The Orioles have more talent on their 40-man roster right now than they’ve had at any point since Mike Elias took over as the general manager. There’s going to be even more talent still when they add several of their Rule 5 draft-eligible prospects, including Grayson Rodriguez, to the roster before tomorrow’s deadline to protect them from that draft.
Elias has some easy decisions to make to sort out who belongs and who should be left exposed to be picked in the Rule 5. There could be a couple of tougher ones. For the first time this offseason, some Elias-drafted players will become eligible for the draft. Along with 2018 high school picks who were still holdovers from the Dan Duquette years, it’s time to add 2019 college picks who aren’t already on the 40-man. This will also include some eligible players who Elias has acquired in trades.
There is a lot of room on the roster to add a number of players. As things stand right now, after the O’s had their veterans become free agents and trimmed some other players, there are 34 players on the 40-man roster. Six open spots is convenient because Elias has added six prospects to the 40-man each at this point in each of the last two offseasons. This could be the last year where it is so easy for him to make that much room to add prospects.
The definite additions
RHP Grayson Rodriguez
With better fortune in the 2022 season, Rodriguez would have been added to the 40-man roster months ago. The lat injury he suffered in early June ended the chance of that happening, so the O’s 2018 first rounder - one of the game’s top pitching prospects - is the most no-brainer addition they have right now.
RHP Seth Johnson
Acquired as part of the three-team swap that sent Trey Mancini to the Astros, Johnson was a top 100 prospect at the time of the trade who was also immediately known to need Tommy John surgery. At best he’ll start a rehab assignment in August. The Orioles could theoretically take a chance that no team would select Johnson, but I don’t think they would have targeted him in the trade if they were going to do that. With six open spaces, they don’t need to be stingy about who to add.
SS Joey Ortiz
After being limited to just 35 games in the 2021 season, Ortiz, a fourth round pick from New Mexico State in 2019, was finally able to get a full season under his belt. Some power erupted for the righty batter in a way that wasn’t there before, especially in his final 26 games after being promoted to Triple-A Norfolk, when he slugged .567. A great sign for a player who already had this in his scouting report on FanGraphs early this year:
Ortiz is a plus defender anywhere in the dirt who makes up for a lack of twitch with outstanding instincts, strong fundamentals and a plus arm.
They’ve only gotten more excited about Ortiz since then. He now ranks as the #81 prospect in baseball on that site’s ranking, and #7 in the Orioles system.
LHP Drew Rom
The Orioles gave Rom, then a mostly unknown pitcher from a Kentucky high school, an overslot bonus in the fourth round in 2018. Rom did very well in High-A and Double-A in 2021, but hit a rougher patch (if you look at his ERA and WHIP) between Double-A and Triple-A in 2022. His strikeout rate and strikeout/walk ratios were both still pretty good.
Rom wasn’t Elias’s drafted guy, so maybe he’ll look at this prospect differently, but I think he’s an easy addition to give him more time to develop. He only turns 23 next month. You can’t just leave a lefty who’s reached Triple-A at a relatively young age without falling on his face dangling like that. Rom is the #15 Orioles prospect on the most recent FanGraphs ranking, which included this from his report:
It looks like the velocity is starting to arrive for Rom, the missing link to a profile that already includes bat-missing fastball shape, natural breaking ball feel, and advanced command. ... Tracking like a fifth starter throughout his first four seasons in pro ball, the arrow is officially pointing up on Rom’s arm strength.
Arizona Fall League pitchers
The Orioles sent out four Rule 5-eligible pitchers to the Arizona Fall League and three of them posted results where you could make a case for them to be added. I think the most likely of the three is Noah Denoyer, a 2019 undrafted free agent who quietly made some interesting strides as a swingman for High-A and Double-A this year, with a sub-1.00 WHIP for the season and a 12.4 K/9.
Denoyer, 24, was old for these levels, but Elias won’t hold that against him if he thinks the guy can pitch. This time a year ago, Félix Bautista was added to the 40-man after coming almost out of nowhere in 2021. That worked out for the team.
Nolan Hoffman maintained a 17/2 K/BB ratio in 10 AFL games; lefty Easton Lucas, once acquired for Jonathan Villar, struck out 14 guys in 11 innings, though he also walked seven. Hoffman, a 25-year-old side-arming righty, was a minor league Rule 5 addition by the O’s last year. Maybe they’ll want to keep him save from the MLB version this year.
At times during the 2022 season, I thought catcher Maverick Handley, the O’s 2019 sixth rounder, might be an addition as an Adley Rutschman backup candidate. The fact that Elias spent October collecting other catchers onto the 40-man (though he later cut most of them) doesn’t make me think that the organization is ready to just have Handley walk onto the roster after a .236/.352/.417 year for Bowie.
Two pitchers who were acquired by Elias in the Dylan Bundy trade, Kyle Brnovich and Zach Peek, could potentially have been in this conversation with good performance, but they each needed Tommy John surgery this year instead. This time a year ago, I noted a couple of other Elias trade acquisitions who’d become eligible: Garrett Stallings and Tyler Burch. Neither of these pitchers had results that make them look like candidates, though Elias has certainly surprised me before.
Another group of players that will become eligible this time around are players who were international amateur signees in 2018 or earlier. The Orioles signed pretty close to nobody out of that group under Duquette. Elias has acquired some in trades. None seem close to consideration at this point in time.
With the exception of last year’s addition of Kevin Smith, every player who has been added by Elias to the 40-man roster in these November “protect from the Rule 5 draft” waves of additions has at least appeared in a game for the Orioles. They are going to add guys they think can play if someone is injured or sucks at the MLB level ahead of them.
We’ll find out tomorrow who gets added, and then we’ll be waiting until next month to see if anyone left off by the Orioles is taken in the Rule 5 draft. There was no Rule 5 last year due to the lockout. Two years ago, the O’s lost Zach Pop, who now has a 3.56 ERA across two MLB seasons - though leaving Pop off allowed the O’s to nab Tyler Wells in the Rule 5 themselves. That “trade” is OK for the Orioles so far.
I think the Orioles add Denoyer, Johnson, Ortiz, Rodriguez, and Rom. That leaves them with an open 40-man spot to make a Rule 5 selection next month. If Elias really likes one of these other pitchers, you could potentially see the O’s waive somebody like Spenser Watkins to add Hoffman while still keeping an open spot. They could also fill the 40-man today and remove someone later, either as a non-tender or by trading them.