Opening Roster starting to shape up but questions remain

Pic By: Craig Landefeld
Rio Ruiz looks ready to start 2019 in the majors.

With two and a half weeks to go until opening day in New York, their are still as many questions as answers to the opening day roster.

Most likely the Orioles roster this season should be a fluid situation, so just because a player doesn’t make the opening day 25-roster doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t end up with significant playing time ion Baltimore.

This spring has been interesting to follow with the new regime giving many players lots of opportunities to show what they can do. Few players will be able to claim they didn’t get a fair shake as Hyde and company have been moving guys around to different positions and giving pitchers multiple opportunities, even when their chances of making the team are minimal.

These plentiful opportunities have given Elias, Hyde and the coaching staff lots of chances to evaluate their on-hand personnel in game action. Many players have taken advantage of these opportunities and appear to have cemented their places on the opening day roster or showed they can be useful depth when needed this season.

At the same time, with two and half weeks left, there still are roster spots up for grabs with the health of Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo could still have an affect on that opening day roster. With this in mind, here are some of the key story lines of the spring so far.

Rule 5 picks have done everything to make the team

When the Orioles selected SS Richie Martin and traded for SS/UTL Drew Jackson after the Phillies selected him in the Rule 5 draft, they wanted to add two talented players and see if they have the ability to make the two-level jump to the major leagues. Both have been outstanding this spring with Richie Martin solidifying his role as the everyday SS. Martin has slashed .346/.393/.500/.893 in ten games so far and has been excellent defensively. He’s the only player in camp who has played SS exclusively so it’s clear that he’s being looked at as the every day SS, not a utility guy.

Jackson, 25, has played in more games (15) and been given more PAs (31) then anyone in camp, and has played SS (7), 2B (4) and CF (4). He’s slashed .393/.419/.429/.848 so far this spring and has been solid at all three positions, though he looks best at 2B. Although Jackson has the versatility and athleticism to be a solid utility guy in the major leagues, there is some upside as a potential starting second baseman in the future. There seems to be little doubt he will make the club.

So who are the losers with both of the Rule 5 players looking like they will make that club and need to be on the roster all year? Clearly veteran Alcides Escobar has an uphill battle to make the team now. Escobar was signed and given jersey number one and looked like he had a pretty good chance of starting the season with the Orioles, but at this point, it seems like he’ll need an injury from Martin or Jackson to make the team unless for some reason the Orioles decide to keep two utility players. With Jackson’s ability to play the outfield a bit, this isn’t an impossibility, but the more likely scenario is to see if Escobar would start the year in AAA as depth.

Depth utility guys like Jack Reinheimer, Jace Peterson, Steve Wilkerson, Hanser Alberto, Zach Vincej and Christopher Bostick will fight for playing time in AAA or even AA and some will probably end up getting released. Reinheimer had the best camp of this group and is the best defensive shortstop of this crew. Due to the depth of this crew, both Wilkerson and Alberto’s 40-man roster spots could be in jeopardy if the Orioles need roster spots.

4th and 5th spots in rotation is the battle to watch

Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashman will occupy three of the rotation spots despite the fact that none have really thrown the ball that well this spring. Bundy has been giving up homers like gradma hands out cookies and Cashman has yet to be able to complete his scheduled innings.

Nate Karns was signed this offseason and the feeling was he had a good chance at the 4th spot, but after coming up “sore” after his first appearance, he’s been limited to one inning stints and at this point, he’s not really in consideration for the rotation any longer. That frees up two spots in the rotation with plenty of candidates via for those spots.

Leading the candidates is David Hess, 25, who made 19 starts last year for the Orioles. He’s been solid this spring pitching to a 3.48 ERA in his 10.2 IP and although his stuff may not keep him as a starter long term, he might be the most ready to contribute this year.

If Hess is the 4th starter, then the 5th starter spot if literally an open competition. Mike Wright has not allowed an earned run in 10 IP, and maybe more importantly is out of options. Wright has been using his cutter much more than in year’s past and has been having some success, and without options, he’s the only candidate who the Orioles could lose if they try to send him to the minors since since he would need to be DFA’d. It seems at this point that Wright has a good chance to either get the 5th starters spot or the long reliever spot. Outside of the usage of his cutter, Wright’s stuff and command looks a lot like it has in year’s past and he still doesn’t have a putaway pitch.

Maybe the biggest surprise of the candidates is Gabriel Ynoa who’s missed all but two short games in Bowie last season with a shoulder injury. Ynoa is the only pitcher to be stretched out to four innings, and he’s been outstanding, allowing just one earned run on four hits and no walks with eight strikeouts in eight IP. Ynoa has been a solid 92-94 with a good arm side run though that velocity falls off to 91-92 by the 3rd and 4th innings. He could also be in the competition for the long relief spot but the Orioles may want him to be starting pitching depth in AAA.

Yefry Ramirez, John Means, Josh Rogers and Jimmy Yacabonis have all pitched well this spring as well. Yacabonis and Ramirez may be better suited for a multiple inning reliever role, but Yacabonis flashed some really good stuff and is gets a lot of ground balls with his sinking fastball. He showed 94-96 early in the spring, but was down to 90-93 in his last three inning stint. He may have the best pure stuff of all of the candidates but the question is what role the Orioles brass want to use him in and whether it’s worth giving him a chance to stretch out as a full time starter. If that happens it will probably be at AAA to start the year.

Rogers (2.53) and Means (Has yet to allow a run in his two starts) have both pitched well and even if they don’t win a spot in the opening day rotation, both should see time in Baltimore at some point in 2019. Means has the better stuff of the two and is a better overall prospect, but Rogers is the perfect example of the pitchability lefty that could possibly take advantage of the new analytics to improve.

Third Base battle could come down to options

Both Renato Nunez, 24.9, and Rio Ruiz, 24.8, are as ready as they are going to be offensively. Nunez may have the edge in power potential, but Ruiz has shown the ability to work pitchers and draw walks, and has the advantage of being a left-handed batter. Additionally, Ruiz appears to be the better defensive player as Nunez continues to struggles with his throws from third base. Both have been given opportunities to play 1st base as well, but the Chris Davis albatross could stand in the way of that happening. In the perfect world, Nunez would be the starting first baseman and Ruiz the starting third baseman on opening day, but that will remain to be seen until the Orioles can figure out what to do with Davis.

If the Orioles have to choose between the two, Ruiz appears to be better overall player, but he has two options remaining while Nunez has none and would need to be DFA’d. It’s doubtful the Orioles would DFA Nunez since he’s got a chance to be plus a bat at some point, though his at bats may one day come at first base or DH rather than 3B longterm. If the Orioles roster is bottled up because of Davis and Trumbo, Ruiz may have to start 2019 in AAA which would be ashamed.

Outfield still an open competition

Coming into camp, Cedric Mullins seemed like the only player with a lead for a starting spot on opening day and unfortunately for him, he’s struggled enough to put that in jeopardy a bit. Mullins has slashed just .148/.233/.333/.567 in 31 PAs this spring though he has begun to a hit little of late. He’s played solidly in center field and has even made a couple of nice throws, but his struggles have opened the door a bit.

Coming off a lost season filled with injuries, a healthy Austin Hays has looked absolutely fantastic this spring and has not looked out of place in center field where he’s mainly played this spring. Hays has slashed .320/.346/.800/1.146 with three home runs. The only question is whether or not the Orioles want to start Hays’ arbitration clock. Hays has 63 MLB PAs from the 2017 season, but has never played above AA in the minors. The Orioles could decide to let Mullins start the year in Baltimore and Hays in CF in AAA. Even if that happens, if Hays goes back and puts up numbers, expect him to be back in Baltimore in 2019.

While left field seems to still be Trey Mancini’s domain for now, with the emphasis being on better defense, you have to imagine that Orioles would like to move him to DH. Unfortunately, if the Orioles are stuck with Trumbo and Davis on the roster, then Mancini most get his PAs in left. Mancini has dealt with a sore pinky after a head first slide during steal attempt and has been rusty in his return, but he’s the starting left fielder unless the DH spot opens up.

Right field was DJ Stewart‘s to lose and although he has collected four doubles, his .231/.310/.385/.695 slash line has not been impressive. His arm is well below average for RF as well which doesn’t help his cause. He does however work pitchers well and is coming off a successful September last season so he’s certainly still in the race. His roster space may be in jeopardy more because of the play of Anthony Santander who has been outstanding this spring. The former rule 5 pick who is coming off a poor injury riddled 2018 season is slashing .458/.500/./958/1.458 with six doubles and two home runs. The 24-year old switch hitter has looked good from both sides of the plate, has been solid defensively, and has made a couple of strong throws from RF. It’s hard to imagine he hasn’t earned a spot on this team unless he goes stone cold.

Yuniel Diaz has been the most impressive of all the candidates, but he hasn’t played above AA and it’s doubtful the Orioles would jump him over AAA especially considering the control clock considerations.

Joey Rickard is going to make the team with his ability to play all three outfield positions. He may get some playing time in CF against lefties if Mullins wins the CF position and will fill the other positions at times. He’s coming off his best offensive season in the majors and has been solid this spring.

Eric Young Jr. and spring training acquisition Dwight Smith Jr. are competing for a position in the outfield as well, but Santander’s emergence have hurt their chances. Smith Jr. has an option so he’s almost assuredly heading to Norfolk to start the year. Young Jr. is trying to be a veteran presence, but there may not be room for him unless they decide to keep five outfielders.

Sisco looks like he’s the starter

Coming of an awful 2018 season, Chance Sisco needed to open some eyes with the new regime and so far he did just that. He’s slashing 438/.6091/.188/1.796 with four home runs, six walks and 4 K’s in 23 PAs. On top of it he’s played pretty well defensively behind home plate and has been more vocal on the field. He looks like a completely different player than the one we saw last season.

Austin Wynns was the early lead for the back up job but a oblique injury have put his chances in major jeopardy and he could start the year on the injured list. This opens up the job with Jesus Sucre, Andrew Susec and Carlos Perez as the candidates. Susec and Perez have hit a little bit, but Sucre seems to be the best defender of the three and has already been given accolades by pitchers and coaches for his work behind the plate.

Projected Opening Day Roster

It’s still too early to be completely accurate of course, but here’s how I see the 25-man roster shaking out:

1B: Chris Davis (Unless they finally bite the bullet and eat his contract or they find a way to put him on the inured list)
2B: Jonathan Villar
SS: Richie Martin
3B: Rio Ruiz
C: Chance Sisco
LF: Try Mancini
CF: Cedric Mullins (Hays will start the year in AAA)
RF: Anthony Santander
DH: Renato Nunez (if Trumbo starts the season on the DL)
C: Jesus Sucre
OF: Joey Rickard
UTL: Drew Jackson
UTL: Alcides Escobar (If Trumbo starts the season on the active roster this puts Nunez here)
SP: Dylan Bundy
SP: Alex Cobb
SP: Andrew Cashner
SP: Davis Hess
SP: Mike Wright
CL: Mychal Givens
SU: Migueul Castro
SU: Richard Bleier (L)
ML: Paul Fry (L)
ML: Cody Carroll
LR: Jimmy Yacobonis
LR: Yefry Ramirez

The only surprises here, I think the Orioles return Pedro Araujo even though he only needs 17 days to fulfill his Rule 5 requirements, and that Tanner Scott is sent back to AAA. Scott has been very unimpressive this spring.

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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.