Back on February 11, when spring training was about to begin for the Orioles in Sarasota, Florida, we took a look at five storylines to be watched. If there is a second spring training, it probably will begin about four months after the first.
While we wait, let’s revisit the storylines and see how they’ll change the second time.
- Who will be in their starting rotation?
As pitchers and catchers reported, it looked as if John Means, Alex Cobb and Asher Wojciechowski were locks to secure starting rotation spots. It still does.
Wade LeBlanc, who was signed to a minor league contract just before spring training, performed well in two Grapefruit League starts and appeared set as another starter.
Just before spring training, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said the Orioles were looking to sign another veteran starter, and they did, Tommy Milone. When games stopped on March 12, he was ahead in the competition.
Two outsiders, Rule 5 draft picks Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker, were thought to have a chance to crack the starting rotation and a better chance to make the team as relievers.
But Bailey and Rucker were returned to the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs, the teams from which they were drafted, on March 6.
Kohl Stewart, who was signed in late December, got a late start because of arm soreness but could be a more important factor with the possibility of larger rosters.
- Will the bullpen be better in 2020?
Perhaps the most promising development during the monthlong spring training was the improvement in the Orioles’ bullpen, and the depth the team accumulated.
Shawn Armstrong, Richard Bleier, Miguel Castro, Paul Fry, Mychal Givens and Hunter Harvey were the favorites to grab bullpen spots, and nothing happened in the month to change that thinking.
The expanded roster could help Cody Carroll, who made a strong recovery from back surgery in 2019, and non-roster right-hander Paul Hanhold, who weren’t favorites for jobs in February.
Travis Lakins, Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser could benefit from a larger roster. So could Dillon Tate and Branden Kline, who was outrighted to Norfolk just before spring training.
Hector Velázquez, who was acquired on waivers from Boston on March 8, is a new name to consider.
- An important year for prospects
Scott, David Hess, Cedric Mullins, DJ Stewart and Chance Sisco were all either high draft picks or touted prospects before Elias arrived.
They had been named as five players to watch this spring.
Hess and Mullins were sent to Triple-A Norfolk shortly after spring training paused, although they certainly could return with an expanded roster.
Stewart hadn’t played, but was nearing a return from last October’s ankle surgery. Scott and Sisco had solid chances to make the team. Had the season started on time, Stewart would have begun it on the injured list, but he should be ready for game action next mont, assuming spring training starts.
- Who gets the backup infield and outfield positions?
At the beginning of spring training, the assumption was that Chris Davis would start at first, Hanser Alberto at second, José Iglesias at short and Rio Ruiz at third. For outfielders, Anthony Santander in left, Austin Hays in center and Trey Mancini in right.
Mancini won’t be with the club in 2020 because of his recovery from colon cancer surgery.
More opportunities might be available because of a bigger roster.
During spring training, the Orioles claimed infielders Ramon Urias and Andrew Velázquez on waivers and removed Richard Urena and Pat Valaika from the 40-man roster.
Urias was sent to Triple-A Norfolk along with Hess, Mullins and Ryan Mountcastle on March 19.
Valaika and Velázquez made strong impressions early in spring training. Stevie Wilkerson, who also was taken off the 40-man roster just before reporting to Sarasota, was also in contention for a spot.
Dwight Smith Jr. appeared to have a strong chance before spring training started. Non-roster infielder Dilson Herrera and non-roster outfielder Mason Williams are also in the mix.
- The future may be bright, but it isn’t here, yet
The early part of spring training featured prospects who weren’t going to make the team — catcher Adley Rutschman, left-handed pitchers Zac Lowther, Alexander Wells and Bruce Zimmermann and outfielder Yusniel Diaz.
Only Diaz and Zimmermann are still on the spring training roster. Zimmermann was going to start the night that MLB ended spring training.
Diaz could get some time with the Orioles later in the season, but the uncertainty of the minor league setup this year could change the Orioles’ plans. Zimmermann could have been a midseason callu, and might get some opportunities earlier than expected.
Lowther pitched briefly, and Wells didn’t pitch at all because of an oblique injury. Rutschman was 1-for-9.
Dean Kremer who didn’t pitch in his first camp with the Orioles in 2019 because of an oblique injury, was impressive during his early stint this year. Keegan Akin was inconsistent and had been sent down after his start on March 11.
Ryan Mountcastle got some time in left field as the Orioles continue to search for a position that fits him.