Every year there are storylines that dominate the headlines in spring training but disappear once the season gets under way. Fringe players post ridiculous stat lines, prospects hang around big league camp, and position battles are manufactured if a dark horse overachieves.
The Orioles assembled a collection of left-handed first basemen in Sarasota and asked them to compete for a job that never materialized. Baltimore appeared interested in more than simply adding depth at the position, but the O’s broke camp with Ryan Mountcastle as the only true first baseman on the roster.
Franchy Cordero opted out and eventually signed a major league deal with the New York Yankees, but Lewin Díaz, Ryan O’Hearn and Josh Lester all remain in Baltimore’s system. The regular season is under way, but this storyline still has legs.
Josh Lester catapulted back into the headlines with a three home run performance for Norfolk on Saturday. The lefty tallied four home runs and eight RBIs in his first three games! He walked three times and looked the part of a guy still competing for a big league roster spot.
Not to be forgotten, O’Hearn added a long ball himself and has scored four runs in his first three games. Lewin Díaz remains in the system after spending a few extra days in Florida and should get into the mix with the Tides this week.
Lester’s power surge jumps off the page, but it should not be a surprise that these guys know how to hit. Their ultimate goal is to prove they are more than just Four-A players, but will Baltimore give any of them a shot this year?
The Orioles ultimately decided to roll with five true outfielders in Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Austin Hays, Ryan McKenna and Kyle Stowers. Terrin Vavra and Adam Frazier also possess the ability to play in the corners with Vavra already getting a start in left this season.
Baltimore’s outfield defense was dreadful in the first series against Boston. The Orioles are not going to demote Ryan McKenna after one dropped fly ball, but the club could certainly get by with one less outfielder. So what would it take to get Lester, O’Hearn or Díaz to Baltimore?
The O’s demonstrated a desire to keep a second option on the roster last year with Tyler Nevin and Jesús Aguilar, and the club could shift their priorities at any point. A successful stretch at the plate by Lester or another option would certainly serve as a motivator.
Aside from one of the three pounding down the door, an injury remains the obvious answer. Losing Mountcastle would certainly require a move, but we have yet to discover who the Orioles have dubbed the unofficial relief at the position. Anthony Santander and Terrin Vavra have both worked out at first, but neither have played the role in a big league game. James McCann and Adley Rutschman remain options, but McCann’s IL stint did not open a spot on the Opening Day roster.
A hot-hitting lefty power bat sounds like a prime candidate to serve as the designated hitter, but the Orioles have already used three players at DH this season. Santander and Rutschman should handle the bulk of the duties, but Gunnar Henderson or another infielder could require time if Jorge Mateo and Adam Frazier continue to contribute.
The Opening Day roster is never a finished product. Jordan Westburg and Joey Ortiz will eventually climb their way to the Baltimore while Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall work to reach the mound at Camden Yards. The first basemen were expected to fly under the radar, but Lester squashed that idea in a hurry.
The group of veterans at first represent the best depth at Norfolk aside from the middle infield. Baltimore could eventually regret letting Cordero go if he excels in New York, but Lester could prove to be the gem of the group if he keeps the long balls coming.