A week into Spring training games is a good time to take a look at some of the competitions for available jobs.
Let’s first take a quick look at the players that are locks to make the team unless an injury occurs.
1B – Chris Davis
2B – Jonathan Schoop
SS – Manny Machado
3B – Tim Beckam
C – Caleb Joseph
LF – Trey Mancini
CF – Adam Jones
RF/DH – Anthony Santander
DH – Mark Trumbo
SP – Kevin Gausman
SP – Dylan Bundy
SP – Andrew Cashner
SP – Chris Tillman
RP- Brad Brach
RP – Mychal Givens
RP – Darren O’Day
RP – Richard Bleier
RP/SP – Miguel Castro
That’s 18 players that are absolute locks to make the team which leaves seven roster spots up for grabs. Let’s look at the battles and give a quick outlook on the chances of the players to get those spots.
Although Caleb Joseph is a lock to make the team, Chance Sisco could force him into a platoon if he can convince the Orioles brass that his defense will be passable behind the plate. If Sisco doesn’t win a spot, Austin Wynns is the odds on favorite to make the jump from AA to the majors to be Joseph’s back up. Former top prospect Andrew Susac missed some time with a staph infection but is now playing and will try to get himself into the equation as well.
Favorite: Sisco keeps on hitting (.385 so far this spring), but is just 1-for-5 (20%) in throwing out runners. Joseph struggled last year throwing out a career worse 18% of the runners, but he’s the best game caller and has the most major league experience so it’s doubtful the Orioles would be willing to give Sisco a pure platoon. Saying that, if Joseph doesn’t improve throwing out runners (He’s 0-for-3 this spring), Sisco’s bat could earn him a platoon type role and that makes him the current favorite to be the second catcher. Wynns is 3-for-3 throwing out runners so far this spring but hasn’t hit much but if the Orioles go defense first he could be the backup to Joseph. Susac will need to significantly outplay both Sisco and Wynns so he’s most likely ticketed for Norfolk to start the year.
As much as I’d like to think Chris Tillman should be battling for a rotation spot, the fact that they gave him a guaranteed contract makes me think he’s going to have to implode this spring to lose his spot in the rotation. This leaves the 5th spot and unless the Orioles sign a Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, or Alex Cobb, that 5th starter will need to come from within. The Orioles would probably like for Rule 5 draft pick Nestor Cortes to win the spot since he’s left-handed. He’s pitched ok in only appearance so far and even if he doesn’t win a rotation spot, he could still win a spot in the bullpen as a long reliever, which honestly might be a good role for him. Mike Wright is out of options and is probably a pretty good lock to make the team in some role whether it’s as the 5th starter or reliever. The Orioles gave him the first start of the spring and he’s pitched pretty good over his first two appearances so they are giving him every opportunity to win a spot. Miguel Castro has not pitched in a live game due to some knee soreness, but he could be on the mound soon. He is a lock to make the team if he doesn’t win a rotation spot. Alec Asher, Gabriel Ynoa, and Jayson Aquino all will get looks but would need to really dominate this spring to get a rotation spot. I refuse to believe that no matter how good Hunter Harvey looks that he’s a real candidate out of spring training. He’ll spend 2018 getting innings under his belt as a starter in the minors.
Favorite: Cortes and Wright are the clear early favorites and both very well could end up on the team in the pen even if they don’t win a rotation spot. Saying that, the Orioles would be in better shape if these two were competing for a bullpen spot because they added one of the key free agent pitchers for the rotation.
Right Field and extra outfielder
Although he was signed to a minor league contract, if Colby Rasmus remains healthy he’s going to be left-handed hitting side of a Right Field platoon. He’s basically a lock. Santander is going to make the team at least until the Orioles can gain control of him (44 days on the 25-man roster) which leaves a right-handed platoon spot available. Defensively Joey Rickard is the best option and we know how much Buck Showalter likes his defense. Rickard can play center field and right field effectively but he struggled offensively last year and will need to perform this spring to keep a job. Craig Gentry spent a good portion of the year with the Orioles last year and Buck likes his speed and ability to hit left-handers. He can also play center field. Austin Hays has been limited this spring due to a strain but it’s doubtful he was going to make the team in just a platoon role. The Orioles will want him getting everyday PAs in Norfolk. Danny Valencia was just signed and actually may get an opportunity to compete for the right-handed side of the platoon despite limited time in the outfield during his career. Alex Presley’s stock rose with the Valencia addition because now the Orioles may be willing to go with a left-handed swinging backup center fielder
RF Favorite: Rasmus is going to be the left-handed hitting portion of the RF platoon and now that Valencia is signed if he can prove he can be effective in RF he’s the odds on favorite to now be the right-handed portion of the platoon.
Extra outfielder favorite: Presley has the experience and hit well last year and could very well have the inside track to be the backup outfielder. Rickard and Gentry have the best chance if the Orioles don’t think Valencia can play RF well enough.
Utility Player: With Beckam’s ability to play shortstop, and Valencia’s ability to play third base, it’s doubtful the Orioles will carry a utility infielder now. Basically Valencia took the utility spot with his signing.
Assuming Castro goes back out to the bullpen, that leaves two spots in the pen if the Orioles decide to keep seven relievers as they usually do. If they don’t win the 5th starter’s spot, Wright and or Cortes have great chances of sticking in the pen. Rule 5 picks Pedro Araujo and Jose Mesa Jr. have opportunities to win spots but will need to be lights out this spring. Mesa Jr. has already struggled, but may have the best arm overall. RHP Asher Wojciechowski and LHP Joely Rodriguez will get a long look as well in the pen. Donnie Hart, Jimmy Yacabonis, Stefan Crichton and Tanner Scott will also be in the mix. Hart really had a down year last year and wasn’t even effective against lefties and the other three all have command issues. They most likely all have tickets back to Norfolk.
Favorites: If the Orioles don’t sign any more starters than one of Wright and Cortes will most likely with the 5th starters spot with the other going to the pen. That leaves one open spot. If Cortes wins the 5th starters spot the Orioles bullpen will only have one lefty in Bleier, so Rodriguez could make a bid if he keeps putting up zeroes. If the Orioles signed a starter, don’t be surprised if both Cortes and Wright end up the last two relievers.