SARASOTA, Fla.—Opening Day is a little over three weeks away, and Orioles manager Brandon Hyde still has huge decisions to make on the composition of the roster. He also must decide on an Opening Day starter and a leadoff hitter.
“I’m not ready to announce that, yet,” Hyde said about his Opening Day starter.
That choice will likely be among Dylan Bundy, whose next start is Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays at Port Charlotte; Andrew Cashner, who faces the Boston Red Sox on Friday; and Alex Cobb, who won’t start until after Monday’s off day.
There also appears to be competition for the leadoff spot.
Last year, Trey Mancini led off 51 times, more than anyone else. It was something that Mancini liked, and he hit .258 with a .328 on-base percentage, higher than his .242 and .299 season average.
However, the leadoff spot wasn’t good for Mancini’s power numbers. He hit just six of his 24 home runs and produced just 15 of his 58 RBIs in 2018.
Mancini did not lead off after the statistical midpoint of the season, June 29, the Orioles’ 81st game.
After that, former manager Buck Showalter used Tim Beckham for 27 consecutive games until the arrival of Jonathan Villar on August 2nd.
Villar, who was the Orioles’ leadoff hitter in the 5-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday, batted up top 13 times until center fielder Cedric Mullins was installed there.
Mullins batted leadoff 37 times in the season’s final 41 games.
Even though Mullins has experience there, he didn’t have great success batting first. Mullins hit just .208 with a .280 OBP. In seven games batting seventh, eighth or ninth, Mullins batted .429 (9-for-21).
Villar has batted first more often than anywhere else in his career. He’s hit .266 with a .338 OBP, and he brings a potential for stolen bases.
“I think a week from now, I’ll start putting lineups together,” Hyde said. “As our numbers start to trickle down, and we start to try and figure out a little bit where pieces fit…I just know that I’m going to put our best four hitters in the top four spots in the lineup, and whoever that is against the matchup that night, that’s how it’s going to line up.”
Other than Villar, the Orioles don’t seem to have an obvious choice to bat leadoff, and perhaps not an easy choice to bat fourth—especially if Chris Davis is ineffective and Mark Trumbo doesn’t start the season on the 25-man roster.
Hyde has preached aggression this spring and is realistic about the team’s power.
“First to third is going to be a big part of our game,” Hyde said. “We’re just not going to have a lineup full of 30 home run bats up and down the order.”