5 storylines to watch at Orioles camp

February 23rd, 2021

More than a week into Spring Training, baseball is back in force. The Orioles held their first full-squad workout Monday and are scheduled to begin Grapefruit League play Sunday vs. the Pirates at 1:05 p.m. ET. From there, spring will sprint by.

Let's highlight five storylines to watch now that Orioles camp is in full-swing:

1) Tracking Trey Mancini's progress
So far, the news on the Mancini is overwhelmingly positive. Recovered from Stage 3 colon cancer, Mancini has been training in Sarasota, Fla., for several weeks without restriction, and he won't have any once games start. More milestones appear on the horizon, and it'll be worth tracking his progress as he approaches and reaches those. Off the field, Mancini must still undergo periodic screening to ensure he remains cancer free. On it, the questions are how well his strength and durability return after a year of chemotherapy treatment and being away from the game.

2) Can any prospects crack the roster?
Some will, no doubt: Ryan Mountcastle, Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin all retain their prospect status after strong 2020 debuts, which positioned them well for '21 jobs in left field and the rotation, respectively. How they perform this spring could dictate how they build on that success going forward, particularly for Mountcastle, who could be an American League Rookie of the Year Award candidate.

Of more pressing roster intrigue is the status of several prospects who arrived at camp knocking on the door, but still on the periphery. Can slugging infielder Rylan Bannon swing his way into a platoon at third base? What kind of first impression does the recently acquired Jahmai Jones make? How do Yusniel Diaz, Ryan McKenna, Michael Baumann and others show ahead of potential debuts later this season? And what to make of 2020 first-round pick Heston Kjerstad, who isn't a candidate to make the team but will be in camp late after suffering a serious health scare?

3) What do King Félix and the Dark Knight have left in the tank?
If it's anything at all, it'll help the Orioles in what'll be a season-long challenge to cover innings following the shortened 2020 season. If it's more, great, as Félix Hernández and Matt Harvey could use strong bounce-back years to revive their careers.

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For both, it could be a long climb: Hernández is 34, six years removed from his last All-Star season and elected not to play in 2020. Harvey's stuff and results are wildly diminished from his heyday with the Mets. But both were elite talents at their peaks, and their mere presence in orange and black lends intrigue to an Orioles camp otherwise thin on famous names.

4) How does Chris Davis handle his reduced role?
Last spring, Davis began Grapefruit League play on a tear, inspiring images of the elite slugger he once was. They were fleeting: Davis wasn't much of a factor once the regular season began, hitting .115 without a homer in 16 games. Four seasons into a steep decline, the Orioles began speaking of Davis strictly as a reserve who'll need to earn his way into the lineup going forward.

At the onset of 2021, that looks to be the case. But where the at-bats will even come isn't an easy question to answer. Anthony Santander's emergence in right provides the added benefit of sliding Mancini back to his natural position at first base, and the O's have several young players they hope to rotate through the designated hitter's spot for regular at-bats. Davis is signed through 2021 and has made it clear that he isn't going anywhere, which is why this remains a dynamic worth watching.

5) How do the O's prepare their pitching depth?
It's the question every team is wrangling with this spring, with hundreds of more innings to cover than in 2020 and pitcher health and workload concerns to heed. The latter issue is of more pressing concern for the O's, given their stable of young pitching prospects and where they are on their rebuilding timeline. Without expecting to seriously contend for the postseason, the onus will fall on covering innings to help safeguard prospects like Kremer, Akin and others, rather than push them and risk injury.

Since the Orioles didn't do much this winter from a transaction standpoint to add to their big league depth, success in this area will likely depend on how effectively they manage that depth. The early strategy seems to be to stretch everyone out who can be stretched out, including formerly one-inning relievers for more multi-inning duty. And don't be surprised if Baltimore eschews traditional notions of role: Openers, bulk-inning pitchers and six-man rotations are all on the table for 2021. It'll be a year when flexibility and durability are valued like never before, which should make rubber-armed vets like Cesar Valdez and Wade LeBlanc and swingman types like Thomas Eshelman and Jorge López very important.