Looking back on some Oriole spring training surprises - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Spring Training

Looking back on some Oriole spring training surprises

Photo Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel USA TODAY Sports


As spring training neared, the Orioles purchased infielder/outfielder Tyler Nevin from the Detroit Tigers, and many fans wondered why. When it became apparent that Nevin would be on the Opening Day roster, many of those fans continued to be puzzled.

Nevin’s inclusion on the roster won’t become official until Thursday when the Orioles must submit their list of 26 players before their opener against the Los Angeles Angels, and it was the most unlikely development of a fascinating spring training.

As spring training rolled on, the thinking here was that the Orioles were going to include 20-year-old phenom Jackson Holliday on their Opening Day roster, and nothing I saw changed my thinking.


When Holliday’s reassignment was announced, and Nevin stayed, I didn’t immediately think that he’d benefit.

For a team as deep as the 2024 Orioles, spring training is about making certain that the players who go north are healthy and getting enough innings or at-bats and choosing the handful of players at the bottom half of the roster.

Since they knew that two-fifths of their starting rotation, Kyle Bradish and John Means (elbow injuries), wouldn’t be with the team to begin the year, there weren’t any other injuries that caused them to change their plans, and perhaps four or five roster spots were available.

As long as Dillon Tate was healthy and effective, he’d grab one of the remaining bullpen spots. If Mike Baumann was effective, he’d take another because he didn’t have any options remaining.

There was real competition for the final two spots in the bullpen. Last November, it seemed plausible that left-hander Keegan Akin would not be tendered a contract. The Orioles’ bullpen was deep and his back injury cost him the second half of last season.

But Akin rebounded and allowed just a hit and a walk in 7 1/3 scoreless innings, and he secured one of the remaining spots.

Julio Teheran, a 33-year-old right-hander, was signed as a minor league free agent on February 28th as insurance in case another Oriole starter was hurt. He was also a contender for a bullpen spot.

On Friday, Teheran opted out of his minor league contract and a day later pitched four scoreless innings, giving up just one hit in a split-squad game at Tampa Bay. However, that wasn’t enough to convince the Orioles to add him to the roster and he was released.

That left two pitchers for the final bullpen spot, Jonathan Heasley and Jacob Webb. Webb didn’t have an option remaining, and he’s the apparent choice for the last spot.

Of course, the Orioles could acquire players off waivers and trades in the two days before the opener who could supplant Nevin or Webb.

Besides signing Teheran, they also signed 33-year-old second baseman Kolten Wong to a minor league contract on February 28th, leading some to speculate that if Holliday, a left-handed hitter who’s mastering second base, didn’t make the team, the left-hand hitting Wong could make it. Wong also opted out of his contract on Friday and was released on Sunday.

Six weeks ago, it seemed that Heston Kjerstad, who ended last season with the team and was included on the Division Series roster, had the best shot at the final outfield spot. Kjerstad’s spring training wasn’t bad, but the 25-year-old had just one extra-base hit, a double, a walk and a hit-by-pitch in 51 plate appearances in Grapefruit League games.

He was outplayed by Kyle Stowers, who hit seven home runs and was optioned to minor league camp on Friday along with Kjerstad, and Colton Cowser.

In 2023, Cowser, MLB Pipeline’s 19th-ranked prospect, hit just .115 (7-for-61) in his first big league action. This spring, he showed off power, speed and versatility. Cowser’s ability to play all three outfield positions is a plus, and his spring was far superior to Ryan McKenna, who was told Sunday he wouldn’t be making the team.

It wasn’t a stellar spring training for the Orioles outfielders. Cedric Mullins missed time with a hamstring injury and had just three singles in 27 at-bats (.111). Austin Hays had a late stomach virus and hit just .138 with a home run and five RBIs in 12 games. Even Anthony Santander, who hit .200 with five homers and 11 RBIs, struggled.

Cowser can spell any of the three, and the fifth overall pick of the 2021 draft could justify the Orioles’ faith in him this season.

All those moves left one opening, and while Akin, Cowser and Webb were considered candidates, Nevin was always overlooked.

His major league resume isn’t strong. In parts of the last three seasons with the Orioles and Tigers, Nevin hit just .201 with five homers and 29 RBIs with a .611 OPS without a stolen base in 105 games.

Though manager Brandon Hyde repeatedly cautioned not to pay much attention to spring training stats, Nevin had a solid month. He had 57 at-bats, more than anyone on the team, and hit .333 with an .841 OPS, two home runs and seven RBIs.

Nevin has the ability to play first and third base, left and right field. Though the Orioles already have first base more than covered with Ryan Mountcastle and Ryan O’Hearn, Nevin provides protection there, and while Ramón Urias and Jordan Westburg are quality third basemen, he can play there as well as providing outfield insurance.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said the Orioles will face a number of left-handed starters early in the season, and Nevin could be used as a designated hitter.

Assuming the final roster is now in house, there are some surprises. There’s only one rookie, Cowser and he’s already played 26 games. No players who came to camp on minor league contracts will be on the 26-man roster, and only two who’ve never played for the Orioles, Opening Day starter Corbin Burnes and closer Craig Kimbrel, are new to the team. (Nevin played for the Orioles in 2021 and 2022.)

Another impressive player in spring training was another top prospect, Coby Mayo, who hit .360 with a 1.008 OPS in 23 games, which tied with Nevin for most in camp.

The Orioles don’t see a spot on the roster yet for Mayo, who’ll return to Triple-A Norfolk. The guess here is it won’t be for long. Connor Norby, whose best position is second base, may have to play the outfield at Norfolk as long as Holliday is around. He missed early games with a side injury but still was impressive and he should make his major league debut this season.

My favorite story of the spring was Errol Robinson, a product of Boyds, Maryland in Montgomery County. He signed a minor league contract with the Orioles in January and despite not receiving an official invitation to major league camp, Robinson an infielder was a late-inning participant in 20 games, hitting .400, and showing off plus-defense and speed.

At 29, Robinson faces long odds of making the major leagues, but he helped make an enjoyable spring training even more fun.

Notes: The sale of the Orioles to a group led by David Rubenstein is scheduled to be voted on by major league owners on Wednesday. … The Orioles announced that National Bohemian, a longtime local favorite beer, will return to Camden Yards this season. They had previously announced that Coca-Cola products would also return. … Fans who wish to attend Tuesday night’s workout and question-and-answer session with Elias and Hyde must register for a free ticket at Orioles.com/Opening Day to attend. Gates will open at 6, and the Q&A is at 6:30. Free parking is available in Lots A, B/C. Fans should enter at Gate C.

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