Who will grab the O's remaining roster spots?

February 24th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Jake Rill’s Orioles Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SARASOTA, Fla. -- It’s time for the O’s to play ball.

The 2024 Grapefruit League season has arrived, with the Orioles hosting the Red Sox in their spring opener at Ed Smith Stadium on Saturday afternoon. It’s the first of 32 Spring Training games for Baltimore, the defending American League East champions.

New Orioles ace Corbin Burnes got the starting nod for the first Grapefruit contest. The 29-year-old right-hander is also likely to get the assignment for Opening Day on March 28 vs. the Angels at Camden Yards.

For players like Burnes -- and about 14-16 others on Baltimore’s roster -- Spring Training stats won’t matter. They’re already locks to break camp with the team. But others may need to play well in Grapefruit action to win an Opening Day roster spot.

Here are five players on the roster bubble (listed in alphabetical order) to monitor closely during Spring Training games over the next month.

Cowser (MLB Pipeline’s No. 19 overall prospect) is among six outfielders battling for either one or two spots on the Orioles’ roster. The 23-year-old struggled during his brief 26-game debut stint in the Majors last year, but he likely still has a bright future ahead.

Also, Cowser had an impressive showing at Triple-A Norfolk in 2023 -- a .300/.417/.520 slash line with 18 doubles, 17 homers and 62 RBIs in 87 games -- and the taste of the big leagues should have been a valuable learning experience. He has an opportunity to play his way onto the Opening Day roster.

Of course, Holliday is a top player to watch in Grapefruit League action. The No. 1 overall prospect in MLB is a future star with a legitimate opportunity to break camp with the O’s (and make an Opening Day MLB debut) to begin his second full professional season.

“I’m not trying to do anything crazy. Just play my game,” the 20-year-old Holliday said. “Talking to certain guys, that’s what their advice was, is to just keep playing the game that I love and not change too much.”

Irvin’s odds of cracking Baltimore’s rotation greatly increased with the news that Kyle Bradish (right UCL sprain) will go on the injured list and that John Means (left elbow recovery) is likely headed there as well. Irvin, who is out of Minor League options, now slots in as the probable No. 5 starter to open 2024.

But Irvin still needs to go out and secure his spot after posting a 4.81 ERA over the 12 starts he made in 2023 (his first year with the Orioles). It will also be interesting to see how his stuff looks in games, as he spent the offseason improving his cutter and adding more break to his sinker.

Like Cowser, Kjerstad (Pipeline’s No. 32 overall prospect) is among the six outfielders on the O’s roster bubble. However, the 25-year-old slugger may be the frontrunner heading into Grapefruit action after he made a 13-game MLB debut last September/October and then was included on Baltimore’s roster for the AL Division Series.

Last spring, Kjerstad put up big numbers, slashing .381/.409/.810 with four doubles, four homers and nine RBIs in 23 Grapefruit League games. Another spring like that and he should be making his first career Opening Day roster.

When Tate takes the mound for his 2024 spring debut, it will be his first game action since last June 21, when he made the final appearance of a Minor League rehab stint that was shut down without him returning to the big leagues. The 29-year-old never pitched for the Orioles last season due to elbow/forearm issues.

Only four relievers appear locked into Baltimore’s bullpen -- closer Craig Kimbrel, Yennier Cano, Danny Coulombe and Cionel Pérez -- with the other four spots up for grabs. Tate has two Minor League options remaining, so he could be sent to the Minors if he struggled this spring. But if he returns to his 2022 form (a 3.05 ERA in 67 games), he should be in the Opening Day 'pen.