When the Norfolk Tides begin their season on Friday night, there will be plenty of familiar names to fans who followed the Orioles in spring training.
The Tides open on the road with three games against the Durham Bulls, and they’ll begin their home schedule on Tuesday against Gwinnett.
Some of baseball’s top prospects will be playing with Norfolk, including a surprising one. Grayson Rodriguez, widely expected to begin the season with the Orioles, was optioned to the Tides on Monday.
Rodriguez, the overall No. 6 prospect according to Baseball America, will be joined by DL Hall, the 75th-ranked prospect who was sent to Norfolk on Sunday after getting into to just two spring games because of a back injury.
Four other top 100 prospects are also on the Tides’ roster: outfielder Colton Cowser, ranked No. 41; infielders Jordan Westburg (76), Connor Norby (93) and Joey Ortiz (95).
All saw substantial time during spring training games in Sarasota, though Ortiz’s first spring stint with the major league team ended early because a concussion he sustained when a bad hop grounder hit him in the head.
The potential rotation includes Rodriguez, Hall, Spenser Watkins, who spent much of the 2021 and 2022 seasons with the Orioles, and left-hander Bruce Zimmermann, who started the Orioles’ home opener last season.
Another left-hander, Drew Rom, who started the Orioles’ Grapefruit League opener, should also be in the rotation. Rom was placed on the 40-man roster in November.
Not only was there competition for spots on the major league team, there were also battles for spots on Norfolk.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Orioles director of player development Matt Blood said.
“That’s what the whole plan was from the beginning. We’ve now gotten to a point where we have tough competitions and tough decisions to make. That’s the sign of a team turning the corner and being in a real healthy spot.
“We’ll gladly accept that challenge of trying to fit all the puzzle pieces together and get all the prospects the necessary amount of playing time. It makes it more fun to watch, too when you have player after player who’s an interesting prospect who’s got a legitimate chance to be a major league contributor. It just makes everything better.”
The relievers on Norfolk are familiar, too. Joey Krehbiel, who spent nearly all of 2022 with the Orioles, and was optioned to the Tides on Thursday, will be in the bullpen. So will Yennier Cano, who was with the Orioles throughout spring training.
Left-hander Nick Vespi, who did not allow an earned run for Norfolk last year, and right-hander Noah Denoyer, new to the 40-man roster, also will pitch in relief.
So might Ryan Watson, who was named last year’s top organizational pitcher. Right-handers Eduard Bazardo, Ryan Conroy, Kyle Dowdy, Reed Garrett, Darwinzon Hernández and Morgan McSweeny, Phoenix Sanders and Chris Vallimont are also on the pitching staff.
All but Conroy and Sanders were invited to spring training, but both appeared in games as extra players.
With Anthony Bemboom with the Orioles while James McCann recuperates from a left oblique muscle strain, Mark Kolozsvary, who played 10 games with Cincinnati last year, and Maverick Handley, who’ll be making his Triple-A debut, will do the catching.
Lewin Diaz, Josh Lester and Ryan O’Hearn, who all played well during spring training for the Orioles, can each play first base. Diaz, whose spring training ended early because of left shoulder discomfort, is exclusively a first baseman while Lester can play third and the corner outfield positions and O’Hearn also plays the corner outfield.
Joining Norby, Ortiz and Westburg in the infield are Greg Cullen and Cadyn Grenier, who were both used as extra players in spring games.
Besides Cowser, outfielders Daz Cameron, Shayne Fontana and Hudson Haskin round out Norfolk’s 32-man roster.
Note: The Orioles’ other three affiliates — Double-A Bowie, High-A Aberdeen and Single-A Delmarva — begin play on April 6th. The Baysox are at Hartford, the IronBirds are home against Wilmington, and the Shorebirds play at Salem.