Looking at Orioles' roster questions with spring training in sight - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Rich Dubroff

Looking at Orioles’ roster questions with spring training in sight

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In just nine days, Oriole pitchers and catchers will report to Sarasota for the start of spring training, and after an offseason with just one notable move, the signing of closer Craig Kimbrel, last week provided huge news.

The sale of the Orioles to a group headed by David Rubenstein will be a season-long, ongoing story, but the acquisition of top-shelf starter Corbin Burnes answers a lot of questions. There are others, though.

Let’s look at the storylines for next week, and for the nearly six weeks of spring training.

Rotation is solidified, but what about the bullpen?

Burnes, Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer, John Means and Grayson Rodriguez represent a strong starting rotation, and it’s been a long time since the starters’ identity were known before spring training began.

Tyler Wells and Cole Irvin could fill in if there’s an injury, but let’s put them in the bullpen for now.

Kimbrel, Yennier Cano, Danny Coulombe and Cionel Pérez look to be locks for the bullpen. With Coulombe, Irvin and Pérez, that makes three left-handers.

Had DL Hall not been included in the trade for Bures, he presumably would have taken a spot in the bullpen, and the Orioles might have had four left-handers and four right-handers.

A healthy spring training should allow Dillon Tate to return after missing 2023 with an elbow injury. Cano, Tate and Wells have options remaining. The others don’t.

If the Orioles go with Cano, Coulombe, Irvin, Kimbrel, Pérez, Tate and Wells, that leaves one spot open.

Keegan Akin, Bryan Baker, Jonathan Heasley, Nick Vespi and Bruce Zimmermann each have options remaining. So does Andrew Suárez who was signed to a minor league contract just before news of the sale broke.

Mike Baumann and Jacob Webb don’t have an option remaining.

What will the Orioles do with the open roster spots?

The Orioles have 38 players on the 40-man roster. It’s unusual to have open roster spots before spring training, but by trading Hall and infielder Joey Ortiz to Milwaukee for Burnes, it created a second opening.

Closer Félix Bautista, who had Tommy John surgery, remains on the 40-man roster, and once it becomes full, he will move to the 60-day injured list.

If 20-year-old shortstop Jackson Holliday begins the season with the Orioles, he’ll be placed on the 40-man roster, but that will still give executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias room to maneuver. Perhaps another reliever, a reserve outfielder or another utility infielder will be added.

How does Ortiz’s departure affect the infield?

Just as Holliday isn’t a sure thing to be on the Opening Day roster, Ortiz wasn’t, either. With Ryan Mountcastle and Ryan O’Hearn returning at first, and Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg back, that leaves three spots open.

Jorge Mateo and Ramón Urías were retained, so if Holliday starts the season with the team, and Mateo and Urias stick, that leaves just four outfield spots.

What about Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad?

It will be hard to keep both Cowser and Kjerstad around unless Holliday begins the season with Triple-A Norfolk—or the Orioles don’t bring back either Mateo or Urías.

Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander return. Kjerstad could provide another left-handed power bat, though he’s short on experience as a major league outfielder.

Cowser had a rough debut in 2023 (7-for-61, .115), and a return to Norfolk looks probable.

Are there any long shots to make the club?

Adley Rutschman and James McCann are back at catcher. If one is injured, Michael Pérez, who has played 202 major league games, is this year’s Anthony Bemboom, and he’d likely be the choice to fill in.

The Orioles were able to keep infielder Coby Mayo, and though the top prospect is unlikely to start the season with the team, he probably won’t be in Norfolk for long.

If there’s a corner infield need, Tyler Nevin was reacquired. Infielder Connor Norby doesn’t have an obvious place on the team, but an injury or two could change that. The same goes for Terrin Vavra, who lost his place on the 40-man roster last fall. Both Norby and Vavra have outfield experience, too.

Sam Hilliard, Ryan McKenna and Kyle Stowers are the other outfielders on the 40-man roster. Hilliard, a left-handed hitter who was acquired off waivers from Atlanta, and McKenna are out of options. Stowers, who had a creditable debut in 2022, was just 2-for-30 (.067) and battled injuries in Norfolk last season. He’ll get another chance to impress the Orioles or become a valuable trade chip.

Note: Longtime Orioles catcher Matt Wieters will be a guest instructor at spring training.

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