Leaders Emerge in Spring Battles

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Pic By: Craig Landefeld

When Mike Elias sent both of his Rule five picks back to their respective teams, it signaled that the pitching staff is starting to take shape for the beginning of the year, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a surprise or two.

Starting Rotation

Unless an injury occurs, Alex Cobb, John Means and Alex Wojciechowski are all on track to start the season in the rotation. Cobb only has one official inning under his belt (one he performed while sick), but he just completed a four inning simulation game yesterday so he is building up just fine.

Under Elias, the Orioles have been very content to build their starters up through simulated games that they can control rather than game situations and Cobb and Means are a product of that so far. Wojo has allowed just one run on two hits and a walk in his five innings of work this spring and will certainly start the season in the rotation.

With potential Rule five rotation candidate Brandon Bailey sent back to the Astros, and Chandler Shepherd relegated to picking up a reliever innings at the end of spring games against minor leaguers (never a good sign if you are trying to make a club), veteran non roster off season pick ups Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone have the inside track to the last two spots. LeBlanc at this point almost looks like a lock as he’s pitched well and is stretching out just fine. Milone has been slowed by a sore neck and has only thrown two innings this spring, and will throw a side session before getting back into game action. Manager Brandon Hyde has stated he’s still in the running for a spot but he needs to get stretched out.

Even if not stretched all the way out, Milone could be used as a three to five inning starter and paired with a long reliever like Tom Eshelman who may be pitching his way onto the team despite being a no roster player. Eshelman, who put up some of the worse trackman stats in the majors during his appearances last year, leads the team in innings this spring and get by on pure deception and above average command.

A dark horse candidate that doesn’t even have the best stats among the remaining candidates, Bruce Zimmerman will get a start tonight against the Rays. The left-hander who only has seven starts above AAA is probably slated to go back to AAA, but he’s had a velocity jump this spring to 93-95 MPH and his two different speed sliders and changeup have opened some eyes this spring. While he’s probably heading back to Norfolk, he could jump ahead of Keegan Akin for the first call up if he outperforms him back in AAA.

Bullpen

Mychal Givens, Richards Bleier, Miguel Castro and Hunter Harvey have spots in the bullpen and assuming the Orioles will carry eight relievers to start the year, that has four jobs up for grabs. Left-hander Paul Fry most likely has the second lefty spot in the pen and Shawn Armstrong‘s versatility give him a leg up for a spot so that really leaves two spots open.

Hard throwing Tanner Scott is a candidate, but his 1.64 WHIP and three walks in his three and two-third innings suggests his command is still a concern and that has always limited his consistency and effectiveness.

The Orioles need some length out of their pen so they can’t load it up with one inning pitchers. This gives 30-year old former starter Cole Sulser and 26-year old Travis Lakins a leg up on one of the spots though Eshelman could get this spot due to his long relief ability. Another candidate is Kohl Stewart who has missed all of spring training so far with a sore bicep. He was once a rotation candidate, but now will most likely need to make the team out of the pen. He may make his debut this weekend and if he can recover in time he could get the long reliever spot.

Though he missed all of 2019 after back surgery, 27-year old Cody Carroll has pitched well this spring and could break camp with the team. Carroll has the luxury of being on the 40-man roster, something that goes against Eric Hanhold and Brandon Kline, despite the fact that they’ve both thrown the ball well this spring. Dillon Tate is coming off a very impressive outing yesterday and as a 40-man roster guy with major league experience, he too has leg up for one of the final positions.

Evan Phillips (sprained elbow), Ty Blach (ineffectiveness), and Rob Zastryzny (ineffectiveness) are still on the roster as of today but won’t make the team.

Handicapping the last four spots:
Fry: 1-2
Armstrong: 1-2
Lakins: 2-1
Stewart: 2-1
Carroll: 3-1
Sulser: 3-1
Tate: 3-1
Eshelman: 5-1
Scott: 5-1
Kline: 8-1
Hanhold: 8-1
Blach: 25-1
Zastryzny: 50-1

Position Players

Thirteen positions are available and the following five positions are set barring an injury:

1B: Chris Davis
2B: Hanser Alberto
SS: Jose Iglesius
CF: Austin Hays
RF: Trey Mancini (Just announced he may miss time due to a personal “surgical procedure”)

Third base

Defensively the Orioles would like Rio Ruiz to start the year there and he’s done nothing offensively to not make the team, but when Ryan Mountcastle is ready to come up in mid-late April, the smart move will be to move Renato Nunez to 3B in order to keep his bat in the lineup. On opening day I expect both Ruiz and Nunez to make the team as the 3B and DH respectively.

Catcher

Pedro Severino is the only solid lock to make the team barring an injury or trade, and he should end up with the bulk of the playing time at catcher, but there is an interesting battle between Chance Sisco, Bryan Holaday and Austin Wynns for back up. Holaday is the only non-roster player of the three, but has the most major leaugue experience and although he was rated a poor pitch framer last year, he’s a good thrower and reportedly a good game caller. He has the only homer of the three, but Wynns has the best batting average. Sisco has struggled with the stick and we know defense is not his calling card. This remains an open competition.

Left Field

Manager Brandon Hyde keep saying Anthony Santander will be the opening day left fielder, but he hasn’t played an inning in the outfield as he nurses a “sore” shoulder. With Mancini now up in the air, Santander may have to move over to right field to start the year which opens up left field to Dwight Smith Jr or Mason Williams, who looks like a lock at this point to make the team despite being a no roster player. Ryan Mountcastle is probably the long term left fielder this year, but it’s doubtful he will start the season on the roster with him needing just a few weeks for the Orioles to gain an extra year of control. Outfield is definitely a positions that Mike Elias will be watching the late season wire wire for before he sets his 26-man roster.

Designated Hitter

Nunez is the leading candidate to DH if he doesn’t win the full-time 3B spot. Obviously Mancini and Davis could spend some time here as well and if Santander’s shoulder doesn’t allow him to field he could also see time here.

Utility Players

Elias likes versatility with his utility players and love players that can play up the middle. Wit and ability to play shortstop and center field among other positions, Andrew Velazquez looks to have the inside track on one of the two spots. The switch-hitting 26-year old has played a little bit of SS, 2B and CF this spring and brings a speed element as well. 28-year old Pat Valaika has played all over the infield, shown some pop in his bat this spring, and could be playing his way onto the team. He’s a non roster player and would seem to be playing an uphill battle to 40-man roster infielder Ramon Urias. But Urias has not hit this spring and even worse for him is that he’s only played second base. He’s a prime candidate to be DFA’d if Valaika is added. Steve Wilkerson has been given a lot of playing time and has played all over the diamond, but he hasn’t hit and Velazquez could make him redundant.

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Tony Pente
Tony has owned and operated Orioles Hangout since 1996 and is well known for his knowledge of the Baltimore Orioles organization from top to bottom. He's a frequent guest on Baltimore-area sports radio stations and can be heard regularly on the 105.7 FM The Fan. His knowledge and contacts within the Orioles minor league system and the major league baseball scouting industry is unparalleled in the Baltimore media and is known as an expert on the Orioles prospects.