BALTIMORE -- This week, the Orioles will open Spring Training as the defending American League East champions. Expectations are high with the bulk of the 101-win 2023 team back for ‘24, when they’ll aim to return to the postseason -- and make it further after getting swept by eventual World Series champion Texas in the AL Division Series last October.
“We had a special year last year. A lot of these guys are coming back,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “They’re going to be hungry.”
Sixty players will be in Baltimore’s big league camp -- everybody on the full 40-man roster and 20 non-roster invitees. The O’s will work to put together the team that gives them the best chance to repeat as division champs and then make a deeper postseason run.
With pitchers and catchers set to report to Sarasota, Fla., on Wednesday, let’s project how the Orioles’ 26-man roster could look Opening Day on March 28 vs. the Angels at Camden Yards.
First base (2): Ryan Mountcastle, Ryan O'Hearn
The right-handed-hitting Mountcastle and the lefty-swinging O’Hearn will both get starts at first base and factor into the DH rotation. O’Hearn (who had an .802 OPS in 112 games last year, his first in Baltimore) could also see time in the corner outfield.
Second base (1): Jackson Holliday
It’s not a sure thing that Holliday (MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall prospect) will break camp with the big league team and make his MLB debut on Opening Day. But general manager Mike Elias has repeatedly stated the 20-year-old Holliday will have an opportunity to do so, even saying it’s a “very strong possibility.”
If Holliday does, expect him to play a good amount of second base (where he’ll be “a lot” this spring, per Elias) and a bit at shortstop (his natural position).
Third base (1): Jordan Westburg
Westburg broke into the Majors last year and had a solid 68-game showing. The 24-year-old is a safe bet to make the team and should get starts at both second and third.
Outfield (4): Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Heston Kjerstad
The starting outfield will again consist of Hays, Mullins and Santander from left to right. Kjerstad, MLB Pipeline’s No. 32 overall prospect who had a 13-game debut stint in the Majors last year, has proven his bat is big league-ready and should hit his way onto the Opening Day roster. He could get a lot of starts at DH.
Colton Cowser (the No. 19 prospect in baseball), Sam Hilliard, Ryan McKenna and Kyle Stowers will also be battling for roster spots. Any of the four could play their way onto the team.
Mateo is an asset because of his speed and his plus defense at shortstop. He’ll also be working more at center field this spring to prepare him for super-utility action.
Starting pitchers (5): Corbin Burnes, Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, John Means, Dean Kremer
Burnes (the new ace acquired in a Feb. 1 trade with Milwaukee), Bradish, Rodriguez and Means are locked into the rotation. The fifth spot will go to either Kremer, Tyler Wells or Cole Irvin. The front-runner in that battle heading into camp is Kremer, who has a 3.74 ERA in 54 games (53 starts) over the past two seasons.
Assuming Kremer keeps his place, Wells and Irvin will likely shift to the bullpen, where they both have proven they can be impact relievers.
Relief pitchers (8): Craig Kimbrel (closer), Yennier Cano, Danny Coulombe, Cole Irvin, Cionel Pérez, Dillon Tate, Jacob Webb, Tyler Wells
Kimbrel was signed this offseason to serve as the closer in place of All-Star Félix Bautista, who will miss the entire season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Cano, Coulombe, Pérez and Tate can all be high-leverage setup arms.
At this point, the last reliever in may be Webb. He’ll have to fend off a group of bubble pitchers that includes Keegan Akin, Bryan Baker, Mike Baumann, Jonathan Heasley, Nick Vespi and Bruce Zimmermann.