3 tough roster decisions O's must make

March 24th, 2023

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. -- For the past five weeks, the Orioles have evaluated their players in Major League camp. They’ve whittled down that group from 71 to 44, with 18 cuts remaining.

Some of those will be easy calls. Others, not so much.

Here are three tough decisions the Orioles must make regarding their Opening Day roster:

1. Should they find a way to keep a non-roster backup first baseman?

Ryan O’Hearn (.333/.389/.455 slash line through 14 Grapefruit games entering Friday), Franchy Cordero (.447/.447/.763 in 14 games) and Josh Lester (.313/.340/.479 in 19 games) have each shown this spring why they could be valuable to Baltimore’s bench. The problem for the trio is Terrin Vavra has displayed that, too.

Vavra, 25, is on the Orioles’ 40-man roster, so he already has a leg up on the competition for the final bench spot. He homered for the second time this spring on Wednesday and entered Friday with a .342/.395/.605 slash line in 13 games. He’s also showcased his versatility, making appearances at first, second, third and left field.

“There’s a lot of decisions to be made, and that’s nothing that I can control,” Vavra said. “So [I'm] just going out there [trying to] put good swings on balls and play good defense.”

It seems likely Vavra rounds out Baltimore’s bench. But the performances by those several non-roster candidates are at least giving the O’s something to ponder as they finalize the position-player side of their roster.

2. What do they do with DL Hall and Tyler Wells?

Let's start with Hall because he’s in the most interesting spot of any player still in big league camp. The 24-year-old left-hander (Baltimore’s No. 7 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 97 overall prospect) has made only one Grapefruit appearance this spring, as the start of his build-up was delayed by right lower lumbar discomfort.

The Orioles remain optimistic Hall has a long-term future as a starter, but he isn’t going to be stretched out by the end of camp. Do they keep him in their big league bullpen -- where he thrived late in 2022 -- for the short-term benefit, or do they put him in Triple-A Norfolk's rotation with the big picture in mind? Either is a possibility.

Same goes for the right-handed Wells, who was a reliever in 2021, then was converted to a starter in '22. He might just miss out on making the rotation, with Kyle Gibson, Cole Irvin, Dean Kremer, Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez the favorites to land the five spots.

Like Hall, Wells could either return to Baltimore’s bullpen or get sent down to Norfolk to start. Neither will be an easy call.

3. Can they keep Rule 5 pitcher Andrew Politi in their bullpen?

The strongest case for Politi making the team is that the Orioles will have to offer the 26-year-old right-hander back to the Red Sox if he doesn’t, due to his Rule 5 status. But he has also fared quite well during his first spring in Baltimore’s camp.

Politi has a 4.50 Grapefruit ERA, but that number is inflated by a March 9 outing vs. the Phillies, during which he allowed four runs in two-thirds of an inning. His other seven appearances have all been scoreless, and he hasn’t allowed a hit in any of his past three outings.

Félix Bautista, Cionel Pérez and Bryan Baker are locks for the bullpen. So is Mychal Givens, as long as his sore left knee doesn’t send him to the injured list. Keegan Akin and Austin Voth are likely to make the team, which leaves two open spots for relievers.

Hall and Wells are also in the mix. Joey Krehbiel has had five consecutive scoreless Grapefruit appearances after a tough start to the spring. Mike Baumann is an intriguing candidate, as he’s pitched well since being moved from starting to a short-relief role. And then there’s Politi, who is putting together an impressive resume himself.