The Orioles will be missing two of their top ten players in Wins Above Replacement for the coming series against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Canadian government requires all non-citizen travelers age 18 and up to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Two Orioles apparently remain unvaccinated, excluding them from crossing the international border: Keegan Akin and Anthony Santander. They are not with the team in Toronto and have been placed on the restricted list for the trip.
As used for this purpose for the 2022 season, unvaccinated players not eligible for the international travel land on the restricted list when their team team is playing in Canada. They are able to be replaced on the 40-man roster by non-roster players who are allowed, by special provision, to then be removed after the series without having to go through normal procedures like potentially being passed through waivers. The restricted list players will not be paid or accrue service time while they are away from the team.
The Orioles are making full use of this short-term roster flexibility. The players who are replacing Akin and Santander for the four-game series are both players not currently on the 40-man roster. They are pitcher Rico Garcia and outfield prospect Kyle Stowers (tied for #8 on our preseason composite prospect ranking). Each of these players can be here for this series and then returned to the minors with no risk of being lost to the organization.
Stowers, the Orioles second round pick in the 2019 draft, has been taking care of business for Triple-A Norfolk so far this season. In 49 games, he’s batting an excellent .253/.356/.545, leading the entire Orioles organization with 12 home runs. Importantly, he’s kept the strikeouts under control (for him) with a 25.4 K%; last year he had 32.3% over the whole season. He’s split time between center field and right field with Norfolk this year.
It’s interesting that the Orioles are using Stowers here, because this has typically not been how prospects have been handled in the Mike Elias era. Even so, with the roster what it is, the O’s decided this might be a worthwhile opportunity to give a taste of the big leagues for one series. Good luck to Stowers. He is set to make his major league debut tonight, batting eighth and playing left field in the O’s lineup that was released ahead of the game.
Garcia, 28, was an Orioles minor league signing last November. The righty reliever pitched parts of the 2019 and 2020 seasons at the MLB level, with a 7.31 ERA in 14 games. He’s been working his way up the minor league ladder while returning from Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss all of last season. Once he made it to Triple-A Norfolk, he pitched ten innings across five games, allowing three earned runs. Blue Jays batters will probably be tougher than those guys were.