As spring training nears, many Oriole roster spots are up for grabs - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Paul Folkemer

As spring training nears, many Oriole roster spots are up for grabs

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

It has been an offseason of upheaval for the Orioles after a season of horrendous play. There is change in the front office, with executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, and the on-field coaching staff, with manager Brandon Hyde.

Finally, though, baseball is back on the horizon. Orioles pitchers and catchers will report to Sarasota, Fla., next week to kick off spring training.

Coming off a 115-loss season, the Orioles’  roster is full of uncertainty. Of the 59 players scheduled to report to camp, only a small fraction can be considered locks to crack the Opening Day roster. Let’s look at where the Orioles stand at each position.

Catcher

If you have any idea who’s going to be the Orioles’ starting catcher, please report to the courtesy phone. Two holdover candidates are the strongest contenders, but the Orioles haven’t tipped their hand about which way they’re leaning.

Caleb Joseph, who led the Orioles with 79 starts last year, wasn’t offered a contract to come back  and is still unsigned, Chance Sisco (43 starts) and Austin Wynns (33) remain. Sisco was a huge disappointment last season, entering 2018 as the Orioles’ top prospect and finishing it with major questions about his defense and offense. It’s too early to give up on the left-hand-hitting catcher, who turns 24 on Feb. 24, and the Orioles have nothing to lose by giving him another crack at the job. But the club could decide to park him in the minors for further development first.

Wynns was the best hitter of the Orioles’ revolving door of catchers last year, batting .255 with a .669 OPS, and the 28-year-old showed polish behind the plate for a rookie. Almost any outcome is possible by Opening Day; he could be the regular catcher, serve as the backup or return to the minors as depth.

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The Orioles have also brought in veteran catchers Jesus Sucre and Carlos Perez on minor league deals, and Andrew Susac, who was removed from the 40-man roster this offseason but will be in camp as a non-roster invitee. Ultimately, the decision may come down to the catchers who Hyde and his coaching staff think are best equipped to develop young pitchers.

Infield

As much as some Oriole fans don’t want to hear it, the first base job belongs to Chris Davis, who will be the starter — at least to begin the season. With the Orioles still owing Davis $92 million for the next four years, Elias and his analytics team will try everything they can to wring some value out of the fading slugger before they give up on him. It remains to be seen just how long Davis’ leash will be, but he’ll be on the Opening Day roster.

At the other corner, Renato Nunez has the inside track on the third base job after a solid two-month performance in 2018, in which he batted .275 with a .781 OPS and played better-than-expected defense. Winter pickup Rio Ruiz will be competing in the spring.

The middle infield is where things get muddled. Elias, shortly after his hiring in November, indicated that Jonathan Villar — who was a spark plug after his acquisition July 31 — would serve as the regular shortstop rather than second baseman. That might have changed after December’s Rule 5 draft, in which the Orioles plucked shortstop Richie Martin from Oakland with the first pick, and also acquired Drew Jackson from the Philadelphia Phillies.

Martin, who has a reputation as a stellar fielder but is unproven with the bat, has the inside track. But the new Orioles’ administration might not be as devoted to keeping Rule 5 picks on the roster as the previous regime was. If they don’t think Martin is likely to develop into a solid player, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Orioles cut ties with him before the regular season starts. The same holds true for Jackson, who is also under Rule 5 restrictions and is a longer shot to stick. Offseason acquisitions Hanser Alberto and Jack Reinheimer are also in the middle infield mix, as is homegrown utility man Steve Wilkerson.

Outfield/DH

The only outfield spot with relatively little competition is in center, where Cedric Mullins will begin his first full year in the majors. Mullins arrived in Baltimore with much fanfare last August, pushing Adam Jones off the center field position for the first time in his 11-year Oriole career. After a red-hot debut, Mullins cooled in September and finished with an uninspiring .235 average and .671 OPS and had some growing pains defensively. Still, his minor league pedigree suggests he can be an asset with his speed and his glove.

Trey Mancini, who’s one of the longest tenured Orioles in just his third full year, will be stationed at a corner outfield spot for now, although Elias and his staff are aware how much Mancini struggled in the field last season. Look for Mancini to start in left field until a spot opens up at first base or designated hitter.

Right field is wide open after the departure of Jones, who shifted to the position last August. Although Jones is still available as a free agent, Elias indicated the Orioles aren’t planning to sign anyone who is seeking a multi-year contract. For now, the top candidate may be DJ Stewart, the Orioles’ 2015 first-round pick who provided a jolt during his September callup last year with three homers in 40 at-bats. Joey Rickard is still around, though he’d ideally serve in a fourth outfielder role at most.

One player who could make this an interesting competition is Austin Hays. After being named the Orioles’ minor league player of the year in 2017 and making his big league debut, Hays had an ineffective, injury-marred 2018 in the minors. With a clean bill of health and a hot spring, Hays could put himself back into the major league picture sooner rather than later.

The designated hitter spot belongs to Mark Trumbo, who is optimistic he’ll be healthy enough to start the season after undergoing knee surgery in September. If Trumbo hits well for the first few months, there’s an outside chance the Orioles could trade him at the deadline to a club that needs power. If Trumbo needs more rehab time to start the year, Mancini could slide into the DH role to open an outfield spot for a better defender.

Starting rotation

The top three spots are locked in with Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner, though all three could stand to improve from 2018. Bundy struggled to a 5.45 ERA and an MLB-worst 41 homers allowed, Cashner posted a 5.29 mark and Cobb had a strong second half but a disastrous first. All three lost 15 or more games. They’ll be working with a new pitching coach, Doug Brocail, who replaced Roger McDowell.

David Hess would likely be the No. 4 man if the season started today. He was erratic in his rookie season but showed potential to hold down a back-of-the-rotation spot. The fifth starter’s job is an open competition. Of the Orioles on the roster, Yefry Ramirez had the fifth-most starts last year with 12, but he threw only one quality start — in his last outing of the season — and had a 6.92 ERA as a starter. The Orioles will likely throw Ramirez into a scrum of candidates that also includes left-handers John Means and Josh Rogers and right-handers Luis Ortiz and Dillon Tate.

Bullpen

The bullpen might be the most stable area of the team. Mychal Givens will return as the closer after faring well in that role during the last two months of 2018. Miguel Castro has become a mainstay in the bullpen, as has Richard Bleier, who is returning from lat muscle surgery. Second-year left-handers Paul Fry and Tanner Scott figure to round out the southpaw contingent with Bleier, barring a spring collapse.

It’ll be interesting to see how the new regime handles 25-year-old right-hander Pedro Araujo, who made the 2018 roster as a Rule 5 pick. Araujo, who suffered a strained right elbow and didn’t pitch after June 10, needs to serve 16 more days on the big league roster to fulfill his Rule 5 requirements. The logical move is for the Orioles to carry him for that short time frame and then send him to the minors, but we don’t know if Elias is as high on Araujo as predecessor Dan Duquette was.

Two or three remaining bullpen spots are up for grabs. Mike Wright spent the 2018 season on the Orioles’ roster, mainly because he was out of options, but stumbled to a 5.55 ERA in 48 games. Elias and Hyde won’t carry the same loyalty to the homegrown Wright that the previous administration did. The same is true for left-hander Donnie Hart, who failed as a specialist last year, giving up a .333 average and .948 OPS to lefty swingers.

Holdovers Jimmy Yacabonis, Cody Carroll and Evan Phillips will battle for a right-handed relief role along with Maryland native Branden Kline, who was added to the 40-man roster this offseason. And five non-roster invitees — right-handers Gregory Infante, Josh Lucas, Bo Schultz and Gabriel Ynoa and left-hander Sean Gilmartin — have previous major league experience, the latter two with the Orioles.

Who are the locks?

Well, there aren’t many. By my reckoning, the only position players sure to make the Opening Day roster — assuming health, and no last-minute trades — are Davis, Villar, Mancini, Mullins and Trumbo. And I’d classify Nunez and Wynns as pretty safe bets, if not necessarily locks, based on their solid 2018 performances.

Among pitchers, Bundy, Cobb and Cashner are locks in the rotation and Givens, Bleier and Castro in the bullpen. The safe bets include Hess, Fry, Scott and Araujo.

With so few sure things, there could be anywhere from eight to 14 roster spots available for the taking this spring. It’s going to be a fascinating camp, and Elias and Hyde will be closely watching how it all shakes out.

23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Boog Robinson Robinson

    February 6, 2019 at 8:33 am

    Does all this lineup uncertainly remind anybody besides myself of the opening 10 minutes to the movie “Major League”?

    To paraphrase the construction worker on his lunch break ….. “Who are these stinking guys”?

    • Paul Folkemer

      February 6, 2019 at 12:56 pm

      There certainly aren’t many “name” players. This year’s T-shirt giveaways should be fascinating.

  2. Fareastern89

    February 6, 2019 at 10:40 am

    You know, I’m looking forward to the coming season far more than this time last year. I’d much prefer to watch younger players who may actually have an upside and improve under inspired coaching, than watch veterans on the downhill slide, or players who never fulfilled their potential despite repeated chances, or who are one-dimensional and playing out of position. Sit back and wait for the occasional good play, or just something unexpected (like a win). Enjoy the game. But please, it’s time to move on from Wright and Hart.

    • Bhoffman1

      February 6, 2019 at 12:05 pm

      Right on

    • Paul Folkemer

      February 6, 2019 at 12:58 pm

      I’d like to think this year’s team will be young, scrappy, and hungry, to (sort of) quote Alexander Hamilton. They won’t win a lot of games, but hopefully they’ll at least be interesting to watch.

    • HurricaneDaddy

      February 10, 2019 at 1:34 pm

      I just could not believe the continued use of Wright last year. The good news is that, theoretically, things could not possibly be any worse. Right? At least there’s hope this season… for the future… Right?
      Guys?
      …?

  3. deqalt

    February 6, 2019 at 11:00 am

    I think the most fascinating part of spring training will be watching how Elias and Hyde view the younger players vs. the old regime. Do they see Stewart, Sisco, Mullins, and Hayes as legit players or were they over valued by Duquette and company. An outside perspective and quite frankly a “new” school look.

    • Paul Folkemer

      February 6, 2019 at 1:01 pm

      Yup, no doubt Elias and his staff have some different opinions on the holdover O’s prospects than Duquette and Buck did — for better or for worse. In either case, they might as well give those young guys plenty of playing time to prove what they can (or can’t) do.

  4. Bman

    February 6, 2019 at 11:20 am

    It’s going to be a fun spring training. I think there might be some interesting surprises of players playing really well. Can Martin continue to hit .300 with his corrected vision? What will Núñez hit for average and power with a regular gig? What will Mancini hit for after a little sophomore slump? What kind of stats will Stewart andcMullins put up? How many bases will Villar swipe in a full season? How long till we see the new guard of Hays, Mountcastle, McKenna, Diaz? When do Trumbo, Cobb, Cashner, Givens, Bleier get traded and for what prospects in return? Pitching will be very interesting too. Is this finally the year of hunter Harvey? Does Akin or Lowther arrive? Dietz or Sedlock perform? What other pitchers step up? Kremer, Means, Ortiz, Tate?

    • Bhoffman1

      February 6, 2019 at 12:07 pm

      Give a should stay he young and you gotta build around some core players

    • Paul Folkemer

      February 6, 2019 at 1:06 pm

      Agreed, Bman. Even for a bad team, there’s no shortage of intriguing story lines, in both the majors and minors.

  5. PA Bird Lover

    February 6, 2019 at 11:49 am

    Your assessment can’t be challenged, in my opinion. That’s the most open spots at ST the O’s have had in many years, which in my opinion is good, if you are in favor of starting from the top all the way to Aberdeen. This franchise obviously bottomed out last year, making the wrecking ball the only logical move. Have a great day everyone.

    • Paul Folkemer

      February 6, 2019 at 1:12 pm

      Agreed. The Orioles had no choice but to start fresh. And competition can definitely be a good thing when you’re lacking established players.

  6. Bhoffman1

    February 6, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    Confused Rich says that Martin is our starting shortstop. I do like that you say that Elias is not so obligated to keep rule 5 players on the squad like DD I shutter to say his name did. I also like that you said there is no loyalty to Wright and Richard at best is a fourth outfielder. We all know Mancini is a liability in left field . You say he stays there till DH or first base opens up. I can see trading Trumbo but how does do we get rid of Davis if he still sleepwalks thru the season ?

    • Camden Brooks

      February 6, 2019 at 12:51 pm

      I think I have it figured out. Fill out our entire pitching staff with guys that hit like Ohtani, and then Trumbo can DH for Davis. I hope my office in the warehouse has a good view.

    • Rich Dubroff

      February 6, 2019 at 1:09 pm

      Bhoffman, my guess is that Martin starts at short. He was the first pick in the Rule 5 draft, and with the lack of depth in the organization, I bet he sticks.

      Araujo and Santander were previous Rule 5 picks and I don’t think they have any feeling they must be kept, and I think Jackson will be judged on his own merits.

      Best wishes from confused Rich.

    • Paul Folkemer

      February 6, 2019 at 1:27 pm

      I agree with Rich that Martin would be the Orioles’ starting shortstop if the season started today. I think he has to be considered the favorite at this point.

      But I could see a scenario where if Martin looks awful in spring (especially if his defense doesn’t live up to the hype), the O’s decide he’s not worth the year-long experiment and cut ties with him by the end of spring training. That’s why I didn’t classify him as a lock.

  7. Bancells Moustache

    February 6, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    This guy here is dead!

    Cross him off then…

  8. willmiranda

    February 6, 2019 at 3:20 pm

    What’s the over/under for the number of guys on the 25-man roster throughout the season?

  9. ClyOs

    February 6, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    Paul, love the article. I believe catcher is the position most up for grabs. Of all the catchers coming to spring training no one has any real ML experience. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Joseph get signed to a one year contract. He’s familiar with the pitching staff, and a positive presence in the club house. I also think the middle infield may get a little more congested. I hear Baltimore is the front runner to sign Cuban shortstop Yolbert Sanchez.

  10. Grand Strand Bird Fan

    February 6, 2019 at 10:05 pm

    The Orioles need to sign a few free agents to fill obvious holes. Derek Dietrich is someone who can play the infield as well as the outfield would be a good addition. Also, Jose Iglesias is a solid shortstop, and catcher Matt Wieters could both be additions that would greatly improve the team. I would take a flier on pitcher Clay Bucholz too. Right now as I have said before this team is not a major league caliber team. Adding a few free agents would give some of the better prospect time to develop. Otherwise this team is will likely have record worse than last year.

  11. Ekim

    February 6, 2019 at 10:55 pm

    Mullins and Stewart are way overhyped. What I’ve been saying for almost a year is “the cupboard is bare” and the “fire sale” of last Summer only added to the mediocrity of the farm system. Basically, if the best that the O’s have were put together they’d have a hard time in triple A and might even struggle in double A. I have a feeling that we haven’t seen the worst yet.

  12. Disco Stupid

    February 7, 2019 at 10:28 pm

    Catcher is the most interesting to me. For years we fans dreamed of Sisco’s stick and it was such a dud. In an ideal world I would love to have Chance and Wynns under the tutelage of Cossins and the new staff. However, catcher defense and leadership is so important to a team and big league staff so having a proven guy like Sucre back there has value. But then who is sent down? The underperforming high upside prospect or the higher floor lower ceiling Wynns?

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