SARASOTA, Fla.—The Orioles still have a number of cuts to make as spring training ends on Monday. General manager Mike Elias said when discussing cuts last Sunday that it was likely the team would claim players from the waiver wire as other teams make cuts.
Based on five weeks of spring training, here are five observations:
- Mike Elias is firmly in charge of the team.
After viewing the Orioles on and off the field during spring training, there is no doubt that Elias is making every crucial decision and has full authority to do so.
Elias has watched batting practice and bullpen sessions up close, talks with manager Brandon Hyde regularly and has established relationships with the coaches and players.
He’s gotten to know his team over the past five weeks and has moved quickly at times, and deliberately at others.
Elias’ self-imposed mandate is to increase the Orioles’ talent pool, and if he sees a player who can make the team incrementally better, he’ll do it.
He claimed left-handed pitcher Josh Osich on waivers from San Francisco, then lost infielder Hanser Alberto on waivers. A week later, the Orioles claimed Alberto and lost left-handed pitcher Donnie Hart. Osich was lost when outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. was claimed on March 8.
For the moment, the Orioles have both Alberto and Smith, but both could be in jeopardy if non-roster players catcher Jesus Sucre and outfielder Eric Young Jr. have to be added to the 40-man roster in the next few days. Infielder Alcides Escobar was released on Wednesday. His date to opt out of his contract was today.
Elias’ dictate to bring the Orioles’ technological capabilities in line with industry standard was evident at the beginning of camp when cameras tracked each pitcher’s bullpen session.
- Elias has a plan, and he’s sticking to it.
Despite outfielders Yusniel Diaz and Austin Hays playing very well, both were sent to minor league camp.
Hays, in particular, was especially impressive, and he clearly outplayed incumbent Cedric Mullins in center field.
Elias wasn’t swayed. Hays needs time in Triple-A and needs to play center field there to make himself a stronger option for the Orioles. Despite a .351 average and leading the team in home runs and RBIs, Elias optioned him.
The large majority of players in the major league camp were players Elias inherited when he got the job last November. There aren’t many trading chips, and Elias won’t be able to draft new players, his area of expertise, until June.
For now, the Orioles are limited in what they can do, but Elias thinks that with improved player development, the talent on hand may be better than most thought.
When he discussed the last round of cuts, Elias said that he expected the majority of those sent away to return as Orioles during the season.
- Brandon Hyde seems comfortable in his job
Not only has Hyde never managed a major league team, but he has no experience in the American League, and he’s been honest about that, saying he’ll learn as he goes along.
Hyde has been positive in his comments about players, saying that those who were sent from major league camp to minor league camp had taken it well, and had all played well—even when they hadn’t.
After Mike Wright’s most recent performance on Sunday when he allowed four runs on six hits in five innings, Hyde did say that Wright was becoming a little predictable.
Hyde’s optimism is refreshing, but if the Orioles have a slow start, it will be interesting to see how well it plays, and if he becomes more pointed in his criticism.
- Starting pitching will be a concern
If the Orioles start the season with a rotation of Alex Cobb, Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner, David Hess and Mike Wright, Elias and Hyde will try to make the best of what they found when they got here.
A year from now, the rotation may look very different. In June, the rotation could look different, too.
Cobb, who’s the Opening Day starter, pitched four hitless innings on Saturday against Toronto in Dunedin, but weakened in the fifth.
Cashner had three disappointing starts before allowing just a run on three hits without walking a batter against Detroit in Lakeland on Monday.
Bundy, who will start tonight, has yet to demonstrate commanding stuff in any of his four starts.
Wright started the spring with 10 scoreless innings, but gave up six runs on 14 hits in 7 2/3 innings in his last two appearances against the Yankees.
Hess allowed nine runs in 2 2/3 innings against Minnesota in his last start.
Josh Rogers and Jimmy Yacabonis will probably get starts for the Orioles this season, along with a number of others, but for now, there are no potential starters acquired by Elias in the rotation’s queue.
- The position player depth is far better than it was at the end of last season
Elias’ two Rule 5 picks, infielders Richie Martin and Drew Jackson, are clearly a step up. Both are heavy favorites to make the club, and Rio Ruiz has a decent shot at unseating incumbent Renato Nunez at third base.
Diaz, Hays and Anthony Santander, a Rule 5 pick two years ago, had impressive camps and while none will start the season with the team, all are potential contributors to the Orioles this season.
Catcher Jesus Sucre, who reported late because of visa issues, has a good shot to make the team, especially since Austin Wynns has missed two weeks because of an oblique injury.
While the 25-man roster is hardly set, the guess here is that the Orioles, who used a franchise-high 56 players last year, may use nearly that many this year.
The team might not show much improvement this season, but there are many positive signs. The dysfunction that marred the final seasons of the Dan Duquette-Buck Showalter era is gone, and this young team is much looser.
The 2019 season should be a fascinating one, if not especially rewarding. Elias and Hyde’s first spring training, which is rapidly drawing to a close, has been fascinating, and to me, quite rewarding.