We are less than 10 days away from the first Orioles spring training game. As we get closer and closer, we start to see that some questions need to be answered.
Who will come out of spring healthy, and who will have setbacks? Who will get opportunities at a starting rotation spot?
These are all reasonable questions to have heading into and throughout the next month. Because the bottom line is that this spring is big for the Orioles.
Here are five reasons why this year’s spring training is more important for the Orioles than it has been in years.
We have already been updated on a few injuries that could impact the start of the 2023 season.
Along with John Means and Kyle Brnovich, who will both miss a good portion of the season after Tommy John surgery, Dillon Tate will miss most of April with a forearm strain. One of Brandon Hyde’s go-to guys will not be available the first month of a year where the O’s have high expectations.
Félix Bautista is currently progressing in his bullpen sessions after rehabbing his knee injury, and D.L. Hall had been dealing with discomfort in his right lower lumbar but is already back throwing. Nick Vespi had hernia surgery last month and has a chance to be ready by Opening Day.
The easy option to take Tate’s spot until he’s ready is Mychal Givens, who can pitch either the seventh or eighth inning with Cionel Pérez available as well.
The statuses of Hall and Vespi open more questions of if they make the Opening Day roster. Both pitchers are lefties that were key contributors out of the pen and impactful in big situations.
Outside of Hall and Vespi, there are four left-handed pitchers currently on the 40-man roster who could grab a spot in the bullpen, them being Pérez, who’s a lock barring anything drastic, Keegan Akin, Bruce Zimmermann and Drew Rom, who has yet to make his big league debut but is a top prospect in the O’s farm system.
The other big question with injuries is deciding who gets two of the 40-man roster spots that will be open, with John Means and Seth Johnson starting the season on the 60-day injury list.
Does Elias give those spots to pitchers or position players? Do we possibly see a trade before Opening Day?
My Take: Darwinzon Hernandez and Nomar Mazara are added to the 40-man roster
Two pitchers have guaranteed spots in the Orioles’ starting rotation, Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin. That leaves three spots for around 10 guys to battle for this spring.
Another big question to consider is who will start on Opening Day and is considered the ace of the staff. That is up in the air and won’t be answered for another few weeks because it’s really anyone’s to take at this point.
My Take: Rotation will be Kyle Gibson, Cole Irvin, Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer and either Grayson Rodriguez or Tyler Wells
The O’s bullpen looked so straight forward heading into the season. The idea of keeping the same bullpen from last year looked promising outside of the addition of Mychal Givens.
There are eight bullpen spots available, and there are currently four locks for Opening Day in Cionel Pérez, Félix Bautista Mychal Givens and Bryan Baker. That would leave four other to be earned during spring training.
Keegan Akin, Mike Baumann, Yennier Cano, D.L. Hall, Joey Krehibel, Andrew Politi and Nick Vespi are the six possible candidates currently on the 40-man roster. Keep in mind guys like Austin Voth, Tyler Wells, Bruce Zimmermann and Spenser Watkins, who will be battling for a rotation spot but could land in a bullpen role by spring’s end.
It all depends on the perspective of what kind of bullpen the Orioles want. Do they want a balance of left and right-handers? Will the bullpen change frequently with call-ups? Does the Tate injury highly affect the decision? Is there a possible trade or free agent signing coming?
My Take: Hall, Akin, Vespi, Perez, Krehbiel, Baker, Bautista and Givens will make up the Opening Day bullpen
Lineup & Bench
There are so many questions about the lineup and bench that you could write an entire book, but let’s start with the obvious. The absolute locks for the Opening Day position players, baring any injuries, are around 10.
Adam Frazier, Austin Hays, Gunnar Henderson, Jorge Mateo, James McCann, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Adley Rutschman, Anthony Santander and Ramon Urias are the 10 that unless injured or traded are guaranteed a spot on the roster.
There are two names that have a chance to grab those last two spots from the 40-man roster, Joey Ortiz and Terrin Vavra. Ortiz has not made his debut yet, and Vavra was an impactful player in 2022 down the stretch.
Franchy Cordero, Colton Cowser, Lewin Díaz, Nomar Mazara, Robert Neustrom, Connor Norby, Ryan O’Hearn and Jordan Westburg could all prove that they belong in the bigs out of spring. But the question is: How much do players need to prove?
Cordero, Díaz, Mazara and O’Hearn have already made their big league debuts through the years and have more experience. Does that change how much they need to prove this spring? Does Elias want to put trust in the young core guys like Cowser and Norby more than the veterans?
There is a cluster of infielders. Does Jorge Mateo or Ramon Urías get traded before Opening Day? Does one of the young prospects get traded? Questions will be answered sooner than we think.
A crucial part of spring training is seeing growth and getting prospect names recognized. This season, the Orioles 31 invites to non 40 man roster players and there are some huge names.
Four of the Orioles’ top 100 prospects, according to the MLB Pipeline, got invites to big league camp. Those four are Colton Cowser, Jackson Holliday, Heston Kjerstad and Jordan Westburg.
We all remember the trade in July of 2022 that sent Jorge López to the Twins. Cade Povich, who the O’s got in return, was also given an invite. Former international free agent infielder César Prieto, who had a solid 2022 season, got an invite as well.
Breakout pitchers Morgan McSweeney and Kade Strowd, who both went under the radar in 2022 and had good years, received invites. Top prospects Coby Mayo and Connor Norby were invited to try and up their stock for the upcoming season.
What’s the plan for Cowser, Norby, Westburg and Mayo this season? How highly do the Orioles think of Povich, McSweeney and Strowd? Where will Holliday start the 2023 season?
Spring training might not seem important in the moment because of the excitement of baseball starting. But this year, it impacts a ton of decisions that could alter the future of this ball club.
So, while you are watching the four televised games of spring training on MASN, try and keep these questions in mind.
Let us know in the comments how important you think this year’s spring training is! And make sure to follow The Baltimore Battery on Facebook and Twitter, and use the hashtag #baltimorebattery when sharing our content!
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