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Spring training begins in just over two months at the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota. That means that executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias still has half the offseason to make moves, and he’s been known to add players while spring training is underway.
Let’s look at some players who’ve been with the organization for some time and haven’t gotten much attention recently and see what might be ahead for them.
Keegan Akin: Akin is one of the most senior players in the organization. He was a second-round draft pick in 2016. Only Akin and outfielder Austin Hays, the third round pick, remain in the organization from that draft.
Akin debuted during the 2020 pandemic-shortened season, and after a 3-3 record and 3.20 earned-run average in 2022, the Orioles hoped the left-hander could be an effective part of their bullpen.
A former starter who was converted to relief in the majors, Akin had a 2-2 record and 6.85 ERA in 24 games, missing the second half of the season with a back injury.
He seemed a non-tender candidate last month but was signed to a 2024 contract, and he remains on the 40-man roster.
Akin does have an option remaining.
Kyle Stowers: Stowers was a second-round pick in 2019 and had a nice debut in 2022, hitting .253 with a .724 OPS. The outfielder was just 2-for-30 (.067) in 2023 and didn’t play for the Orioles after May 14th.
Stowers could have been recalled from Triple-A Norfolk to replace centerfielder Cedric Mullins when he went on the injured list, but Stowers had shoulder inflammation and later fractured his nose after he was hit by a pitch.
Around the injuries, Stowers hit 17 home runs and drove in 49 runs with a .245 average and .875 OPS in 68 games for Norfolk.
Colton Cowser, Heston Kjerstad and waiver claim Sam Hilliard are other left-handed hitting outfielders on the 40-man roster who’ll be competing for roster spots.
Elias hasn’t given up on Stowers, as he said last week at the Winter Meetings in Nashville.
“He missed a lot of time after getting beaned in the face, which was awful,” Elias said. “It was terrible timing, too. In terms of him getting a look in September, which was something we were hoping to do. But this guy still has his whole career ahead of him.”
Terrin Vavra: Like Stowers, Vavra has been caught up in the prospect shuffle. There are many infield and outfield prospects who have passed Vavra in the food chain.
Last year, he suffered a right shoulder injury that cost him most of the season.
In 27 games with the Orioles, Vavra hit .245 without an extra-base hit, and he played only 16 minor league games.
When the Orioles needed 40-man roster space in September, he was placed on the 60-day injured list. Shortly after he was returned to the 40-man roster, he was outrighted to Norfolk.
Vavra has played second and third base, left and right field, but with Jackson Holliday, Connor Norby and Joey Ortiz emerging from Norfolk and Jorge Mateo and Ramón Urías remaining on the roster, he faces long odds to make the team in 2024 as a non-roster player.
Nick Vespi: Whenever prospective 2024 bullpens are listed, Danny Coulombe, DL Hall, Cole Irvin and Cionel Pérez are the possible left-handed choices.
In 34 games in 2022 and 2023, Vespi is 6-0 with a 4.17 ERA and a save, but he’s always returned to Norfolk.
Vespi has had two strong seasons with the Tides. In 2022, he didn’t allow an earned run in 28 2/3 innings with eight saves and a 2-1 record. In 2023, Vespi was 4-0 with a 2.33 ERA and seven saves.
He may have to get a genuine major league opportunity elsewhere, but his stats indicate that he deserves one.
Bruce Zimmermann: Zimmermann came to the Orioles at the 2018 trade deadline from Atlanta in the deal that sent Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to the Braves.
Like Akin, he made his debut during the pandemic, and because he’s a local product, Zimmermann was cheated out of a throng of cheering friends and family.
In 2022, the left-hander started the home opener but missed out on most of the fun during the second half of the season since he was optioned to Norfolk in mid-June.
Zimmermann appeared in only seven games for the Orioles in 2023 and recorded the win in the team’s 101st victory on September 30th.
He had core muscle surgery after the season, is making a good recovery and is expected to be a full-go for spring training.
Call for questions: I’ll be answering Orioles questions in the coming days. Please email yours to: [email protected].
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