SARASOTA, Fla. -- Ah, Spring Training, where certain players declare that they are “in the best shape of their life” by bulking up (or by slimming down), teams are full of innocent hope and everyone is trying to make a positive impression.
That’s especially true for the Orioles, who will open their Grapefruit League slate on Friday against the Blue Jays at Ed Smith Stadium. With a young crop of players (only three players on the 40-man roster are over 30) and open competition across the roster, there are plenty of opportunities to seize -- and impressions to make.
“A lot of these guys had really good experience last year being in the big leagues for the first time,” manager Brandon Hyde said of the overall competition in camp. “We want to see them how they came back from that and how they're going to improve.”
Let’s dive into which O’s are most in need of positive vibes this spring, whether it be for their overall career arc, personal recoveries or otherwise. For the purposes of this list, we’re going to limit ourselves to players on the 40-man roster. Others with prospect status but at Major League camp, such as Adley Rutschman and Kyle Stowers, will be touched upon at a later date.
1. OF Yusniel Díaz
The wonderment surrounding Diaz stems mostly from the fact that he has yet to get prolonged time in front of Orioles brass since he arrived. Stymied by a laundry list of nicks and bruises, the centerpiece of the 2018 Manny Machado blockbuster trade has appeared in just 188 games with the O’s Minor League affiliates since he was acquired, without much sustained success to date. Diaz did show some pop at the Arizona Fall League this past October and November, but he was held to seven games due to a left shoulder strain.
Hyde said on Thursday that his surefire Opening Day regulars will get the chunk of playing time, especially as Grapefruit League action hits a full-go. How much Diaz, now 25, gets to play in meaningful spring action could be telling. As years go by, it feels like this is the season that might define his time in Baltimore.
2. LHP D.L. Hall
If anything, the tenor executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias used around the Orioles' No. 2 prospect Grayson Rodriguez’s chances to contribute in the Majors quickly in 2022 appeared more optimistic than expected. It’s not that the same isn’t true for Hall, Baltimore's No. 3 prospect, but that some caution needs to be exerted.
Hall pitched only 31 2/3 innings for Double-A Bowie in 2021 as he battled left elbow issues and a stress reaction that cut his season short. He’s been full-go at this year's Major League camp, his first as a member of the 40-man roster, and how he progresses in game action could determine how quickly he reaches the big leagues.
“If he's throwing strikes, he's pretty close to big league ready,” Elias said at the outset of camp. “We may see this guy in the big leagues this year, and we may see him quick if it's the right thing to do.”
3. RHP Dean Kremer
Like Diaz, Kremer is also a product of the Machado trade. But unlike Diaz, Kremer has a wide open chance at his fingertips, with the O's rotation in complete flux behind John Means and Jordan Lyles.
Kremer has gotten chances in past regular seasons, finding positive results in 2020 and then some nicks in the road in ’21. He was ultimately sent to Triple-A Norfolk for the second half of last season (outside of an MLB spot start in September). His strikeout numbers remain impressive, and his fastball spin rate is among the upper tier in the Majors. Now it’s just about putting the raw ingredients into a clean, finished product. (To that end, Rylan Bannon, the final member of the Machado trade still in the organization, faces an interesting spring as well.)
4. LHP Tanner Scott
Few 2022 Orioles have more raw talent without sustained numbers to show for it than Scott. The 27-year-old lefty sports a fastball that sits around 97 mph and is among the top in the league in whiff rate and barrel percentage. Yet his 5.17 ERA was the fourth highest in the Majors among pitchers who made at least 60 appearances last season (which itself is a nice accomplishment).
For Scott, it’s about making the most of his tantalizing talent -- and the fixes are there for the taking. He walked 37 batters in 54 innings last season, a 14.7 percent walk rate tied for fifth among qualified relievers. Could he start the year as the O's closer? It’s certainly possible, given his talent. It’s just a matter of his results catching up with his pedigree.
5. OF Anthony Santander
With a burgeoning outfield class, and with Hyde revealing on Thursday that Trey Mancini will get some work in the corner outfield spots, the intrigue with Santander may linger past Spring Training. He’s been uttered in annual trade rumors as someone the O’s could maneuver in return for a prospect package, but injuries and a down year in 2021 seem to have abated those talks. But if he refinds his footing in spring and rebounds in ’22, could there be a rekindling? We'll have to buckle up this spring and watch.