The Orioles Opening Day roster may not have been finalized yet, but there are not many players left who are still in limbo. After the conclusion of the final O’s spring training game on Monday afternoon, manager Brandon Hyde told reporters that several players have been informed that they’ve made the team.
Included among that group are both of the Rule 5 picks, Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells, as well as infielders Pat Valaika and Ramón Urias. Add to that the pregame announcement that Jorge López and Dean Kremer will round out the five-man rotation in the fourth and fifth spots and the Orioles roster picture became a lot more clear today, even if it hasn’t been set in stone yet.
One player who seems to have been ruled out is Félix Hernández. The former Mariners ace was granted his release by the Orioles earlier on Monday. If he had a chance of making the team, it was wiped out by the elbow soreness that cropped up late in camp and knocked him out of the running. O’s beat writers, including The Athletic’s Dan Connolly, indicated that unlike Wade LeBlanc, who re-signed after opting out of his contract, Hernández is not expected to return to the organization.
With the Orioles looking to load up their 26-man roster with 14 pitchers, there’s more room to squeeze in two Rule 5 picks into the mix. Whether this is a good idea is to be determined. I am not terribly excited by the reality that the O’s will be carrying a three-man bench to begin the season, but things are always subject to change.
The O’s have certainly made a couple of surprising shakeups to the Opening Day roster that “everyone” could have predicted. Keegan Akin being optioned to the minors on Friday night and Yolmer Sánchez being designated for assignment on Saturday night both were unexpected to me. There could be others coming. Hyde reminded reporters that the five-man taxi squad for the opening road trip means a player not on the roster on April 1 could be there on April 7.
Having two Rule 5 picks in a nine-man bullpen is certainly a surprise. The Orioles did not go for fringe, unheralded Triple-A players when they made these picks. Wells, 26, is making the jump to MLB after having pitched all of 23.1 innings above the High-A level. His 2018 season was cut short by Tommy John surgery and his return to action in 2020 was cut short by the pandemic. The Orioles plucked him from the Twins.
Sceroler will be 26 next month. He has not pitched above the High-A level at all. He spent the 2019 season at that level in the Reds organization. If you know one thing about Sceroler, you probably know that he is the nephew of former Orioles pitcher, and current Orioles broadcaster, Ben McDonald. Those are both big leaps from where they were to where they will be in as few as three days.
For whatever spring training results are worth, Wells had better results in his outings in big league games. Wells appeared in five Grapefruit League games, allowing just one run in nine innings. He struck out twelve and walked only three. That ratio will work. Sceroler’s outings were a bit rockier overall. Big Ben’s nephew had a 6.43 ERA after seven innings pitched through five outings.
Wells and Sceroler now must remain on the 26-man roster for the whole season or be offered back to their original clubs. They can go on the injured list as well, but if they don’t spend enough time active, the Rule 5 restrictions would carry over to 2022.
In the same Rule 5 draft that the O’s picked Wells and Sceroler, they also lost two players. Gray Fenter was drafted by the Cubs, and reliever Zach Pop was drafted by the Diamondbacks and later traded to the Marlins. Fenter has been returned to the Orioles, but Pop, who the O’s left unprotected when he was towards the end of his own Tommy John recovery, has made the Marlins Opening Day roster.
If there are bumps in their early big league action, they may not make it all the way. O’s fans may now be hoping for Pop to hit just enough of a bump to be sent back to the Orioles, only to recover. As for Sceroler and Wells, their presence may put a damper on the O’s pattern in recent years to make heavy use of relievers with minor league options to churn through innings.
If two of the nine relievers are Rule 5 guys, and another handful are mostly locked into late-inning roles, there’s not much room to fit in players from the Norfolk-Baltimore express. That’s a problem for the Orioles of weeks or months from now. For Opening Day, they’re carrying both of the Rule 5 pitchers. I’ll be rooting for them to do well enough to stick around, even if I don’t have high hopes of that happening.