Projecting The Orioles Opening Day Roster
We’re a little more than a week into Spring Training and the Baltimore Orioles have looked like a competitive bunch.
Of course the results of these exhibition games mean next to nothing. After all, the World Series champion Houston Astros were 15-15 in spring a year ago, while the Orioles were 16-14. But there are some things that can be gleaned from the action. And while many of the roster spots are already locked down no matter what happens in Florida, there are some players who could play their way onto (or off of) the Opening Day roster.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
That’s certainly the case for the Orioles, who have a number of positions up for grabs, even beyond the starting rotation. And you can bet Manager Buck Showalter and Executive Vice President Dan Duquette are watching things closely.
With that in mind, let’s see if we can read the tea leaves and project who will be on the 25-man roster when the Orioles open regular season action against the Minnesota Twins on March 29 at Camden Yards.
- Kevin Gausman
- Dylan Bundy
- Andrew Cashner
- Chris Tillman
- Nestor Cortes, Jr. (L)
You can pencil Gausman in as your Opening Day starter and hope that he gets off to a much better start than he did in 2017. He seems to be showing no ill effects from his rough spring opener, in which he struggled even before his bizarre collision with Detroit Tigers on-deck hitter Jeimer Candelario. Bundy has struggled but you can bet on him building on his solid 2017 season.
After that it gets dicey, with Cashner and Tillman playing the role of 2017’s Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez and, um, Chris Tillman. Cortes has some hot competition for the No. 5 spot from Gabriel Ynoa, Mike Wright and Miguel Castro, but as the crafty left-hander who pitches more maturely than his 23 years, he beats them all out. Also, he’s a Rule 5 pick who has to be offered back to the Yankees if they don’t keep him around. The Castro/Ynoa/Wright trio could find bullpen spots, with Ynoa and Wright having an edge in that regard as they are out of minor league options.
What could change things: The Orioles sign another free agent starter.
Is it likely? No, but it depends on the pitcher. Don’t bet on Jake Arrieta settling for a low-ball deal to return to Baltimore. But there are others out there who might budge on their asking prices if they get antsy as the clock continues to tick, including Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb. Either would slip in at No. 3 and bump the others down, knocking Cortes either to the bullpen or back to the Yankees.
- Brad Brach
- Darren O’Day
- Mychal Givens
- Richard Bleier (L)
- Donnie Hart (L)
- Gabriel Ynoa
- Miguel Castro
This unit is solid even without Zach Britton at the top and his eventual return could make it elite. Under this scenario, the Orioles would probably lose Rule 5 signees Jose Mesa and Pedro Araujo as well as Wright, who is out of options. They could send Castro down instead in order to keep an extra guy in the system, but Castro pitched well in the long role last season and you have to go with your best guys.
What could change things: The Orioles start the season with eight relievers.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to carry an extra arm early in the season, especially when there is so much uncertainty in your rotation. There is a hitch to this plan, however: If you keep a 13-man pitching staff, you lose a bat, and Duquette has another complicating factor there in that he has to keep outfielder Anthony Santander on the roster for the first 44 days of the season to satisfy his Rule 5 requirement from last year. Decisions, decisions.
- Caleb Joseph
- Chance Sisco (L)
In my mind, this is a pretty cut-and-dried decision to make. Sisco’s bat appears to be ready for the majors, and as a left-handed hitter me makes a nice platoon partner with the right-handed Joseph. The only caveat would be if you think he’s not ready to handle the other catching duties such as defense, handling pitchers, etc. Also, the O’s might want to pause the clock on his major league service time and start him in the minors. Otherwise, it’s time to see what the kid can do.
What could change things: Austin Wynns continues to impress.
Wynns hit a home run about a week ago to salvage a tie (don’t you love spring training?) and drawing effusive praise from Showalter, who said: “People like him. Pitchers like him, managers like him that he’s played for. And that comes from a lot of things he brings. He’s got a chance to be a real trustworthy player.”
The 27-year-old hit .281/.377/.419 in AAA last season but it sounds like he brings a lot of other qualities to the table that are even more important for the catcher position.
- 1B: Chris Davis (L)
- 2B: Jonathan Schoop
- SS: Manny Machado
- 3B: Tim Beckham
- Utility: Engelb Vielma (S)
The first four spots are set in stone. The utility role, though, is a crap shoot. Vielma is a 23-year-old who hit .229/.273/.280 in 121 games between AA and AAA last season. Originally a member of the Twins organization, the Orioles acquired him from the Giants in January for a player to be named later or cash. There are any number of players who could beat out Vielma for the utility role, including Ruben Tejada, Luis Sardinas and Erick Salcedo. But since Vielma is on the 40-man roster already, he gets the edge for now.
What could change things: Davis’ elbow injury lingers or worsens.
An MRI has shown no structural damage to Davis’ barking elbow, but the continuing inflammation is troubling. If Davis ends up on the DL, a door suddenly opens for Pedro Alvarez or Danny Valencia.
- LF: Trey Mancini
- CF: Adam Jones
- RF: Colby Rasmus (L)/Craig Gentry
- DH: Mark Trumbo
- Bench: Anthony Santander (S)
The signing of Rasmus sets up a platoon in right field with Gentry. It’s not the sexiest platoon — not nearly as exciting as it would be to have Austin Hays out there in right – but the sense here is that they’re going to start Hays in the minors to save on the compilation of service time. Also, as noted above, Santander isn’t going anywhere for at least 44 days, so that limits your flexibility. And if the Orioles were to go with a 13-man pitching staff to start the season that would make things even tighter.
What could change things: O’s sign Carlos Gonzalez.
The veteran outfielder is still out there on the market and he still makes sense for the Orioles. Would Duquette say no to a one-year, low-cost, make-good deal? Signing Gonzalez would likely mean the departure of Rasmus, who is signed to a minors deal anyway.