Predicting Orioles' 2021 Opening Day roster

March 21st, 2021

The Orioles’ roster went through significant transformation this offseason, and more is on the way.

Now at the start of their third season in a long-term rebuilding project, the Orioles welcomed an exciting wave of prospects last summer and are expected to shepherd in an even larger group over the coming months. They’ve cut ties with a few regulars, sprinkled in some big-name veterans on Minor League deals and are anxiously anticipating the return of their top slugger after a year away. Change remains in the air at O's camp.

By Opening Day, it’s possible most of Baltimore's starting rotation, its entire middle infield and good chunks of its bullpen will look different than a year ago. All of which makes predicting what the 26-man roster might look like a challenge, but let’s take a crack at it. (Note: please check back throughout the spring for regular updates.)

Catchers (2): ,
Severino looked like a trade candidate this offseason with top prospect Adley Rutschman on the way, but nothing materialized on that front. Rutschman is in camp, but he isn’t a candidate to debut until at least late 2021, and probably later. That leaves Severino and Sisco returning behind the plate in more or less a platoon situation, with Sisco a candidate to get some at-bats at designated hitter as well.

First base (2): ,
The emergence of Anthony Santander in right field has the Orioles planning on slotting Mancini back in at his natural position of first base more regularly this season, his first since missing all of 2020 recovering from Stage 3 colon cancer. Davis remains rooted to the roster by virtue of his contract, which runs through '22, but he is nursing a lower back strain that's sidelined him since his spring debut, and that makes the former home run champion doubtful for Opening Day.

Second base (1):
The 2019 American League Gold Glove Award winner at second base, Sánchez has the inside track at the position after the Orioles claimed him off waivers and released Hanser Alberto this offseason. Sánchez is facing competition this spring from prospect Jahmai Jones and can move around the infield a bit if necessary, but he helps the team most defensively at second.

Third base (2): ,
Signed to a one-year, $800,000 deal with incentives on March 16, Franco likely pushes Ruiz out of a starting role if he can ramp up to game shape in time for Opening Day. A former top prospect with the Phillies, Franco is still just 28, and he hit .278 with eight homers and .778 OPS in 60 games with the Royals last season. Ruiz was inconsistent starting basically every day at the hot corner over the previous two seasons, hitting .229 with 21 homers and .692 OPS over that span. But he retains a path to the roster if outfielder can’t work his way back from a left hamstring strain.

Shortstop (1):
A durable nine-year veteran, Galvis signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal in January to replace José Iglesias as the O’s everyday shortstop. Barring injury, that’s what he’ll be.

Outfield (4): , , ,
Nowhere on the field has progress been more evident during the Orioles' rebuild than in the outfield. There might not be a group of young players the club is more excited about right now than this crop. It’s not hard to imagine Mountcastle, Mullins and Santander starting most days from left to right, while occupying three of the top four spots in the O’s order. Mountcastle is an AL Rookie of the Year Award favorite after his impressive 2020 debut, Mullins rebuilt his value as a table setter and impact defender in center and Santander broke out enough to see his name pop up in trade rumors this winter. Without dealing Santander, this is the likely outfield arrangement on Opening Day, with Hays siphoning at-bats from Mullins against left-handed pitching and at DH. The odd man out might be DJ Stewart, who has been sidelined with a left hamstring strain.

Utility (2): ,
Valaika showed versatility and pop in a utility role last summer, hitting eight homers and playing six positions in 52 games. He is the leading candidate to reprise that role, and Urías has played his way into the roster picture with Richie Martin slowed by left hamate bone surgery. Martin returned on Sunday, giving him about one week to battle Urías and Stevie Wilkerson for that final bench spot.

Starting pitchers (5): , Matt Harvey, , Keegan Akin,
The Orioles took fliers on big-name reclamation projects Harvey and Félix Hernández, in part to ease workload concerns on Kremer, Akin and other rookies who enjoyed impressive 2020 debuts but won’t be pushed innings-wise in '21. But Hernández is sidelined with right elbow discomfort and has an uncertain return date, opening the door for someone like López to potentially swoop in for a rotation job.

Let’s assume for now Hernández’s injury takes him out of the Opening Day mix; Baltimore is still going to use more than five starters this season, making depth options like López and others important figures. They include: old friend Wade LeBlanc, and Ellicott City, Md., native Bruce Zimmermann, who is pitching better than any Orioles hurler in camp.

Relievers (9): Cesar Valdez, Tanner Scott, Paul Fry, Shawn Armstrong, Dillon Tate, Travis Lakins Sr., Cole Sulser, ,
The shortened 2020 season was good to the Orioles' bullpen, which improved from one of baseball’s worst units the year before to one of its better groups. Was part of that sample size? Perhaps. But another part was the steps forward taken by hard-throwing lefty Scott, former top prospect Tate and setup man Fry, as well as the finding of Valdez. If Harvey can stay healthy and those improvements continue, this is a unit that could surprise some people, particularly on the back end.

It’s also certain to evolve from a personnel standpoint throughout the year, as the O's look to fill innings with swingmen, bullpen days and other creative solutions. As it stands now, the first seven names listed appear on stable ground roster-wise and Harvey’s injury provides the bandwidth to take both Zimmermann and LeBlanc north in bulk-inning roles. The need for length probably keeps Rule 5 Draft picks Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells on the outside looking in.