Final decision time nears for Orioles - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Spring Training

Final decision time nears for Orioles

Photo Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

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SARASOTA, Florida—The final stretch of spring training is here, and in the last six days, many decisions must be made about the Opening Day roster for the 2024 Orioles.

Spring training has been a productive one, with many unexpected performances, and though no one cares about Grapefruit League records, the Orioles’ 18-5-2 mark is the best in baseball.

But as the spring training days dwindle, here is a list of things the Orioles must consider:

Deep depth

Corner infielder Coby Mayo is hitting .366 with a 1.068 OPS with 11 RBIs. Second baseman Connor Norby is hitting .300 with a .791 OPS, and despite solid numbers for Triple-A Norfolk last season and excellent work during spring training, there’s a strong chance neither will be with the team a week from now when they’re scheduled to hold a workout at Oriole Park before March 28th’s opener.

Veteran infielders Jorge Mateo and Ramón Urías were considered in danger of being non-tendered last fall. This spring, they’re again showing their value.

Urías is hitting .276 with an .975 OPS, three home runs and six RBIs, and is playing excellent defense. Mateo, who has been supplanted at shortstop by Gunnar Henderson, has played second and all three outfield positions, and is hitting .281 with an .861 OPS.

There’s depth in the outfield, too, for the team with the top-rated farm system.

Colton Cowser, who hit just .115 (7-for-61) in a trial last summer, is hitting .364 with a 1.245 OPS this spring. He’s hit four home runs. Kyle Stowers, who was only 2-for-30 (.067) last year, has seven home runs, four against left-handers. Stowers, who has just four regular-season at-bats against left-handers, is hitting .467 (7-for-15) against lefties and .182 (4-for-22) against right-handers.

Cowser and Stowers have played better this spring than another promising outfielder, Heston Kjerstad, who hit .233 with two home runs and three RBIs in 13 late-season games in 2023. Kjerstad was included on the postseason roster but didn’t play in the Division Series.

Cowser, Kjerstad and Stowers are left-handed, and they all can’t make the Opening Day roster.

The performances of Cowser and Stowers are making it difficult for Ryan McKenna, who has no options remaining. McKenna is just 4-for-29 (.138) this spring, and though he has appeared in more than half the team’s games in the previous three seasons and can play all three outfield positions and serve as a pinch-runner, he may have a hard time leaving Sarasota with the Orioles.

Jackson Holliday’s time?

Holliday’s work at second base has been solid, and he’s played well during his time at shortstop. Baseball’s top prospect has hit .300 with an .883 OPS. If you want to nitpick, he’s struck out 14 times and walked twice.

The decision on whether Holliday will begin the season with the Orioles is coming, and he’s done nothing to dissuade his supporters that he shouldn’t start in the major leagues at 20.

Expect the unexpected

Two years ago, the Orioles pulled off a stunning trade, dealing two of their top relievers from the 2021 team, Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser, to the Miami Marlins. Fans were perplexed by the deal, but it ended up allowing Félix Bautista to show his skills as a setup man and then an exceptional closer.

Last year, they sent their top pitching prospect, Grayson Rodriguez, to Triple-A and acquired veteran left-hander Danny Coulombe in a trade on the final day of Grapefruit League play.

With three days off between Sunday’s last preseason game and the March 28th opener, it gives executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias time to add to the team’s depth.

Bullpen options

With Coulombe, Yennier Cano, new closer Craig Kimbrel and Cionel Pérez set, and Mike Baumann and Dillon Tate near certainties, Elias and manager Brandon Hyde have some tough choices ahead for the bullpen.

Left-hander Keegan Akin hasn’t allowed a run in 7 1/3 innings. Right-hander Bryan Baker has six shutout innings. Jacob Webb, who’s out of options, hasn’t had a good stat line this spring (5.68 ERA).

The Orioles might want to keep a long man who can start in a pinch. Julio Teheran, a 33-year-old right-hander who was signed as a minor league free agent, has a 4.82 ERA with five walks in 9 1/3 innings. Bruce Zimmermann, who’s started 27 games for the Orioles in the last four seasons, is another option. He has a 3.52 ERA but has given up 12 hits in 7 2/3 innings.

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