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Early preview of Orioles pre-Rule 5 draft 40-man roster decisions

Last November, the Orioles did not add any new prospects to the 40-man roster. That likely won’t repeat this year.

Akron RubberDucks v Bowie Baysox
Coby Mayo is one of the players who the Orioles will have to add to the 40-man roster after the season.
Photo by Diamond Images via Getty Images

One sign of an organization that is overflowing with talent is when it gets to a point where there are more interesting prospects than the team can fit onto its 40-man roster. Teams in that position have to start thinking of when to deal players before they are lost for next to nothing in the Rule 5 draft. With a large group of players becoming eligible for the draft after this season, the Orioles are getting close to being one of those teams.

At the moment, the Orioles have 38 players on their 40-man roster. It’s not even full. Back in November, the O’s chose not to fill the roster with eligible prospects. That’s partly because the two players who would have seemed like the most obvious additions this time a year ago, Heston Kjerstad and Jordan Westburg, were added during the course of the season. A third, Darell Hernaiz, was traded before the season began.

As things stand right now, there will be four more spots that open up on the 40-man roster at season’s end. Those are the four Orioles who are going to become free agents after the World Series: Danny Coulombe, James McCann, John Means, and Anthony Santander. One more, Craig Kimbrel, could become a free agent if the Orioles decline his option for 2025.

Prospects become eligible for the Rule 5 draft at different times depending on how old they were when they first signed. Players 18 and younger become Rule 5 eligible in the fifth R5 draft after signing. Those who were 19 and older on signing become R5 eligible in the fourth draft after they turned pro.

For the group of players who will become eligible after this season, that generally means players who were drafted out of college in 2021, or who were drafted from the high school ranks in 2020.

2020 high school picks

This was the draft truncated to five rounds due to the pandemic. Under Mike Elias, the Orioles have not tended to choose many players from the high school ranks. Even in the shorter draft, they made two picks who were just finishing high school.

Coby Mayo

Every team that’s dangling a starting pitcher this winter is hoping that the Orioles like that pitcher enough that they would be willing to part with Mayo to get him. Freshly minted as the #15 prospect in the game by Baseball Prospectus, it feels like Mayo is untouchable. A 2023 campaign that saw him hit 29 home runs in his age 21 season was a sign that the power had arrived. He walked over 15% of the time, too.

Carter Baumler

Probably the least likely addition of any of the players I’ve mentioned so far, if for no other reason than that he’s been set back by so many injuries that he has a total of 38.2 professional innings under his belt and has yet to pitch above Low-A Delmarva. Baumler had potential that led to the Orioles giving him a $1.5 million bonus in 2020, but he hasn’t had many opportunities to develop that potential.

2021 college picks

The Orioles had 21 picks in this draft and they signed every pick. All but one of those picks were college players, so right from the get-go they were set up for a lot of decisions when those players became Rule 5 eligible after the 2024 season. First round pick Colton Cowser has gotten onto the 40-man already.

In addition to their own draft picks, three of the pitchers who were acquired by the Orioles in their 2022 deadline deals involving Jorge López and Trey Mancini will also hit Rule 5 draft eligibility after this season.

Connor Norby

There were prospect lists that had Norby in the back part of the top 100 prior to the 2023 season. It doesn’t seem like the 5’9” infielder is getting the same love heading into 2024. There was nothing in his 2023 results at Triple-A Norfolk to turn you off of him. He batted .290/.359/.483 across 138 games, with 21 home runs.

That’s fine. It’s just that there were several other Tides who were better than fine: Cowser, Mayo, Joey Ortiz, Kyle Stowers, and Jordan Westburg. Norby has value, but it’s not proving to be “headline a trade” value.

Cade Povich

The 6’3” lefty Povich was the headliner at the time of the López trade with the Twins. If you look only at his ERA from 2023, which was 5.04 between Double-A Bowie and Norfolk, this may not be your favorite pitching prospect in the system. His stuff is good enough to get the prospect writers excited. One thing he could stand to improve in 2024 is his performance once he has allowed a runner to reach base, as he allowed an OPS 143 points higher with runners on than he did with bases empty.

Chayce McDermott

McDermott arrived in the Mancini trade two years ago. His 2023 season was also split between Bowie and Norfolk, with much better results in terms of ERA than Povich. Batters hit just .156 off of McDermott once he got to Triple-A, so if he can duplicate that, we’re getting somewhere. Walks were a problem, as McDermott issued them to 13.8% of batters on the season.

It seems like it would take a serious collapse for either of these pitchers to not still be in the roster picture. Depending on their performance and needs at the big league level, we might see them in an Orioles uniform in this season.

John Rhodes

The Orioles picked Rhodes in the third round, giving the draft-eligible sophomore an overslot bonus. He’s played the corner outfield spots in the O’s minors. It’s going to take something of a bounce-back season for Rhodes to be in the roster addition group, as he hit just .228 with a .744 OPS overall at Bowie this year and chased that with underwhelming results in the Arizona Fall League.

Billy Cook

If you can play all over the diamond and hit a little bit, you are probably going to find a big league spot somewhere. Cook, a 10th round pick from this 2021 draft class, batted .250/.321/.456 with 24 homers for Bowie, and he played five different defensive positions. There might be a super-utility role there, although if he gets to Norfolk this year and the bat disappears, that is less likely to happen.

Justin Armbruester

Armbruester played his way up to Norfolk in the middle of last season, where he struck out almost exactly one in four batters and other things were not quite as good. The walk rate went up by a lot and the home run rate doubled from what he’d done at Bowie. There are people in the world of Orioles writing and podcasting who are a lot more excited about Armbruester than I am. I don’t think another high-4 ERA at Triple-A would get him either onto the Orioles this year or onto the 40-man at the end of the year.

Alex Pham

Though they were drafted in the same year with the same amount of college experience, Pham is close to a full year younger than Armbruester, so he’ll be playing this season at age 24 compared to 25 for our last pitcher. Pham split 2023 between Aberdeen and Bowie and things went well at each of these stops, including a 0.989 WHIP in 14 games for the Baysox. Can he keep succeeding if his Bowie K/9 of 8.0 continues at Norfolk? His 40-man status and potential big league future probably depends on that.

Juan Nuñez

Nuñez, who also arrived in the López trade, becomes Rule 5 eligible after this season because of when he signed with the Twins. He was just labeled as Baseball America’s biggest potential sleeper prospect for the Orioles system. The 5’11” righty has not yet gotten above High-A Aberdeen, where he had some good things going for him but also a 5.8 BB/9 over 13 games. I think it’s going to take a loud alarm to wake up that sleeper.


It’s a big group! Add in to this roster math that 2022 #1 overall pick Jackson Holliday is on track to arrive on the 40-man as soon as Opening Day.

If more than half of these ten players are playing their way into consideration, the O’s will have some tough decisions to make on who to protect and who to leave off. Or, they’ll need to thin the ranks with trades between now and July so that they have more of a say in what kind of value they get back for their prospects who could be Rule 5 candidates for other teams.

When I looked at the roster picture in November 2022 and tried to predict the 2023 Rule 5 additions, I thought the Orioles would add Kjerstad, Hernaiz, and Hudson Haskin, with a prediction that Westburg would already be on the 40-man before the end of the season. That turned out to be what happened with Kjerstad also. Hernaiz was dealt, and Haskin was hurt for a bit and ultimately neither protected from the Rule 5 nor selected. The Orioles added no one new before the 2023 deadline and this fact did not matter even though people talked about it a lot because there was nothing else to say.

I think that we start out with four players who are pretty darn close to locks to be on a 40-man roster after this year’s deadline passes. With position players, that’s Mayo and Norby. The McDermott/Povich duo of pitchers also seem to be on the inside track. Cook’s versatility seems like something that would appeal to the Orioles, and I think at least one of the fringier pitchers will make it too - for now, let’s go with Armbruester, because he’s already the closest to MLB.

That would be a group of six players. This wouldn’t be unprecedented for the team, as the Orioles added six players who were Rule 5 eligible ahead of the 2021 version of this deadline. Three of those six are still on the roster today: Félix Bautista, Kyle Bradish, and DL Hall. The team was in a different place then, probably more willing to give roster space to players to try them out in the tanking era than they should be now that the team is good.

Although this is a large potential group, the Orioles should not end up with too much of a challenge fitting as many of the prospects onto the 40-man as they want by season’s end. There are still a few players on the current 40-man who could be easy picks to release if they don’t show some improvement this year.