The Orioles are about to begin the stretch run of spring training, and there are still a number of decisions to be made before Opening Day in Boston on April 1st. Here’s what we know and don’t know about the 2021 team.
Starting rotation: The Orioles have a number of candidates, led by left-hander John Means, who is expected to be named the Opening Day starter after his strongest outing on Wednesday against Atlanta: one run on two hits in four innings with four strikeouts and no walks.
Dean Kremer, who will start Friday night against Pittsburgh, and Keegan Akin, both of whom made their major league debuts in the 60-game 2020 season, also seem certain to be in the rotation.
Veteran Matt Harvey appears as if he has secured a spot, too. However, Félix Hernández who left Tuesday’s game after one inning because of what the team described as discomfort in his right elbow, appears out until the Orioles are certain that his elbow is sound. He has pitched only 5 2/3 innings and might start the season at the Orioles’ alternate site in Bowie.
There are other logical starting candidates in Wade LeBlanc, Jorge López and Bruce Zimmermann.
LeBlanc, like Harvey and Hernández, is on a minor league contract and not on the 40-man roster. The left-hander has allowed two runs on three hits in five innings and has pitched in simulated games.
López has no minor league options remaining. If the Orioles want to send him to Triple-A, he must clear waivers, and he’d likely be claimed. In 11 innings this spring, López has allowed three runs on eight hits with 11 strikeouts and four walks.
Zimmermann has been a standout this spring. He has allowed just one hit in nine shutout innings. He also has 10 strikeouts against just three walks. Like López, Zimmermann’s innings have been in relief but assuming Hernández is out, he could get a start.
Bullpen: If LeBlanc, López and Zimmermann make the club, one or two likely will be used in long relief as the innings for pitchers are carefully monitored after 2020’s irregular season. We don’t know if the Orioles will use five or six starters.
If the team carries 13 pitchers, that leaves six pitchers who are short relief candidates.
One of them, César Valdez, who turned 36 on Wednesday, can pitch several innings if necessary. Shawn Armstrong, Paul Fry and Travis Lakins can pitch more than one inning. Tanner Scott, Cole Sulser and Dillon Tate are considered one-inning guys.
If the Orioles keep LeBlanc and López as long relievers, one short reliever won’t make the team. Armstrong and Valdez don’t have options. The rest do, and the choice probably comes down to Lakins, Sulser or Tate.
Non-roster left-hander Fernando Abad has allowed five runs on eight hits in 3 2/3 innings and is an unlikely addition.
Hunter Harvey will start the season on the 60-day injured list because of a left oblique strain.
40-man roster: If LeBlanc and Matt Harvey make the team, a player must be cut from the 40-man roster. At the moment, it doesn’t appear that there’s room for the two Rule 5 picks, right-handers Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells.
However, a spot was created on Thursday when right-hander Ashton Goudeau was claimed on waivers by the San Francisco Giants.
Like Hunter Harvey, Chris Davis also seems certain to begin the season on the injured list. Davis has played only one game before being sidelined by a lower-back injury. It’s not known if he’ll begin the season on the 10-day or 60-day injured list. If he’s on the 60-day injured list, he won’t count against the 40-man roster.
Position players: Catchers Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco will begin the season with the Orioles, even though both have had poor springs.
Severino’s horrible spring (1-for-22, .045) has been excused by manager Brandon Hyde. He’s on a guaranteed contract for $1.83 million, so he’s not going anywhere.
Sisco is 3-for-18 (.167). With top prospect Adley Rutschman looming, Sisco can create a market for himself as a left-handed hitting catcher here or elsewhere if he has a solid season.
Austin Wynns, who’s not on the 40-man roster, is probably ticketed to be the taxi-squad catcher. Teams can have five players, which must include a catcher, on road trips.
First baseman Trey Mancini is returning after missing 2020 because of colon cancer surgery. Hyde has been careful in bringing him back, and Mancini has played well overall. Two new players, Yolmer Sánchez at second and Freddy Galvis at shortstop, will start in the infield with Mancini.
The Orioles added third baseman Maikel Franco this week. He’s a right-handed hitter with power and will compete with incumbent Rio Ruiz, who bats from the left side. The Orioles will try to get Franco enough at-bats to be ready for the April 1st opener.
Ruiz is probably safe for now. If there’s one utility player, it’s likely to be Pat Valaika. If Franco isn’t ready to start the season, Ramón Urias might be added because Stevie Wilkerson, another utility player, isn’t on the 40-man roster.
The outfield looks set, assuming DJ Stewart’s right hamstring injury heals in time.
Austin Hays, who went 3-for-3 in Wednesday night’s win over Atlanta, is batting .370 (10-for-27). Cedric Mullins seems more confident as a strictly left-handed hitter, Ryan Mountcastle has demonstrated his power, and Anthony Santander is coming off a strong seeason.
There are 57 players in camp but that includes a number of players on the camp reserve list who the front office wanted to get a closer look at this spring but have no chance to make the 26-man roster.
NOTE: MASN will broadcast two spring training games — March 23rd (Tampa Bay, 1:05 p.m.), and March 25th (Pittsburgh, 6:05 p.m.)