Spring training is scheduled to begin five weeks from now in Sarasota, Florida. With that in mind, let’s take our monthly round of questions from readers. Some questions have been edited for style and length.
Question: Who joins Akin, Cobb, Means, and Kremer in the rotation? From: Dylan Streibig via Facebook
Answer: Dylan, I think you’re right that Keegan Akin, Alex Cobb, John Means and Dean Kremer are likely to be four of the five starters, assuming manager Brandon Hyde uses five.
The two internal candidates seem to be Jorgé Lopez and Bruce Zimmermann. Lopez pitched well at times after he was picked up on waivers from Kansas City, and Zimmermann got a late-season start.
It’s likely that another starting candidate or two will be added with a free-agent signing. There are so many candidates out there and the market is so slow that it wouldn’t surprise me if the signings came just before, or in the early days of spring training.
Question: If we’re trying to develop players and still not scheduled to compete in the AL East, why wouldn’t we just let Richie Martin develop at shortstop in 2021? From: Bob Stier via email
Answer: Bob, Richie Martin didn’t play at all in 2020, and it wouldn’t be wise to assume he’s the Orioles’ starting shortstop after missing a season, albeit a short one, with a broken right wrist.
Depth is important and the Orioles only have Martin, Ramón Urias and Pat Valaika on the 40-man roster as shortstop candidates. I suppose you could include Yolmer Sánchez, but most of his experience is at second base.
There are still a number of credible shortstops on the free-agent market, and I think the team will sign at least one.
Question: It appears that the main reason Chris Davis remains on the roster is that a Covid-shortened season leading to a pro-rated salary would save the team millions. Would a labor-related work stoppage next year have the same effect? From: Chris Franz via email
Answer: Here’s the first Chris Davis question of the year. Chris, if there was a work stoppage next season, players wouldn’t get paid and it’s possible, I guess, that money for Davis, who would be in the seventh and final year of his contract in 2022, could still be a consideration, but that’s a long way off.
Question: It is pretty clear Elias loves drafting up the middle. Two of our top 10 prospects (Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg) are both shortstops. Do you see either of these players moving around the diamond later on? Is one of these players more likely to stick at short than the other? From: Tommy Walters via email
Answer: Tommy, in Mike Elias’ first two drafts, he has taken not only Henderson and Westburg but, in 2019, he selected Joey Ortiz and Darell Hernaiz in the fourth and fifth rounds and, in 2020, drafted Anthony Servideo in the third round.
Shortstop is considered the hardest infield position to master, and you’re correct that prospects are often moved to other positions.
It’s too early to tell if either Henderson, who played just 29 games for Gulf Coast in 2019, or Westburg will be moved. They could well play at different levels this season.
Other teams are often looking for shortstops, and if the Orioles develop a surplus of shortstops that will help them in the trade market.
Question: When will there be news about the 2021 minor league season plan? From: Cathryn C. Girard via email
Answer: Cathryn has a special interest in this questions because she’s the proud grandmother of Thomas Girard, a right-handed pitcher who signed with the Orioles as an undrafted free agent last summer.
There was a report last week that Double-A and Low-A teams would play a May-October schedule, but that hasn’t been confirmed.
Players who aren’t on one of these affiliates could begin with Gulf Coast in Sarasota, and the Orioles are likely to have two teams in the Gulf Coast League.
That league traditionally runs from mid-June to late August, but no schedule has been announced.
Question: I recently read about the Orioles’ top 30 prospects, and many were pitchers. My question is what tangible evidence can Oriole fans hang their hat on that prospects coming through our system now are better than prospects coming through 5, 10 and 15 years ago? I know the obvious answer is that our farm system is ranked much higher? I know fans are skeptical, because of all the prospects in the past that were promoted to be almost can’t miss, and never turned out Example Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. From: Jeff Hobson via Facebook
Answer: Jeff, it seems that there are more good prospects in the organization than at any time in many years.
There’s no tangible evidence yet because many of the prospects acquired or drafted in 2019 and 2020 have played little or not at all for the organization, but people who track prospects think the Orioles have a number of interesting players to watch.
Mike Elias has said repeatedly that he’s trying to broaden the team’s talent level. You can’t tell who will make it, who will underperform or who will be injured.
As for Bundy and Gausman, I think they were hyped so much in part because the drafts they were taken in weren’t terribly productive otherwise for the Orioles.
In two or three years, we’ll have a better idea of how good these 30 prospects are.
Question: Rich, do you think the O’s have a true plan to be competitive in the next two-to-three years or are they simply trying to fill a roster with mediocre low-paid players that will make them a profit? I’m concerned that they will never invest enough to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox. Secondly, I do not find it interesting to watch no-name players and a relative turnstile roster; we fans get attached to players at the major league level and this kind of roster turnover similar to a minor league team leaves a lot to be desired. So, do you think we will ever see roster continuity? From: Christian Evans via email:
Answer: Christian, I think the Orioles are aiming to be competitive within the next two or three years, and I think their strategy is not to spend heavily on free agents in the interim.
The Tampa Bay Rays, who have a poor stadium and an uncertain future in their area, made it to the World Series in 2020. If the Orioles produce enough good players, they’ll be competitive, too. I think with the correct formula, contention is a possibility.
As for roster continuity, that’s hard in this economic environment. Even the Red Sox, whom you cite, traded away Mookie Betts last year because they didn’t think he would sign with them for the long term.
If the team becomes competitive, I think you’ll find yourself more attracted to it. It’s hard to become enamored with a team if they’re not competitive.
Question: The wife and I head to Sarasota every spring for Orioles baseball. I know the Orioles are selling spring ticket packages, but I’m leery that spring training will take place at its normal time frame. Have you heard anything about contingency plans in the works if spring training is delayed or how they are going to social distance people if it happens as planned. From: Bryan Miller, Huntsville, Alabama via email
Answer: Bryan, I checked with the Orioles, and they say they’re working with Major League Baseball and state and local officials to provide a safe environment.
With the situation changing daily, and spring training still five weeks away, concrete plans can’t be made.
Everyone would like fans in the stands for spring training games, but no one can promise that.
The NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, who play about an hour away, had hoped to have 3,000 fans in their arena, which is a little more than an hour away from Ed Smith Stadium. They’re not going to be able to because of worsening conditions.
Question: When will fans be allowed back in the stadium? More specifically, will vaccinated fans be allowed back? From: @ifollowonlyos
Answer: MLB wants fans in the stands this season. They had them in Arlington, Texas for the National League Championship Series and World Series last October.
But teams must adhere to state and local guidelines, and Maryland allowed just a few thousand fans to one Ravens game and one Washington Football Team game this season before conditions worsened.
I think you’ll be able to see games in Baltimore this season, but it will depend on health conditions and the availability of the vaccine to the public at large.
This is another question that might have a different answer several times between now and the scheduled April 8 home opener.