The Orioles arrived in Sarasota this year with greater expectations and higher standards. There are fewer competitions than previous years, and several prospects appear close to breaking down the door.
Baltimore acquired James McCann to eliminate the backup catcher competition before it started. Lewin Díaz, Ryan O’Hearn, Franchy Cordero and others are battling for a bench spot that may or may not exist. Anthony Santander went unscathed at first base earlier this week, and McCann, Adley Rutschman or even Terrin Vavra could play first in a pinch.
The infielders are all accounted for with only positions and playing time up in the air. There are seven obvious candidates for the rotation, but everyone appears to have the same five favorites with Austin Voth and Tyler Wells on the outside looking in. DL Hall will need more time to ramp up, but it remains a mystery whether he begins the year in the bullpen or Norfolk’s rotation.
The focus has shifted to the youngsters with fans finally getting an opportunity to see Jackson Holliday on MASN. Grayson Rodriguez, Colton Cowser, Coby Mayo, Joey Ortiz and Jordan Westburg have pushed others out of the frame, but could anyone force their way back into the picture? Is there anyone worth buying low on this imaginary market?
Mike Baumann has an option remaining and likely slots below Wells, Voth and Spenser Watkins on the depth chart. Baumann was once regarded as Baltimore’s third best pitching prospect behind Hall and Rodriguez, but the righty has yet to thrive at the big league level.
Baumann began last season in the bullpen before making four starts in September. He did little to inspire confidence, but did look the part at times. Baumann’s fastball velocity ranked in the 83rd percentile last season, but opponents hit .375 against his 96-MPH heater.
Baumann’s live arm and 6-foot-4 frame have sparked dreams of a high-leverage relief role, but he projects as a swingman or spot starter this season. He’s off to a decent start this spring with eight strikeouts and two runs allowed—both via solo homers—in five innings.
Baumann picked up a win in relief with 2.1 scoreless innings during the home opener last season. The game was started by another buy-low candidate— Bruce Zimmermann.
Zimmermann struck out four and allowed three hits over four scoreless innings against Milwaukee. Once everyone’s favorite Baltimore native, Zimmermann limited opponents to only one home run in his first six starts. Things fell apart quickly as the soft-tossing lefty allowed 12 homers in his final four starts in May.
Zimmermann’s low-90s fastball boasts above average spin rate, and his chase rate checks in at 71 percent. Crafty lefties need to miss bats often, and Zimmermann left far too many gopher balls over the heart of the plate last year.
Zimmermann still occupies a spot on the 40-man roster and could easily return at some point this season. Aside from Cionel Pérez, the Orioles bullpen is thin on lefties with Keegan Akin due for regression and Hall possibly slated for Norfolk’s rotation.
Speaking of relievers on the 40-man, Yennier Cano has an opportunity to force his way into the conversation with Dillon Tate sidelined and both Bryan Baker and Joey Krehbiel struggling this spring. Cano posted a scoreless frame in his first appearance before getting tagged for four runs his second time out this spring.
The Orioles acquired Cano and three other pitchers from Minnesota in exchange for Jorge López at the deadline. Cano allowed nine earned runs in 4.1 innings for the Orioles last season. Fellow trade acquisition Cade Povich has catapulted up prospect rankings this offseason, and it remains possible that Cano takes a leap this year.
There are far fewer opportunities for position players this spring. One could lay their chips on Cordero, Díaz or O’Hearn, but it will likely take a heroic effort and possibly an injury to justify a roster spot. O’Hearn did his best with a walk-off homer on Monday to make him 7-for-13 this spring. Cordero is 4-for-15 with a long ball, and Diaz sits at 5-for-13 with a homer.
Robert Neustrom remains in the system but is blocked by Kyle Stowers and Ryan McKenna. O’Hearn plays some corner outfield, and Vavra figures to hold a roster spot with his left shoulder injury not believed to be serious.
Neustrom slashed .231/.297/.408 over 101 games at Norfolk last season. The 26-year-old is 1-for-8 so far this spring.
All of these players could be out of our lives for good by July, but 162-game seasons require depth. Do you think any of Baumann, Zimmermann, Cano or Neustrom could contribute this season? Let us know in the comments below.