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5 things to watch for as O's begin spring games

@JoeTrezz
February 22, 2020

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- The Orioles opened their spring schedule with the first of 34 Grapefruit League games on Saturday, dropping their opener to the Braves, 5-0, at CoolToday Park. The next four weeks of games should provide the Orioles glimpses of the future and clarity regarding their current roster

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- The Orioles opened their spring schedule with the first of 34 Grapefruit League games on Saturday, dropping their opener to the Braves, 5-0, at CoolToday Park. The next four weeks of games should provide the Orioles glimpses of the future and clarity regarding their current roster as they get ready for Opening Day.

Saturday’s opener signaled that they, and the rest of the baseball world, are one step closer to that milestone. Here are five things to watch for with the Orioles now that Grapefruit League play is underway.

1. Rotation station
Nowhere do the Orioles need to sort more out than on the pitching side of things, the rotation in particular. There are at least three jobs to be won there, and additional impressions to be made further down the depth chart. The Orioles are certainly going to use more than five starters over the course of the year (they used 18 last summer), so auditions like the initial ones Chandler Shepherd and Ty Blach made on Saturday are important even if neither is likely to win a job out of camp.

The Orioles have at least seven other candidates behind John Means and Alex Cobb, and they could still add another via free agency and would probably incorporate others should injury strike. It means finding enough innings for mid-rotation candidates Asher Wojciechowski and Kohl Stewart, non-roster veterans Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone, prospects Keegan Akin and Brandon Bailey and decisions on how much to stretch out down-ballot arms like David Hess and Michael Rucker. It also means almost every day this spring, at least one pitcher will trot to the mound with something to prove.

2. The Adley Show
Adley Rutschman might have more name recognition than most 22-year-old non-roster invitees at big league camp, but that’s still what he is from a service-time and status perspective. Translation: The Orioles aren’t going to give him many starts in the Grapefruit League over other players who they need to assess for inclusion on the 2020 team. Rutschman is going to play, but it’ll be probably limited to coming off the bench in late-inning and pinch-hitting situations. Still, last year's No. 1 overall Draft pick should be an attraction wherever he goes.

3. Mountcastle rising
Rutschman’s situation is different from that of nearly every other prospect in Orioles camp, many of whom have a chance to crack the big leagues at some point in 2020. That means long looks for a lot of young players, specifically Ryan Mountcastle, as the Orioles go through the process of determining whether their most advanced hitting prospect is ready for an early-season call to The Show.

Spotting Mountcastle on defense might be challenging -- the Orioles are going to move him around between first base, third and left field, with an eye toward carving out a positional home. Expect the 23-year-old to get about as many at bats as any blue-chipper in camp.

4. Who’s on first?
Who’s on second? Who’s on third? How about the outfield? In one sense, the Orioles have a surprisingly stable roster in terms of returning position players. But in another, they’ve intentionally given themselves as many options as perhaps any other team in the Majors by bringing an army of versatile utility-types into camp.

The Orioles prioritized versatility last spring, then waited 65 games before repeating a lineup, the most in the Majors. Expect the shuffle to continue this spring. Of the Orioles’ 25 non-catcher position players in camp, 16 could theoretically play multiple positions this spring, and nine could see time in both the infield and outfield.

“The more positions you can play, the better,” O's manager Brandon Hyde said. “We’ll see how the roster looks like at the end. As we’re putting the pieces together … utility guys offer different things."

5. The Rule 5 Draft guys
A pitching crunch forced the Orioles to part ways with Rule 5 Draft pick Drew Jackson last April, so it was easy to forget the Orioles headed north with two Rule 5 guys on the team. The other was Richie Martin, who spent all of 2019 in Baltimore. Keeping Jackson just wasn’t possible, but the effort the Orioles made in carrying him out of camp was telling. A team trying to stockpile as much young talent as possible wants its Rule 5 Draft picks to stick, so expect Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker to get long looks this spring. Bailey is a legitimate rotation candidate. Rucker is as well, at least in name, though at this juncture, it seems more likely he gets stretched out for a potential swingman or multi-inning relief role.

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