Orioles roster-spot battles will be intense during camp's final two weeks - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Spring Training

Orioles roster-spot battles will be intense during camp’s final two weeks

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

SARASOTA, Fla.—The Orioles get their only day off of spring training on Monday, and when play resumes, there will be 13 days remaining before the team leaves the warmth of Florida for a much chillier climate.

Opening Day is March 28 in New York, and manager Brandon Hyde has dozens of decisions to make, but in the past week a number of players have made huge impressions on him.

Take the outfield competition. When camp began, it was assumed that Trey Mancini would be in left, Cedric Mullins would be in center, and right was a wide-open competition.

After 18 games, only Mancini in left seems to be a certainty — and he might be playing some first base. Perhaps the camp’s most pleasant surprise has been the emergence of Austin Hays (pictured above), who lost much of last year because of a left ankle injury that required surgery. He has excelled on offense and defense. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Hays unseat Mullins in center.

Hays also could play right field, but there are other contenders for the other outfield spots, principally Joey Rickard and Anthony Santander.

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Rickard and Santander have played well. Veteran Eric Young Jr. is probably a step behind. Dwight Smith Jr., who was acquired on Friday from Toronto, has yet to play.

“They are tightly bunched,” manager Brandon Hyde said of the outfielders.

“The tough decisions are great because they’re playing well. I hope that Dwight comes in here and plays really, really well and makes it even harder on everybody, but it’s pretty fair to say that everybody’s gotten a real equal opportunity in the outfield. A lot of guys have gotten a ton of at-bats and gotten an opportunity to play and taken advantage of it, so I’m really pleased with how those guys have played.”

In the infield, Rule 5 picks Richie Martin and Drew Jackson seem to be ahead in the jockeying for the shortstop and utility positions, assuming the Orioles carry 13 pitchers and three bench players.

Left-handed hitter Rio Ruiz has made a  strong impression at third base, where his offense and defense have been better than incumbent Renato Nunez.

Hyde has gotten to know his players over the last month.

“I didn’t know Austin Hays, and I didn’t know Santander, and DJ Stewart real well, Rio Ruiz a little bit, [Stevie] Wilkerson, those type of players,” Hyde said.

“I just didn’t have a ton of knowledge into their games. A lot of those guys have big futures ahead of them. Whether they break with the team or not or go to Triple-A, they’re going to be productive major league players. They’re working the right way, I know that. This environment is really allowing them to be free and showcase. I think they’ve all taken advantage of it. I’m impressed with all of them.”

Chance Sisco has played well, and it would be surprising if he wasn’t the Opening Day catcher. Until the past several days, Austin Wynns seemed to have a clear path to being Sisco’s backup, but he’s out because of a sore left oblique. If he isn’t ready to play in the next several days, he could fall behind veterans Carlos Perez and Jesus Sucre.

Sucre was a late arrival in camp because of visa issues but has made up ground quickly.

Chris Davis has missed a week because of a strained left hip flexor. Hyde expects him to play in a few days. He’s just 1-for-12 (.083) and will need to play regularly in the final two weeks to be ready for Opening Day.

So will Mark Trumbo, who has yet to play after having right knee surgery last September.

“Guys will start getting more at-bats,” Hyde said. “You’ll start seeing pitchers back-to-back, some players going back-to-back. The guys are going to be on the field more. We’re really going to zero in on the guys we’re going to take to Baltimore, and they’re going to play a lot. This is the time to really gear up for the season right now.”

There is competition on the pitching staff, too. Besides Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb, none of whom has had a start without giving up a run, there are a number of candidates for the back end of the rotation.

David Hess and Mike Wright appear to be the top choices for starting roles. Wright, who has 10 scoreless innings, will start against the New York Yankees Tuesday night.

Bundy, Cashner, Cobb, Hess and Wright are right-handers. Hyde could choose left-handers Josh Rogers, who allowed two runs on five hits in 3 2/3 innings on Sunday, or John Means, who’ll pitch behind Wright on Tuesday.

So will Nate Karns, who the Orioles haven been bringing along slowly because of his injury history. Karns, who missed a start on March 1 against the Yankees because of arm soreness, has pitched a scoreless inning in two appearances this week.

If Rogers, Means or Jimmy Yacabonis, who has yet to start in major league camp, don’t make the club, they could start at Triple-A Norfolk along with Luis Ortiz, who was optioned to Norfolk Sunday, Yefry Ramirez and Gabriel Ynoa.

Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier, who made his 2019 debut on Saturday night, appear to be locks for bullpen slots. The same is true for Miguel Castro, who threw his fifth shutout inning, and has allowed just three hits and struck out eight.

Paul Fry might have secured a spot, too. On Sunday, Fry threw two more spotless innings. He has given up just three hits in six scoreless innings.

Tanner Scott has struggled some, allowing seven runs in four innings, but has walked just one batter in five appearances.

Hyde and general manager Mike Elias must decide if they want to keep Pedro Araujo, who still needs to stay on the roster for the first 17 days to fulfill his Rule 5 requirement. Araujo gave up three runs on four hits on Sunday.

Other strong candidates are Cody Carroll (two runs in five innings) and Evan Phillips (six scoreless innings).

If Karns and Araujo join Givens, Bleier, Castro, Fry and Scott in the bullpen, that leaves just one spot open—if the Orioles go with eight relievers to begin the season.

In the final days of spring play, Hyde will decide who will come north with the club and how they’ll be used.

“Whether we do a piggyback situation, whether we do openers, we haven’t even scratched the surface yet,” Hyde said. “We’re just stretching these guys out to see what the best fit is. The fortunate thing is that a lot of these guys that are battling are pitching well.”

24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. 5brooks5

    March 10, 2019 at 5:19 pm

    Rich, I just wanted to compliment you on your coverage of the spring happenings! Job well done, well written, concise, informative! Thanks, my go to site!

    • jkneps63

      March 10, 2019 at 7:54 pm

      MASN has much more up to date information than Rich seems to be able to provide…

      • Orial

        March 11, 2019 at 8:18 am

        What are you some kind of idiot?

    • Rich Dubroff

      March 10, 2019 at 9:02 pm

      Thank you, 5brooks5.

  2. Bhoffman1

    March 10, 2019 at 5:28 pm

    You didn’t mention Diaz in the outfield mix. Our starting pitching is a mess. Everything else looks competitive but you can’t complete being down always after the first inning.

    • Rich Dubroff

      March 10, 2019 at 9:03 pm

      Bhoffman, in the original version of the story, which was posted briefly, I mentioned Diaz, but then removed him when the cuts were made.

  3. jkneps63

    March 10, 2019 at 5:43 pm

    Whoops, 2nd round of cuts has been made. Diaz sent to minor league camp…

    • Bhoffman1

      March 10, 2019 at 5:46 pm

      Oh well he is our future

  4. bmorebirds

    March 10, 2019 at 6:06 pm

    It’ll be fun watching talented Baby Birds develop in the outfield and infield in 2019. It will not be fun watching basically the same inept pitchers from 2018 trot out to the mound with gasoline cans in 2019. Can’t wait to see what Elias puts into our pitching pipeline. As for Diaz, he’ll be back before September.

    • Bhoffman1

      March 10, 2019 at 6:41 pm

      Yes your right. I hope Hays stays and opens in right or center. I think Ruiz has more talent then Nunez. The pen looks decent. The starting pitching is a joke and Bundy is the worst of the lot. I’ve said it a million times the staff could have been built around Gausman with the new coaching. What a terrible trade

  5. ClyOs

    March 10, 2019 at 7:25 pm

    I have a feeling either Trumbo or Davis or both will start the season on the DL. That moves Mancini to 1st and allows them to bring another outfielder north.

    • Bhoffman1

      March 10, 2019 at 8:00 pm

      Trumbo maybe but if Davis is healthy Mancini obviously stays in left.

  6. Bman123

    March 10, 2019 at 8:03 pm

    A little surprising to see Stewart reassigned, maybe they like him that much and want to season more in AAA. I’d like to see Hays be a starter. Mullins is looking more like a 4th OF. Wouldn’t mind seeing Santander make team too. SP need to get their reps in if they’re going to pitch well for opening day. Bundy, Cobb, Cashner have looked abysmal so far. Givens too. Bleier hopefully gets back to form.

  7. Ekim

    March 10, 2019 at 11:31 pm

    I find it interesting that Stewart was one of the first sent down. Going back to last year, I commented here that I thought he was “over hyped” and questioned why he was brought up. I also questioned why Mullins was hyped as an Adam Jones type replacement possibility when he was brought up. It was obvious he needed more seasoning and now I read that, at best he might be the 4th outfielder.

    I’ve questioned why “Yac” has been the “forgotten man” by Hyde. He had two good appearances early and then dropped off the radar for almost two weeks until yesterday. Did he do something to piss Brocail and Hyde off or was he hurt? Now he isn’t even being mentioned as a possibility for going North. When I read Tanner Scott’s name I cringe and Rogers, Carroll and Araujo have been underwhelming. But what do I know… just sayin…

    • Bhoffman1

      March 11, 2019 at 9:19 am

      Carroll has been ok and Scott has heat something we are lacking. Araujo should be me go. Rogers has looked better then our big three starters . Lol

    • Rich Dubroff

      March 11, 2019 at 6:45 pm

      Ekim, the new regime has inherited many players and is in the process of deciding who they think will be helpful and who won’t be.

      There are many pitchers to be evaluated, and I wondered why Yacabonis didn’t pitch in a game, too.

      He’s not hurt, and didn’t annoy Brocail or Hyde.

      The whole decision making process is fascinating.

  8. Borg

    March 11, 2019 at 5:56 am

    If they think Araujo has any future at all, I don’t see what the problem would be in bringing him north for 2 1/2 weeks just to fulfill his Rule 5 requirements, then ship him to Norfolk or Bowie to pitch. Given the early starting date, 5 or 6 of those days might be rainouts anyway, and the O’s aren’t contending so even if he got lit up in an appearance it wouldn’t materially affect their season at all. Didn’t think Stewart would be sent out so early, but if Davis struggles out of the gate it wouldn’t shock me if the O’s finally bit the bullet in May and just ate the contract in order to free up roster space. That would let him come back up and let Mancini play his real position. Hyde certainly has his work cut out for him. Fortunately, I don’t think anyone is going to freak out over results just yet since they were so god awful last season.

    • Bhoffman1

      March 11, 2019 at 9:17 am

      They are not going to bite the bullet for 80 million plus. The only way is some sort of creative buyout. In my opinion Araujo has no future.

    • Rich Dubroff

      March 11, 2019 at 6:48 pm

      Borg, I wasn’t surprised by Stewart’s optioning. There are lots of outfielders to look at for them.

  9. willmiranda

    March 11, 2019 at 10:28 am

    I’d like to see Escobar at short unless he has totally lost it or one of the young guys really blows him away in the short pre-season. He’s a reliably plus player on both offense and defense, and he’s proved to be consistent over the long regular season. I know two competitors are Rule 5 guys, but I’d rather see them in flexible roles than depend on them as full-time starters over the season. I think Escobar has a spring training opt-out clause, so maybe that will come into play.

    • Rich Dubroff

      March 11, 2019 at 7:00 pm

      Will, Escobar’s numbers fell off sharply last year, and it may be hard, if the Orioles opt for 13 pitchers fir them to keep two utility players.

  10. Tony Paparella

    March 11, 2019 at 11:09 am

    Rich Dubroff is an excellent writer who provides excellent insight to what is going on so stop the BS on that..I would personally like Santander to play in right field as he has a good bat and great arm and believe he has a lot of potential to be a good one.There are (or seems to be) a lot of good prospects for the outfield positions and it is a shame they all can’t make it. Also remember we haven’t seen Dwight Smith yet and though he will probably start in minors he may be up to the Bigs quickly..I am a Nunez fan for third base though I realize the glove and arm have not been that effective from what I have seen.I do like his bat but Ruiz is playing good and is better defensively and Elias is responsible for bringing him onboard.Best to hang on to Araujo for the 17 days or whatever as they carried him all last year and it would be stupid to lose him now as he has good stuff.Getting a little disgusted with our veteran starters as they can’t seem to get it together.I know it is still somewhat early but they are starting off the way they finished last year for the most part.I still believe Karns can be a good starter if he can remain healthy and get his arm extended.Bleier and Paul Fry are going to do a good job and I hope Givens gets back to form.Castro may have to be considered as a starter again if those other guys don’t get their crap together and Tanner Scott will have to start pitching the way everyone “conceives” him to be.As an amateur those are my professional opinions, LOL, Tony

    • Rich Dubroff

      March 11, 2019 at 7:01 pm

      Thank you, Tony. Always good to hear from you.

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