The turn of the calendar means that Opening Day is, yes, less than three short months away. It also means we are officially in 2020, giving us the perfect excuse to look ahead at which Orioles might jog down the orange carpet at Camden Yards come late March.
Consider this first projection of the new decade an educated guess. Roster-wise, things are still subject to change for clubs around the league before, during and after Spring Training. But let’s take a crack at guessing the Orioles’ Opening Day alignment anyway, and remember to check back here as we return to this exercise periodically throughout the new year.
(Remember, beginning in 2020, the roster size from Opening Day through Aug. 31 will increase from 25 to 26, with the minimum number of players on the roster increasing from 24 to 25. Teams can carry a maximum of 13 pitchers at a time.)
Locks: Pedro Severino, Chance Sisco
Possibilities: Austin Wynns, Bryan Holaday
The Orioles were pleasantly surprised with the offense they got from Severino last season, and they want to continue developing Sisco, whom they believe can be an above-average offensive player at the position. The O's recently added veteran backup Holaday as organizational depth behind Wynns, who may be able to sneak on the roster if there is an injury. But it’ll likely be Severino and Sisco again splitting duties in a platoon arrangement.
Lock: Chris Davis
Possibility: Ryan Mountcastle
The biggest questions of spring will center around Mountcastle, the Orioles’ No. 4 prospect and reigning Minor League Player of the Year, and Davis, their expensive former All-Star. After his second consecutive sub-.200 season, Davis -- who is still owed more than $60 million through 2022 -- may find his roster status in jeopardy headed into '20. But there is a sense within the organization that any decision on him won't come until after Opening Day, and probably not until Mountcastle is deemed developmentally ready.
Publicly, the O's have been quite vocal in their support of Davis, expressing optimism that his performance will improve and crafting a custom training plan for him this offseason. Given the service time implications of bringing Mountcastle north with the club, Davis’ contract and the priority Trey Mancini receives whether he plays first base or outfield, the expectation is that Mountcastle arrives in Baltimore at some point in 2020 -- just not right away.
Lock: Hanser Alberto
Possibilities: Richard Ureña, José Rondón, Mountcastle
The Orioles were focused on the future when they dealt Jonathan Villar to the Marlins in December, but there is no question it threw their middle-infield mix into flux. Villar played in every game but one last season at either second or short; Alberto made the next-most starts at second and broke out, leading the club in hitting. Now with José Iglesias in the fold, Alberto looks like he'll be the slam-dunk starting second baseman. He'll also see time as a right-handed alternative at third.
Lock: José Iglesias
Possibilities: Ureña, Richie Martin
The Orioles celebrated the new year by agreeing to a deal with Iglesias and filling their most glaring offseason need -- for a reliable, everyday veteran shortstop. Last year, they gave the lion’s share of reps to Martin and slid Villar over from second at will; trading Villar stripped them of that luxury, and Martin’s struggles made adding from outside the organization a priority. Martin will get a chance to win a bench role out of camp, but he’s just as likely to get the seasoning at Triple-A Norfolk that his Rule 5 Draft status last year didn’t allow. Iglesias will be the Opening Day starter, assuming he’s healthy.
Lock: Rio Ruiz
Possibilities: Alberto, Rondón, Valaika
Despite some late-season faux pas, Ruiz rated as one of the American League’s better defensive third basemen by several advanced metrics. He showed improved power in the second half as well, enough to where he can expect regular at-bats again in 2020. Whether that’s in an everyday role or in another platoon with Alberto remains to be seen, and it really depends where else Alberto is needed on the diamond. My guess is that the Orioles sign a veteran shortstop, use Alberto primarily at second and given Ruiz a chance to come into his own at the plate.
Lock: Renato Núñez
Núñez proved that he could be a regular contributor in 2019, hitting 31 homers with 90 RBIs. He should get a shot to reprise his DH role in '20, though Davis’ presence on the roster will require the Orioles to siphon at-bats here to Mancini, and eventually, Mountcastle.
Locks: Ureña, Stevie Wilkerson
Possibilities: Martin, Valaika
A natural infielder who carries nearly a dozen gloves in his locker, Wilkerson mostly played in the outfield last season. But he’ll probably be needed more in the infield in 2020, given the O’s uncertainty up the middle and the emergence of Austin Hays and Anthony Santander. Wilkerson is likely to make the team on the basis of his versatility alone. The extra roster spot means that Baltimore should be able to carry Ureña, whom the club claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays this month, as well.
Locks: Mancini, Santander, Hays, Dwight Smith Jr.
Possibilities: Cedric Mullins, Ryan McKenna, Mason Williams, free agent or trade
DJ Stewart was supposed to be in this mix before undergoing right ankle surgery that’ll sideline him until at least late March. Mullins is still on the 40-man roster, but he probably needs more than a strong spring to show that his lost 2019 season was a fluke. A Mancini trade remains possible, and it would throw off this projection entirely.
Expect the O's to once again comb the waiver wire and trade market for outfield depth as they did a year ago (with deals that brought in Smith but also sent out Mike Yastrzemski). But they saw enough from Santander and Hays in 2019 to slot in both for starting jobs next season, barring injury.
Locks: John Means, Alex Cobb, Kohl Stewart, Asher Wojciechowski, Keegan Akin
Possibilities: Brandon Bailey, Michael Rucker, David Hess, Rob Zastryzny
With the departures of Dylan Bundy (in a trade to the Angels), Aaron Brooks and Gabriel Ynoa (who both signed in Korea), the Orioles have upwards of 300 rotation innings to replace in 2020. They hope the lion’s share comes from Cobb, who missed all but three starts last season due to a hip condition. The 32-year-old is expected to report to camp healthy following femoroacetabular impingement surgery last June.
Cobb figures to slide in between the ascendant Means and the recently signed Stewart, who will be given every opportunity to claim a rotation job. Wojciechowski might have to win his in camp, after posting a 4.96 ERA over 16 starts last season. Rule 5 picks Bailey and Rucker represent No. 11 prospect Akin’s main competition for the fifth spot, unless the Orioles go out and sign another starter. No. 8 prospect Dean Kremer will be in camp, but he probably doesn’t factor in until later in the summer.
Locks: Mychal Givens, Hunter Harvey, Shawn Armstrong, Miguel Castro, Richard Bleier, Paul Fry, Bailey, Rucker
Possibilities: Branden Kline, Evan Phillips, Dillon Tate, Tanner Scott, Cole Sulser, Cody Carroll, Hess
The two big questions in the bullpen are:
1) Will Givens be traded by Opening Day?
2) Does Harvey open the season as the closer?
Let’s say no to the first and maybe for the second; doing so would allow the Orioles to more easily control Harvey’s workload and deploy Givens in high-leverage situations regardless of inning.
Elsewhere, the club brought Bleier back on a one-year contract, and it expects Armstrong and Fry to return as important options against righties and lefties, respectively. Castro looks like a breakout candidate, given how effective he was for long stretches last summer. With their Rule 5 status, Bailey and Rucker each have a leg up in breaking camp; their histories as starters, given this year’s new three-batter-minimum rule, also help.
Their struggles last season aside, the Orioles’ ‘pen looks more settled than at this point a year ago. The alignment is bound to change, though. The O’s used 31 relievers in 2019, and Kline, Phillips, Tate, Scott and Co. all figure to see big league time again this season. All also have a chance to win a job come late March.
Catchers (2): Chance Sisco, Pedro Severino
Infielders (4): Chris Davis, Hanser Alberto, José Iglesias, Rio Ruiz
Outfielders (4): Trey Mancini, Austin Hays, Anthony Santander, Dwight Smith Jr.
Utility (2): Richard Ureña, Stevie Wilkerson
Designated hitter (1): Renato Núñez
Starting pitchers (5): John Means, Alex Cobb, Kohl Stewart, Asher Wojciechowski, Keegan Akin
Relief pitchers (8): Mychal Givens, Hunter Harvey, Shawn Armstrong, Richard Bleier, Miguel Castro, Paul Fry, Brandon Bailey, Michael Rucker
Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.