One week into spring training is no time to start drawing conclusions based off performances. Never get too happy or too upset with these early season performances, but what is interesting is how players are being used by the new regime.
Through the first week of games, we can start to get an idea on how players are being viewed and with minor league players, possibly how they will be developed this year. We also can start to see how the battles for positions are shaping up.
Let’s first take a look at the position battles:
5th spot in rotation is up for grabs
We know that barring an injury, Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb, and Andrew Cashner will have spots in the rotation this year. The assumption is that Nate Karns has a spot if he can stay healthy and although his first start was a struggle (he wasn’t able to finish his two innings due to pitch count), his velocity was reportedly around 93 MPH which suggests he’s healthy once again.
The 5th spot though is basically up for grabs with David Hess and Yefry Ramirez being the early on favorites due to their experience gained last year. Both have been given two, two innings stints with Ramirez getting the better results so far. Mike Wright has also been given two two innings stints and has yet to give up a run and left-hander Josh Rogers hasn’t given up a run in team leading five innings of work. John Means had a rough first appearance, but threw well in his two inning stint against a major league Yankees squad last night. Luis Ortiz has struggled in both of his outings this spring, and Gabriel Ynoa would need to be lights out to get any consideration.
After a weak though, a darkhorse candidate for the rotation has emerged in Jimmy Yacabonis. The 27-year old right-hander got seven starts last year, but most felt he was better suited for a reliever role. Yacabonis though has worked on his changeup and came into camp showing that improved changeup, a plus movement slider, to go along with his sinking fastball that has been sitting in the mid-90s and has touched 98 MPH. He has struck out five, and allowed just a hit and walk over his two two inning stints. When he followed Bundy and Hess, his stuff was clearly better than either of those two, but command and whether Yacabonis can hold that stuff to 100 pitches will be the difference maker.
Current Odds on 5th starter
Sisco hits like Babe Ruth gives him early edge in catcher’s battle
If early playing time is any indication, Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns look like the clear favorites to start the year in Baltimore. Carlos Perez and Andrew Susac have been playing against stronger competition, but have been given less PAs so far early on.
Sisco has been the early star by hitting four home runs (leads all MLB) in four games and more importantly has only struck out once in 10 PAs. Small sample size of course, but for a guy who struggled mightily to make contact last year that’s a good start. None of the other catchers have hit much though Susac does have a home run.
Current Odds of making team:
Martin hits well early on, but Escobar getting a lot of reps at SS
If Rule 5 pick Richie Martin was hoping to make a good first impression, his first week playing SS exclusively went for him. He’s hit .500 with two doubles and two stolen bases and most importantly has yet to make an error. The only other player in camp to play SS exclusively is non-roster invitee and former gold glover Alcides Escobar. Escobar is the veteran presence coming off a poor year, but he’s hit well early on and played solid defense though he did make a silly defensive play that a veteran shouldn’t make. The other Rule 5 draftee Drew Jackson has played SS in 4 games, but has also played 2B, CF and DH’d. He looks more like a utility guy than an everyday SS defensively, and after a hot start has struggled a bit at the plate.
Starting SS Odds:
Nunez and Ruiz are neck and neck for starting 3B job
When the Elias claimed Rio Ruiz off waivers from the Braves, it was clear he was going to be competition for Renato Nunez for the 3B job. Both have been given equal opportunity at 3B and while both have collecte three hits in 10 at bats, Ruiz has homered and walked twice while Nunez hasn’t done either. Maybe most importantly, Nunez has struggled defensively this spring and while neither are known for their gloves, defense could end up being the difference maker on who starts. For now, I’m making them neck and neck though Ruiz gets the early nod.
Odds to be starter:
RF and 4th/5th OF jobs look like an open competition
The two best outfielder this spring so far are two guys the team would probably prefer start the season in the minors. Both Yusniel Diaz (.412/1.114) and Austin Hays (.333/1.083) have starred this spring, but the team probably wants them in the minors in order to keep there control clocks from starting. Both have played exclusively in RF and CF respectively which gives some indication of where the regime sees there futures.
Trey Mancini has played exclusively in LF when he’s played the field so it’s safe to assume he will be the left fielder this year. Cedric Mullins is the odds on favorite to start the season as the starting center fielder barring an injury or some implosion by Mullins this spring. Mullins has started off slow this spring but he’d have to go really cold late for Elias and company not to take him north this spring.
This leaves Joey Rickard, DJ Stewart, Eric Young Jr., and Anthony Santander as the odds on candidates to fight it out for the RF and back up jobs, though if Mark Trumbo (Hasn’t played this spring but is taking BP) starts the year on the disabled list Mancini would slider to DH and open up a job in LF as well.
Rickard has hit well this spring and has played both LF and RF, while Stewart has played RF exclusively and Young has played LF exclusively. Santander has played left and center and Christopher Bostick has played LF and CF while also getting some action at 3B.
Odds on starting LF:
Odd on starting CF:
Odds on starting RF:
Utility job is wide open
While the team would like to keep Jackson in this role, he’s got competition from a variety of candidates. Steve Wilkerson has been given a lot of playing time at 2B, 1B, and LF but he hasn’t hit much and has not helped his cause early on. Escobar played 3B and little CF and 2B last year for the Royals and could provide some veteran presence and stability in this role. Jace Peterson is back but looks a lot like the guy we saw last year. Jack Reinheimer and Hanser Alberto also are in the mix and have a history of being solid defensive players. There is a possibility that both Jackson and Escobar could make the team with their outfield playing ability giving the team a 5th OF option.
Odds for the utility job
Potential prospect developmental developments
If early playing time is any indication on how the Orioles will develop some of their top upper level prospects, there are several developments this spring.
Ryan Mountcastle has played all but one game at first base this spring so it’s pretty safe to say the Orioles are viewing him as first baseman now. This was probably over due, but I’d like to see him get some LF time before making the full time switch to first base.
Hays has been used exclusively in center field this spring which could mean he’ll play the majority of his time there this year. The old regime had played Hays in CF at times, but last year he mostly played RF and LF with just 11 starts in CF. With the addition of Diaz to the organization, I imagine the organization has vision of Hays and and Diaz patrolling the same outfield at some point. If Ryan McKenna returns to Bowie (AA) to play center field, this could mean Hays is scheduled to start the year as Norfolk’s (AAA) every day center fielder.
While it just could be early workloads, Hunter Harvey has only been given an inning twice, vice the two innings the team has been given to it’s starters. This could suggest the organization will move him to the pen this year where that role could accelerate his road to the majors.
Early surprise guy, 24-year old right-hander Diogenes Almengo who wasn’t even an official non-roster guy. With a fastball that has reached 95 MPH, the former Astros prospect was clearly known by Elias and company and has been given two innings already despite not pitching above Delmarva last year. He’ll be a guy to watch this year.