It’s been a busy week in Orioles land, with one high-profile trade, several interesting free-agent signings and official word from Major League Baseball that Spring Training will begin on time. The offseason is nearly over. Soon, attention will shift to sunny Florida skies and the promise of baseball, back again.
In that vein, it felt fitting that many of your questions this week related to the future. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I did my best to answer as many as possible in this edition of the Orioles Inbox:
When will be seeing Adley Rutschman play? And where?
-- Donna S.
The “when” part I cannot answer, because teams haven’t received official word on when the Minor League season will begin. That uncertainty has the Orioles considering different ways to handle Spring Training with regard to prospects, especially ones who would normally be at big league camp. In one scenario, they will handle spring similarly to last year’s alternate training site, where prospects sprinkled in throughout the summer via staggered arrival dates. The reasoning behind the idea is to never have too many players in camp at once to follow by health and safety protocols.
If this occurs, there is a chance Rutschman might not appear at big league camp. But again, this is all undecided.
As for the “where,” the plan is for Rutschman to begin the season at Double-A Bowie. He will catch regularly and also get defensive reps at first base, with the expectation he could rise quickly if he performs well offensively.
Obviously O's GM Mike Elias doesn't rush his prospects, but if you had to pick one dark-horse prospect (who hasn't already played in the Majors) to break camp and the team and be on the Opening Day roster, who would it be?
-- Ang, Bel Air, Md.
What are the odds Yolmer Sánchez moves over to third base now that Jahmai Jones is onboard?
-- Shane C.
I think both players will move around the diamond. But generally speaking, I see Jones getting more reps in the outfield than third and Sanchez as more as an emergency option at the hot corner behind Rio Ruiz and Bannon.
When you look at the O's lineup, and I know the focus is on letting the young players shine, but it has lost some power with the earlier cuts. Would the O's consider bringing in a veteran on a one-year deal that has a power bat for a possible DH platoon role?
I don’t see any outside additions coming on the position-player side, unless its via waiver claims. Even without Renato Núñez, the Orioles’ roster isn’t short on power, with Anthony Santander, Trey Mancini, Ryan Mountcastle, DJ Stewart and Pedro Severino all capable of providing some thump.
Speaking of that lineup …
What is your guess for the O's starting lineup on Opening Day, 2021?
Here’s my best stab at it (vs. right-handed pitcher):
- Cedric Mullins, CF
- Ryan Mountcastle, LF
- Anthony Santander, RF
- Trey Mancini, 1B
- Rio Ruiz, 3B
- Pedro Severino, C
- DJ Stewart, DH
- Freddy Galvis, SS
- Yolmer Sanchez, 2B
John Means, LHP
What pitchers do you think make their big league debuts this season?
-- Ben D., Townsend, Del.
Quite a few. I don’t think enough has been made about the overwhelming challenge teams will face balancing health and filling innings after the shortened 60-game season in 2020. A full 162-game '21 season would mean 102 more games and at least 918 more innings to fill … with pitchers who are all coming off severely decreased workloads. Plus, in the Orioles’ case, many of these arms are still developing. The word “unprecedented” gets thrown around a lot these days. This is truly an unprecedented challenge for teams.
What’s the solution? I think we’ll see some tweaks in strategy and roster construction. I think we’ll see six-man rotations sprout up around the league. But to be successful, clubs will need depth. I think teams are going to simply use more pitchers, and for the Orioles, that might have to mean young pitchers with little MLB experience.
Just off the top of my head, I can think of seven whose debuts wouldn’t surprise me: Top 30 prospects Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther, Alexander Wells and Kevin Smith, reliever Isaac Mattson (one of the two Rule 5 Draft picks) and maybe even Cody Sedlock.