AL EastAnalysis

What to Look For in Orioles Spring Training

Spring training is right around the corner. For a rebuilding team, this is a key time of the year as the organization and fans get a glimpse of what the future could have in store. As the Orioles begin their 10th spring training at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, here is your spring training primer, including important dates, players and prospects you’ll see, storylines to keep an eye on throughout the month, and an Opening Day roster projection. 

Important Dates

Pitchers and catchers report – Feb. 11

First workout – Feb. 12

Position players report – Feb. 16

First full workout – Feb. 17

First game – Feb. 22 vs. Atlanta

First home game – Feb. 23 vs. Boston

Last game – Mar. 23 vs. New York Mets

Opening Day – Mar. 26 vs. New York Yankees

Players You’ll See

Prospects (Position, Age)

Keegan Akin (LHP, 24)

Rylan Bannon* (3B/2B, 23)

Yusniel Diaz* (OF, 23)

Dean Kremer (RHP, 24)

Zac Lowther* (LHP, 23)

Mason McCoy* (SS/2B, 24)

Ryan McKenna (OF, 22)

Ryan Mountcastle (1B/OF, 22)

Adley Rutschman* (C, 21)

Alex Wells* (LHP, 22)

*non-roster invite

In the latest prospect rankings released by MLB Pipeline January 25th, Rutschman (4) and Mountcastle (94) were both ranked in the top 100. Akin, Kremer, McKenna, and Mountcastle were all added to the 40-man roster early this off-season. Akin and Mountcastle are likely the best bets to make it to Baltimore this season after each of them spent all of 2019 in Triple-A. Mountcastle’s defensive position is still unknown, so look for him to see time at both corner outfield and corner infield positions.

Rutschman and Diaz are non-roster invitees — 2020 will be Diaz’s second spring training. Rutschman’s invite serves only to have an extra catcher in camp and to get him reps with other major leaguers. Diaz was the centerpiece of the Manny Machado trade in 2018. He has struggled to move upward in the organization, with injuries holding him back from reaching Triple-A last season. After slashing .262/.335/.472 in only 76 Double-A games, the hope is Diaz can spend most of this season in Triple-A.

Four other intriguing prospects that were among the non-roster invitees announced January 28th are Rylan Bannon, Zac Lowther, Mason McCoy, and Alex Wells. All four spent most of their 2019 seasons in Double-A. Bannon came to the organization via the Dodgers for Manny Machado, Wells was signed out of Australia in 2015, and Lowther (second round) and McCoy (sixth) were both drafted by Baltimore in 2017. If something were to go wrong in the infield or some of the starting pitchers ahead of Lowther and Wells don’t pan out, these four could see the majors sooner rather than later.

Additions (Position, Age)

Brandon Bailey (RHP, 25)

Jose Iglesias (SS, 30)

Travis Lakins (RHP, 25)

Wade LeBlanc (LHP, 35)

Michael Rucker (RHP, 25)

Kohl Stewart (RHP, 25)

Cole Sulser (RHP, 29)

Richard Ureña (SS, 23)

Iglesias and Stewart were the only free agents to receive major league contracts from the team this offseason. Iglesias was signed to a 1 year, $3 million deal in early January to solidify the shortstop position, after the departure of Jonathan Villar and Rule-5 pick Richie Martin’s underwhelming year in the majors. Stewart is a former fourth overall draft pick back in 2013 who signed an $800k contract this off-season. The right-hander’s major league career has been underwhelming since first appearing in 2018 with the Minnesota Twins. In nine games (including two starts) last season, Stewart put up a 6.39 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP. With John Means and Alex Cobb being the only sure things among starters, expect Stewart to get an opportunity to be a piece of the rotation early on.

Richard Ureña and Cole Sulser were both waiver claims — Ureña from the Blue Jays, and Sulser from the Rays. Ureña is a switch-hitting utility infielder who, like Iglesias, will benefit from the Villar trade and Martin possibly starting the season in Triple-A. Sulser is a 29-year-old relief pitcher who didn’t debut in the majors until 2019. He has 193 strikeouts in 134 innings since the start of 2018 across Double-A and Triple-A, and adds to the mix of bullpen arms that will see time with the Orioles in 2020.

Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker are both Rule-5 selections, Bailey the second overall pick from Houston and Rucker, the only second round selection in the draft, coming from the Chicago Cubs. Bailey is a natural starter, suggesting he gets an opportunity to do so this spring. Rucker pitched to a 4.18 ERA in 2019 across Double-A and Triple-A and could have a long relief role.

The team signed LeBlanc to a minor league contract January 28th that becomes $800k if he makes the major league roster. The 35-year-old is a prime candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation, especially if the team is unimpressed with Bailey. With Seattle last year, the former Mariner gave up 2.1 home runs per nine innings last year with a 5.71 ERA, his highest since his rookie year.

Lakins was claimed by the O’s on January 31st, with outfielder Stevie Wilkerson being designated for assignment in a corresponding move. Lakins has consistently been ranked in the top 30 of the Boston Red Sox (his former team) prospect rankings, but has also consistently struggled in the majors and higher minor league levels.

What to Watch

The sixth infield spot

With Hanser Alberto, Chris Davis, Jose Iglesias, Renato Nunez, and Rio Ruiz’s positions solidified, the final spot in the infield is up for grabs. Richie Martin’s required season in the majors is up, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him begin the year in Triple-A to work on improving his .208 batting average, 54 OPS+, and -8 DRS, especially with the waiver claim of Richard Ureña and the fast-approaching Ryan Mountcastle.

Ryan Mountcastle

Speaking of Mountcastle, the biggest thing the 2019 Eastern League MVP needs to work on in the spring will be his defense. You’ll see Mountcastle play mostly first base and maybe some corner outfield. Becoming even an average defender will speed up his track to Baltimore.

Cedric Mullins

Mullins will aim to bounce back from an abysmal 2019 that earned him several demotions. He eventually ended the season in Double-A after being the 2019 Opening Day center fielder. This spring will help show us if Mullins has what it takes to be the Orioles center fielder again. The rising Austin Hays makes that tough to do so, but fans would love to see Mullins back on the major league team.

Adley Rutschman

Rutschman is a non-roster invitee to major league camp. He will not be on the Orioles 2020 Opening Day roster, but a good performance this spring could signal that he is closer to the major league level than we thought.

Rule-5 Picks

Baltimore made 2 selections in 2018’s Rule-5 Draft, Martin and infielder Drew Jackson. Jackson, the second round pick, started the regular season on the Orioles’ 25-man roster but was assigned back to the Dodgers in only a few weeks. Martin was able to remain with Baltimore for the entire season. It will be interesting to see if Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker’s tenure with the team parallel that of Martin and Jackson. Their performances in the spring will play a big role in where they end up.

Roster Projection

Catchers (2)

Near locks – Pedro Severino, Chance Sisco

On the bubble – Austin Wynns

Severino has secured his spot as the starting catcher with a breakout 2019 after being claimed by Baltimore off waivers last March. As a former top prospect, Sisco has underperformed in his major league career to date, but is a good backup to Severino and serves as a left-handed bat off the bench. Carrying three catchers is rare, and seeing as though Wynns spent most on last season in Triple-A, this season will most likely play out the same way.

Infielders (6)

Near locks – Hanser Alberto, Chris Davis, Jose Iglesias, Renato Nunez, Rio Ruiz

On the bubble – Richie Martin, Richard Ureña

Longshot – Ryan Mountcastle

Davis is the biggest lock on the team, Alberto has secured the second-base position after touting the second highest batting average vs left-handers in the AL, and Nunez and Ruiz have provided a nice third-base platoon. My guess is that leaves one infield spot open that either goes to Martin or Ureña. Martin’s required year in the majors is up, and Ureña being claimed by the team could signal they want to move in another direction in the infield and allow Martin to develop in Triple-A. Mountcastle will benefit from starting the season in Triple-A and should be called up to Baltimore sometime this summer.

Outfielders (5)

Near locks – Austin Hays, Trey Mancini, Anthony Santander, Dwight Smith Jr.

On the bubble – Cedric Mullins, DJ Stewart, Stevie Wilkerson

Longshot – Ryan McKenna

The projected outfield is the Orioles’ strength. Austin Hays is poised for a breakout season coming off a strong September, Trey Mancini is the team’s best player, and Anthony Santander established himself as a solid starter. Wilkerson being designated for assignment last week means Smith Jr. likely becomes the fourth outfielder. This leaves the fifth spot to either Mullins, who aims to bounce back from a rough 2019, Stewart, who is coming off ankle surgery earlier this off-season, or Wilkerson, who, although being DFA’d, remains a strong candidate thanks to his defensive versatility. McKenna needs to establish himself in Triple-A before receiving major league consideration.

Starting Pitchers (5)

Near locks – Alex Cobb, John Means, Kohl Stewart, Asher Wojciechowski

On the bubble – Brandon Bailey, David Hess, Wade LeBlanc

Longshots – Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer

Following an All-Star season, Means is penciled in as the #1 starter with Cobb right behind him. Stewart received a major league contract and Wojciechowski put up nearly a 1 win season (0.9 WAR) in 16 starts last season. The fifth spot in the rotation is likely Bailey’s to lose considering his Rule-5 requirements. LeBlanc becomes a strong candidate for that spot if Bailey underperforms. Hess will likely bounce around from filling in the major league rotation and bullpen with injuries. Although Akin and Kremer are close to the major league level, there is no need to start their service time clocks now with a solidified rotation.

Relief Pitchers (8)

Near locks – Shawn Armstrong, Richard Bleier, Miguel Castro, Paul Fry, Mychal Givens, Hunter Harvey, Tanner Scott

On the bubble – Braden Kline, Travis Lakins, Michael Rucker, Cole Sulser

Longshots – Cody Carroll, Evan Phillips, Dillon Tate

Givens has been the de facto closer since Zack Britton was traded in 2018, although struggles in that role have resulted in him being moved into less pressure situations occasionally in the past. He and Bleier are the most established arms with Harvey having the most upside. Armstrong, Castro, Fry, and Scott have all shown flashes in the past. Furthermore, Armstrong and Castro are both out of minor league options. The last spot in the bullpen could go to Sulser or Lakins, recent waiver claims, but the more likely option is Rucker. Considering he has Rule-5 obligations, the spot could be his with a strong spring.

Featured image: @Orioles on Twitter

Taylor Lyons

Taylor is a lifelong Baltimore Orioles fan and freshman at LSU, where he is studying mass communications and sports journalism. Twitter: @taylorjlyons

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