Predicting O's Opening Day roster
Plethora of spots available as club breaks for Florida
Rare is the spring situation when every player in big league camp comes with at least some realistic chance at cracking the club's Opening Day roster. And that won't be the reality even for the rebuilding Orioles.
But it's not far off.
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Coming off the worst season in franchise history, armed with new leadership and without some players who defined the team for as long as a decade, the Orioles are set to embark on 2019 essentially from scratch. The mass of new faces will mean competition all over; from behind the plate, to the middle infield, to all but a few spots on the pitching staff. There will be more jobs to win in Sarasota, Fla., than perhaps anywhere else in baseball this spring.
"Right now if I had to pick 25," new manager Brandon Hyde said. "I'd be lying to you if I said I had it nailed down."
Consider that the understatement of the spring. Here's our first attempt at trying to sort it all out.
Catchers (2): Chance Sisco, Jesús Sucre
Sucre was one of three veterans brought in on Minor League deals this winter to bolster depth behind Sisco, who will get a crack at the starting job for a second straight spring. Austin Wynns is on the 40-man, making him Sucre's main competition for the backup role in a field that also includes Carlos Perez and Andrew Susac.
First base (1): Chris Davis
Maybe this changes if Mark Trumbo (knee) isn't ready for Opening Day, or the Orioles are able to trade Trumbo. That would give the club the chance to shift Davis to DH and Trey Mancini back to the infield, where he's more comfortable. But until then, Davis and his $92 million in guaranteed money remain rooted at first.
Second base (1): Jonathan Villar
The rest of the infield remains entirely in flux, though one guarantee is that Villar is a part of it, somewhere. It remains to be seen whether the bulk of Villar's reps comes at second, where he's played the majority of his six big league seasons, or short. That's by design. The Orioles spent the winter flooding their 40-man roster with versatile infield-types; they'll bring no fewer than seven players with positional flexibility to Sarasota with them. With so many question marks, the smart money is on Villar seeing time on both sides of second base.
Shortstop (1): Richie Martin
Of the various options the Orioles have given themselves to replace Tim Beckham at short, Martin comes with the highest prospect pedigree. There is little debate about his glove and the Orioles are betting the offensive improvements that the 24-year-old made at Double-A last summer are real. Given his Rule 5 status, Martin will have to build on that success at the big league level to remain with the organization. He'll be pushed to do so this spring, with a heap of versatile infielders in the fold (and Villar's ability to play short), providing the O's insurance should Martin struggle.
Third base (1): Renato Núñez
Third base is probably the toughest position to predict at this point. But the early nod goes to Nunez, given the 116 OPS+ he produced in 60 games last summer with the Orioles. Rio Ruiz and Hanser Alberto were brought in to challenge him, with Drew Jackson, Jack Reinheimer and holdover Steve Wilkerson in the mix as well. The Orioles' No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, Ryan Mountcastle, will be in camp looking to build on his excellent 2018 at Double-A Bowie, though taking him north would require the Orioles to sacrifice a year of team control.
Utility (1): Jackson
The Orioles were impressed enough with Jackson's progression at Double-A last season to acquire him by sending international bonus pool money to the Phillies after Philadelphia selected the utility man in the Rule 5 Draft. Like with Martin, that status gives Jackson a leg up in a camp set to be rife with competition. His versatility also provides an advantage: The 25-year-old has appeared at second and third base, shortstop and center field over his Minor League career.
Outfielders (4): Mancini, Cedric Mullins, DJ Stewart, Austin Hays
The 26-year-old Mancini qualifies as an elder statesman on this rebuilding club, and Mullins profiles as the only true center fielder currently on the 40-man. There is opportunity here for Hays, the club's No. 4 prospect, who struggled through an injury-plagued 2018. A strong spring from Hays would put him in a position to beat out Joey Rickard and Anthony Santander, both of whom have remaining Minor League options.
Designated hitters (1): Trumbo
Trumbo is progressing well from knee surgery that limited him to 90 games in 2018. The Orioles are operating under the assumption that he'll be ready for Opening Day, meaning he's one of the team's few proven offensive threats, and, by extension, potential trade chips.
Starting pitchers (5): RHP Dylan Bundy, RHP Andrew Cashner, RHP Alex Cobb, RHP Nate Karns, RHP Yefry Ramírez
Last week's signing of Karns to an incentive-laden deal clears up the Orioles' rotation picture somewhat, though Karns will have to prove he's healthy enough after missing much of the past two seasons due to injury. Bundy, Cashner and Cobb are all bounce-back candidates, and locked into the first three spots in some order. Ramirez could easily be pushed by the likes of Luis Ortiz, David Hess, Jimmy Yacabonis, or perhaps even Dillon Tate or Hunter Harvey, for what figures to be an all-out competition for that fifth slot. The reality is a number of arms probably cycle through the back end of this rotation throughout 2019.
Relief pitchers (8): RHP Mychal Givens, LHP Richard Bleier, RHP Miguel Castro, LHP Tanner Scott, RHP Mike Wright, Jr., RHP Branden Kline, RHP Ortiz, RHP Pedro Araujo
Givens and Bleier are the only locks, and that's dependent on Bleier being fully recovered from lat surgery. Castro's 3.77 ERA over the past two seasons makes him a decent bet to reprise his middle-relief role. Beyond that? Take your pick. Kline was added to the 40-man following his breakout 2018 season, and Araujo's holdover Rule 5 status gives him some roster incentive for breaking camp with the big club. Zach Pop, Bo Schultz and Gabriel Ynoa are intriguing non-roster invitees, but to make the team, they'll have to beat out Wright Jr., Cody Carroll, Evan Phillips and a slew of others. The Grapefruit League will be full of good, old-fashioned spring competitions, but perhaps nowhere more than in the Orioles' bullpen.
Mike Wright, Jr.