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Four Spring Training predictions for the O's

@JoeTrezz
February 15, 2020

SARASOTA, Fla. -- As noon approached on Wednesday morning, Orioles pitchers, coaches and instructors convened on the back fields of the club’s Ed Smith Stadium complex, assembled in a semicircle. They soon dispersed into groups to various stations for stretching, bullpens, pitchers’ fielding practice and conditioning drills.

SARASOTA, Fla. -- As noon approached on Wednesday morning, Orioles pitchers, coaches and instructors convened on the back fields of the club’s Ed Smith Stadium complex, assembled in a semicircle. They soon dispersed into groups to various stations for stretching, bullpens, pitchers’ fielding practice and conditioning drills.

As the O’s held their first official workout with all 42 pitchers and catchers in camp, it was clear that spring had sprung. Sunscreen was applied to exposed skin. High-speed cameras were assembled behind practice mounds. Camp No. 2 for Brandon Hyde and company had begun, and the manager had a message.

“We talked about expectations in camp, talked a little about last year also and what we’re expecting going forward and the opportunity these guys have,” Hyde said. “We’re looking for guys to step up and continue to improve.”

How that will materialize remains to be seen. But we can take our best guess. Here are four predictions as the Orioles prepare for the 2020 season.

1. Hunter Harvey becomes the closer
This might not happen immediately. It might not happen at all. But assuming he stays healthy, Hunter Harvey has a chance to completely transform the Orioles’ bullpen in 2020, potentially allowing Hyde to assign concrete roles in ways he couldn’t last year.

It won’t take much for Baltimore’s ‘pen to be better in 2020. A healthy Harvey and Richard Bleier, perhaps a step forward from Miguel Castro, Tanner Scott or someone else might be all it takes. But Harvey is the key, given how perfectly suited his power arsenal appears for the ninth inning. That would free up Mychal Givens to be deployed in high-leverage situations regardless of inning, and let Hyde flex his strategic muscles more in tight games. The skipper loved watching Harvey’s wipeout stuff late last season. The idea of him closing might be too tantalizing to pass up.

2. Both Rule 5 Draft picks make the team
General manager Mike Elias’ proclamation Tuesday that “we have players here who have never played in the big leagues who have a chance to break camp” comes with a caveat: two of those players are Rule 5 Draft picks Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker, who must break camp in order to remain in the organization. If not, the O’s must offer them back to their old teams (for Bailey, the Astros; for Rucker, the Cubs) for $50,000, forfeiting their rights to each player.

That doesn’t seem likely given all the opportunity that exists for pitchers in Orioles camp and the number of optionable pitchers in the fold. Nearly everyone competing for spots could theoretically be sent to the Minors if necessary, giving Baltimore flexibility with regards to its rotation and relief corps. Does that mean both Bailey and Rucker will stick around for the entire season? That’s hard to say -- and tougher to do. But as we saw last year with Richie Martin and Drew Jackson, who both made the team out of camp, the O’s will give their Rule 5 Draft picks a chance to stick around.

3. The prospects impress, but don’t break camp
Assuming Bailey and Rucker make the team, it would be tough for many other prospects to squeeze onto the roster. Only a few have legitimate chances to anyway, given the prospect bundle set to descend upon Sarasota by next week. Harvey and Austin Hays don’t count, given the big league time they accumulated last year. We’re talking more about No. 11 lefty Keegan Akin, who’ll be battling Bailey and others for the No. 5 starter job. The Orioles are still prioritizing development over immediate need, which means Akin and No. 4 prospect Ryan Mountcastle might begin the year back at Triple-A Norfolk given the roster crunch.

4. Rotation piece TBD
Complicating matters is the chance of another rotation competitor coming from outside the organization, which remains a possibility even with the report date to Spring Training come and gone. The Orioles have both Major and Minor League offers out to veteran pitchers still unsigned on the free-agent market, including old friend Andrew Cashner. Baltimore is hopeful to sign at least one in the weeks to come. That means the O’s could very well hand the ball to a pitcher not currently in camp during the season’s opening week.

“There are free agents out there that are good pitchers who would either be upgrades for us or guys who can come in and compete for depth purposes,” Elias said Tuesday. “We have a large camp right now, but if there are two guys who we think can help us, we won’t draw the line.”

Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.