It’s unlikely spring training will begin on time because of the Major League Baseball lockout. It’s anyone’s guess when it will start or how long it will be.
One of the benefits of a six-week spring training is the opportunity to take a long look at the Orioles’ prospects. An abbreviated spring training could affect their development.
Some who won’t play in the major leagues this season — outfielders Colton Cowser (ranked fifth among Orioles prospects by MLB Pipeline) and Heston Kjerstad (seventh) — might get little or no action in a three-week spring training, if that’s the result of the inability of owners and players to agree on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Cowser, Kjerstad, top infield prospects Gunnar Henderson (fourth) and Jordan Westburg (seventh), and Cuban infielder César Prieto were observed by manager Brandon Hyde and coaches Tim Cossins, Tony Mansolino and Anthony Sanders in minicamps last month.
Even though they would have received invitations to major league camp — and still could — the Orioles might want to concentrate on players more likely to play significant roles with the team this year.
As long as they’re not on the 40-man roster, they can report to minor league spring training and the major league staff can work with them if the lockout is still going on.
The players who were the most recent additions to the 40-man rosters — starting pitchers Kyle Bradish, DL Hall and Kevin Smith, relievers Félix Bautista and Logan Gillaspie, and infielder Terrin Vavra — might be hurt even more by the labor dispute. Each could play for the Orioles this season but are lockout victims because they’re on the 40-man roster.
The left-handed Hall, who was the team’s No. 1 draft choice in 2017, might be affected the most. He’s never been to major league spring training, has just seven Double-A starts and missed most of Bowie’s season in 2021 because of an elbow injury. If the regular season is delayed, Hall could see his timetable delayed as well.
Bradish and Smith, who pitched for Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk last season, wouldn’t begin the season with the Orioles, but Hyde and pitching coaches Chris Holt and Darren Holmes need to see them in game action to make evaluations. Grapefruit League innings might be hard to come by.
The Orioles could schedule “B” games with other teams and additional intrasquad games so that Bradish, Hall and Smith could get extra action.
A shortened spring training might not hurt Bautista and Gillaspie as much because they weren’t expected to begin 2022 in Baltimore and because, as relievers, they don’t require as many innings as starters.
Vavra, who missed most of 2021 because of a back injury, needs to make an impression that he could be an option at second base later this season. Prieto’s arrival and the drafting of Connor Norby in the second round in 2021 increases the infield competition.
Outfielder Kyle Stowers, who began last season at High-A Aberdeen and ended it at Norfolk, did not have to be added to the 40-man roster and can report for minor league spring training. The two top Orioles’ prospects, catcher Adley Rutschman and pitcher Grayson Rodriguez, also can go to minor league spring training. Like Stowers, Rodriguez isn’t likely to begin 2022 with the Orioles, but both would like to experience major league spring training for the first time.
Another outfielder, Yusniel Diaz, who hasn’t played with the Orioles because of injuries and poor performance is on the 40-man roster for the second straight season and needs a lengthy spring training to make a strong impression on the front office.
Hyde and the pitching coaches want to see Rodriguez against major league hitters, but that will have to wait. Rodriguez is expected to begin 2022 at Norfolk, where he has not yet pitched.
Rutschman’s story is the most interesting one. While many believe he was ready to play in the major leagues by the end of last season, the Orioles wanted to save a 40-man spot for another prospect. The good news is that Rutschman, who has been to the past two major league spring trainings, can keep playing while others are sidelined.
If the major league season is delayed, Rutschman can catch at Norfolk and perhaps be ready to play for the Orioles early in the 2022 season. If the 2022 season begins on time, and the service time clauses in the expired Collective Bargaining Agreement aren’t adjusted, Rutschman could begin the season in Triple-A, which would give the Orioles an extra year before he’s eligible for free agency.
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