With five spots open on their 40-man roster, the Orioles faced some easy decisions on whom to add — and a few difficult ones.
It was obvious that the team needed to include Ryan Mountcastle and pitchers Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer. They also added outfielder Ryan McKenna.
But they chose not to protect pitchers Cody Sedlock and Gray Fenter.
Executive Vice President/General manager Mike Elias said late last season that Mountcastle needed to work on his defense and plate discipline, and that he’d begin 2020 in the minors before an expected recall. Mountcastle played first base and left field for the first time as a professional in 2019.
Like Mountcastle, Akin seemed like a possible September addition to the Orioles’ roster and probably will see considerable action in the big leagues next season.
Kremer, who was among five players obtained by the Orioles in the Manny Machado deal from the Los Angeles Dodgers in July 2018, should get some time in Baltimore next season, too.
Mountcastle and Akin spent the 2019 seasons at Triple-A Norfolk. Mountcastle also spent time with the major league club during spring training, as he had done in 2018. Akin will participate in his first big league camp next February.
Kremer’s 2019 was delayed by an oblique injury. He was in camp with the Orioles but didn’t pitch. He could see considerable time in the majors later in 2020.
For the moment, Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb, John Means and Asher Wojciechowski would seem to be the team’s top four starters. Aaron Brooks, who started during the second half of the season, signed to play in South Korea last week and won’t return.
Brooks’ roster spot came in handy. If he had stayed, Brooks had a good chance of beginning 2020 with the Orioles, possibly as a long reliever, and his departure prevented Elias from having to cut another player.
In the first year of the Elias regime, he was insistent on not rushing top prospects. Catcher Chance Sisco, outfielders Austin Hays, Anthony Santander and DJ Stewart and right-hander Hunter Harvey all began the season in the minors even though all but Harvey had some major league experience. They all came up at different times of the 2019 season.
Expect that scenario to repeat in 2020.
Akin and Kremer could move into the Orioles’ rotation later in the season. It will be interesting to see if some of the pitchers in the higher minors who didn’t need protection from the Rule 5 draft this year, Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther, Alex Wells and Bruce Zimmermann, show enough to force the Orioles to promote them sometime in 2020.
A year from now, if the Orioles continue to accumulate talent, those pitchers will need to be protected from the draft. Outfielder Yusniel Diaz, who was at Bowie this year, will also need protection.
The choice of McKenna (pictured above) was a fascinating one. He tore up the Carolina League in the first half of the 2018 season, hitting .377 with a 1.023 OPS, but lagged when he got to Bowie.
McKenna hit just .239 in 60 games. This past season with the Baysox, he hit .232 but showed speed and defensive skills.
With a 26-man roster in the big leagues next season, McKenna could have been drafted as an extra outfielder.
The Orioles have some interesting young outfielders. Hays and Santander are expected to start the season in Baltimore. Stewart, who had ankle surgery, will get a late start to his season, and Diaz, who spent 2018 and 2019 in Double-A, should get to experience Triple-A life for the first time in 2020.
McKenna and Cedric Mullins, who remains on the 40-man roster, could profile as extra outfielders.
Since Fenter, who was dominant at Delmarva, hasn’t pitched above Low-A ball, the Orioles feel confident that no team will be able to keep him in the big leagues for all of 2020.
Sedlock had a disappointing first three seasons with the Orioles, and wasn’t on Elias’ radar to begin 2019. However, he pitched well for High-A Frederick, going 4-1 with a 2.36 ERA in 13 games, and earning a promotion to Bowie, where he was 1-2 with a 3.71 ERA in nine games.
Sedlock averaged 6.4 hits per nine innings last season and struck out more than a batter per nine innings. However, he walked more than four batters per nine innings, an issue he shares with Akin, who walked nearly five per inning.
It would be hard to see a big league team keeping Sedlock on their team for all of 2020 as well.
For now, the Orioles have 39 players on their 40-man roster, and they’ll undoubtedly be active in the Rule 5 draft, which will conclude the Winter Meetings in San Diego on December 12.
In order to draft a player, they must have a vacancy on the roster, and with the December 2 deadline for offering contracts approaching, the team could conceivably have more room.
Last year, the Orioles chose first in the Rule 5 draft and selected infielders Richie Martin and Drew Jackson. Martin remained with the club for the entire season while Jackson was sent back to the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 10.
Jackson, who impressed the Orioles with his versatility, had a disappointing 2019 season, hitting just .209 for Triple-A Oklahoma City. He’s eligible to drafted again, but it appears the Orioles will look elsewhere.
Elias realized how hard it was to keep one Rule 5 player on the roster, and even with an extra spot on the roster next season, it’s possible that the Orioles will aim for just one Rule 5 player, probably a pitcher.