At the beginning of spring training, I always have an Opening Day roster in mind. Fortunately, I usually don’t publish that roster because it doesn’t come close to being accurate.
There are always surprises that make those predictions look foolish. Here are some from the past six weeks:
Matt Harvey is the No. 2 starter, and Keegan Akin isn’t.
The veteran Harvey signed with the Orioles as spring training began, and while Félix Hernández’s minor league deal got more attention, Harvey’s was more solid.
Not only did he make it into the rotation, but he’ll start the second game of the season on Saturday at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox.
Harvey, Hernández, Akin, John Means and Dean Kremer seemed like a good bet for the rotation six weeks ago.
Hernández’s lack of velocity was worrisome. When he felt discomfort in his elbow after an inning on March 16th, his bid to pad his stats in Baltimore was over.
He did provide the most entertaining Zoom session of the spring when he acknowledged he kept pitching to embellish his case for the Hall of Fame. When many players say they don’t look at their stats, it was refreshing to learn that he thought he knew how many more wins and strikeouts he needed for Cooperstown.
When someone began a question by talking about large salaries paid to some Oriole pitchers in the past, Hernández cut them off by saying: “I don’t make that kind of money this year.”
Hernández didn’t get his $1 million from the Orioles but did conclude his opening Zoom with a “peace out” declaration.
Akin’s spring stats were rough. A 10.00 ERA. Fifteen hits and seven walks in nine innings.
A stint at the alternate site and perhaps more time in Triple-A may help Akin, who made his major league debut last season. As executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said on Saturday night, every pitcher on the 40-man roster probably will get a turn with the Orioles this year.
Zimmermann, López, Kremer make up final three starters.
Bruce Zimmermann has just seven major league innings. Akin and Dean Kremer have 44 1/3. Both showed potential at the end of last season, and when spring training began, it seemed as if Zimmermann’s best shot was as a long reliever.
He pitched so well in his first three outings (nine scoreless innings, one hit) that he earned a spot. Monday’s line in his only start (seven runs on nine hits in 4 1/3) was unsightly, but Zimmermann already had the team made.
Jorge López was in Zimmermann’s category when spring training began, but his 2.75 ERA in 19 2/3 innings, coupled with Hernández’s injury, allowed him to gain the fourth spot.
Kremer’s 6.32 ERA wasn’t impressive, and he seemingly slipped from the second spot to the fifth during Grapefruit League play. Manager Brandon Hyde said he would throw the fewest innings among the starters.
Not one, but two Rule 5 picks make the club.
When spring training began, the additions of Harvey, Hernández and Wade LeBlanc, who made the club as a long reliever, seemed to make it improbable for at least one of the Rule 5 draft picks, Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells, to make the team.
But since the Orioles decided to start the 2021 season with 14 pitchers, they’ll take the risk with both of them. It’s a risk because Rule 5 draft picks can’t be sent to the minors if they struggle.
Reliever Hunter Harvey’s oblique injury helped make the decision easier, and having four veteran pitchers from the 2020 staff with options remaining (Paul Fry, Travis Lakins, Cole Sulser and Dillon Tate) helped, too.
Sceroler hasn’t pitched above High-A ball. Presumably, had their been minor league baseball, Sceroler would have pitched at Double-A. Wells, who had Tommy John surgery in 2019, could have reached Triple-A after pitching in Double-A in 2018.
The relievers with options might see lots of time in Norfolk and Baltimore, and it will be interesting to see if the Orioles will be able to make it through a season with one or both of the Rule 5 guys.
Yolmer Sánchez wasn’t the answer at second base.
Sánchez won the Gold Glove for the Chicago White Sox in 2019, but was cut twice by the White Sox since then. The Orioles were happy to claim him on waivers and parted ways with offensive threat Hanser Alberto, hoping that Sánchez’s glove would help the young pitching staff.
One scout who watched the Orioles in spring training was stunned by Sánchez’s regression and thought he played like a fringe player. He hit just .190 in 15 spring games.
Still, it was a surprise when Sánchez was designated for assignment after the Orioles acquired right-hander Adam Plutko from Cleveland on Friday. Sánchez was released on Tuesday.
Ramón Urias, who many thought to be expendable, is on the club–at least for now. Pat Valaika, who was valuable in a utility role last year, is the nominal starter.
With the Texas Rangers likely to designate Rougned Odor for assignment, many fans see a link. Odor has $24.667 million left on the remaining two years of his six-year, $49.5 million contract. If the Orioles sign him as a free agent after he passes through waivers, they’d be responsible only for the minimum salary.
Odor has strong power numbers. He has hit more than 30 home runs three times and driven in more than 75 runs three times, but the 27-year-old strikes out a lot. He led the American League with 178 strikeouts in 2019 when he hit only .205. According to BaseballReference.com, his defensive WAR is 1.5.
It seemed unlikely when the Orioles cut Sánchez that they’d go with Urias and Valaika at second for long, and it still seems that way.
Rio Ruiz wasn’t the answer at third, either.
For the first two seasons of the team’s rebuild, Rio Ruiz was the Orioles’ third baseman. He didn’t excite—or annoy. However, when the Orioles swapped out shortstop and second baseman, it seemed logical that they might do the same with third base, but they didn’t.
Then, after Ruiz missed time because of illness, came reports the team was interested in free-agent third baseman Maikel Franco.
Franco ended up signing with the Orioles. But instead of jettisoning Ruiz, the Orioles are keeping him for now, and he even got some work at second base in the final two spring games.
There will be more moves made, especially if another second baseman is added, but it seems that Franco is at least an offensive upgrade over Ruiz
Chris Davis gets two spring training at-bats.
Davis is entering the next-to-last year of his seven-year, $161 million contract. While fans are eager to pile on, they forget he hardly played at all last season.
In 2020, Davis batted just 52 times and spent considerable time on the injured list because of a knee injury.
This spring, he batted twice in the first Grapefruit League game, on February 28th, then went to the sidelines with a back injury. He’s on the 60-day injured list, and the Orioles aren’t speculating on his future.
It would be surprising if he ever received significant playing time again, but it still seems questionable that the Orioles will cut ties with him before the end of next season.