back to the roster after his opt-out, but you never know.
What about the Rule 5 picks? Harvey and LeBlanc have found their way onto the roster without either Mac Sceroler or Tyler Wells having to be returned to their original teams, and the O’s don’t seem to have any other non-roster players in camp who are headed for the 40-man roster - unless, maybe, they go with a 14-man pitching staff and decide that Stevie Wilkerson as a super utility player is their best choice for a bench spot.
These decisions are coming down to the wire. There are only three more exhibition games left to be played and then it’ll be time to ship up to Boston to start the season. Two things that are clear from Friday’s moves: LeBlanc is definitely in and Akin is definitely out. The rest will be figured out later.