SARASOTA—Oriole pitchers and catchers report to the Ed Smith Stadium Complex on Wednesday, and their first workout comes on Thursday. Let’s look at some of the questions that need to be answered when the media meets with Executive Vice President/General Manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde on Thursday.
Why aren’t Urías and Tate in the World Baseball Classic?
When Elias last spoke on February 3rd, he confirmed that five Orioles — outfielders Cedric Mullins (Team USA) and Anthony Santander (Team Venezuela), starting pitcher Dean Kremer (Team Israel), infielder Ramón Urías (Team Mexico) and relief pitcher Dillon Tate (Team USA) — would be playing in the WBC.
Urías and Tate spoke about their eagerness to play that weekend on stops of the Birdland Caravan, but when the rosters for Team Mexico and Team USA were released on February 9th, Urías and Tate’s names were missing, and we don’t know why.
Non-roster left-handed reliever Darwinzon Hernandez is playing for Team Venezuela.
What will be the workload for Mullins, Santander and Kremer? We don’t know when the players will leave for the WBC. Play begins on March 11th. Exhibition games between WBC and major league teams in Florida and Arizona will start on March 8 th. The finals of the WBC will be on March 21st in Miami.
If any of the Orioles are in the finals, that allows just a few days between the end of the WBC and the conclusion of Grapefruit League play on March 27th.
Hyde will have extra outfielders in camp who will get playing time when Mullins and Santander are away, and there are so many candidates to start that Kremer’s absence won’t be a big issue.
How will candidates for the rotation get enough innings? Elias said on February 3rd that he thought there were 12 candidates for the starting rotation, and that they’d all get the number of innings a starter should get for a prudent evaluation.
Kyle Gibson, Cole Irvin, Dean Kremer, Kyle Bradish, Tyler Wells, Grayson Rodriguez, Austin Voth, DL Hall, Mike Baumann, Spenser Watkins, Bruce Zimmermann and Drew Rom are thought to be the 12.
There’s no obvious candidate for the March 30th opener at Fenway Park in Boston, though Elias has conceded that Gibson and Irvin have rotation spots locked up.
Some of those candidates will move to the bullpen and some will be sent to the minor leagues, but all should get their innings.
How many roster spots are unclaimed? If two of the starting pitcher candidates move to the bullpen, that probably leaves just one spot up for grabs.
Holdovers Keegan Akin, Logan Gillaspie, Joey Krehbiel, Rule 5 right-hander Andrew Politi and Nick Vespi might vie for one open spot.
Tate, Bryan Baker, Félix Bautista, Cionel Pérez and Mychal Givens are presumed to have bullpen jobs.
If Ryan McKenna and Kyle Stowers make the team, there’s probably only one position player spot unclaimed.
Terrin Vavra and non-roster left-handed hitters Franchy Cordero, Lewin Díaz, Josh Lester, Nomar Mazara and Ryan O’Hearn could be fighting for that one spot.
How will the Orioles prepare for the new rules? Pitchers must adapt to the pitch clock, which mandate pitches within 15 seconds without runners on base and 20 seconds with runners on, and the two unsuccessful pickoff limit. Hitters must be ready for quicker pitches and less time between pitches.
The ban on shifts means hitters and fielders will play differently. Two fielders must be positioned on each side of second base and can’t play even a step into the outfield.
Those rules will be in effect for the start of Grapefruit League play on February 25th and will be enforced. Humdrum exhibition games will feature all these changes at once and could keep fans more engaged in spring play.
How will the Orioles react to their new status? In recent years, there’s been little outside attention paid to Orioles camp, but last year’s 31-game improvement means the team will be watched more closely.
During the Caravan, players said they welcomed expectations. Elias said the goal is the postseason, but online betting sites have pegged the team’s win total at just 76.5, which is 11th of 15 American League teams.
Last year, the Orioles won 83 games and were the team with the most wins to miss the postseason. Perhaps an underdog status will prevent any complacency.
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB