SARASOTA, Fla. - Today’s news of the likely placement of three Orioles on the injured list finally brings the opening day roster into clear focus unless a late waiver claim or trade muddies the picture again.
Jesús Sucre should be told later that he’s on the club, making his opt-out date insignificant and finalizing the composition of the catching tandem.
Sucre, signed to a minor league deal on Feb. 1 with a guarantee of $850,000 if he made the team, will be paired with former Nationals prospect Pedro Severino, claimed off waivers over the weekend.
Is the presence of two plus-defenders behind the plate tied to the goal of accelerating the development of the young pitchers?
Manager Brandon Hyde wasn’t so quick to connect the dots.
“I don’t think that’s why the decision was made,” Hyde said. “The signing of Sucre originally was the fact that he’s a premium defensive catcher and to have a veteran guy around pitchers that we want to have success and kind of a field general-type, I know that was the thinking going into when we were talking about him in the off-season.
“Severino was just adding talent to the roster and unfortunately with (Chance) Sisco it’s just a little bit of a numbers game, roster management kind of things that take place. But like I said yesterday, we still feel very highly about Chance’s ability. I think he could go in the big leagues right now.
“I think that he still has things to work on and whether that’s in Triple-A or the big leagues, I think we would help him along the way. But it’s just one of those situations where it’s a little bit of a numbers game. Chance and Severino are both young guys and Chance going to play every day in Triple-A is a good thing.”
Sisco was 13-for-34 with four home runs, 11 RBIs, a .533 on-base percentage and .765 slugging percentage - numbers that screamed inclusion but were drowned out by the club mandate of putting development ahead of spring stats.
“We were thrilled with the way he looked all spring,” said executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias. “I think it was a big step forward for him defensively. He had a great spring.
“One lesson that those of us who have been in player development have learned is minor league stats in the regular season have a lot more predictive power than spring training stats. The situation that we’re in, we want to err on having the correct development path for these guys and some of them, (Austin) Hays and Sisco in particular, they came up here really fast at really young ages and didn’t have the normal sort of normal graduation progression that a prospect normally needs to have and if we provide that for him, I think it’ll be for their long-term benefit and our long-term benefit.
“As pertains to Chance and really any of these guys, we have a 40-man roster. We’re trying to maximize the amount of talent that we have on that roster, and we expect that roster to be very fluid this year in terms of movement between Norfolk and Baltimore. Just because somebody’s not on the opening day roster doesn’t mean that they’re not going to be a huge part of the team this year and we’re very cognizant of that of where we are, that we’re going to utilize that whole 40-man as best we can and some of the guys here that are breaking and making the team are out of options ... we don’t have a choice to either keep them on the 25-man or risk losing them from the organization.
“We want to give some of these guys a shot. They came in, they had good springs, they’re promising talents. We’ll see how the early part of the year goes for them and then make a determination at that point.”
Hyde had to break the news to Sisco, a painful task for any manager.
“It was not easy,” he said. “You don’t want a player to be happy about it. You want guys to be competitive and guys to have confidence, so for a player to be sent out and not be pleased with it for me is OK, is probably the right thing.
“We’ve got the right type of makeup guy. I’m sure he was disappointed and that’s OK.”
Severino must learn the pitching staff at a more accelerated pace than Sucre, who arrived late due to work visa issues. He’s catching Dylan Bundy this afternoon.
“I do think transactions happen,” Hyde said. “They’re part of the game, especially in the catching position where you get injuries and things happen. Our job as coaches is to get Severino up to speed as fast as possible. He’s catching today, he’s going to catch as many sides as possible. He’s going to sit next to Cuz (Tim Cossins] during games, all sorts of things.
“It’s our job to catch him up, so he’s as prepared as possible. It’s not an easy thing to do. I’ve had catchers come at the trade deadline or September call-ups and all of a sudden they’re playing right away. Your job as a coach is really just to fast forward everything for them to give them as much information as possible and then just try to work with guys as much as they possibly can, so the game is as familiar as can be.”
Hyde was in the process this morning of informing certain players that they were going north. The bubble guys. But the possibility of waiver claims is the lingering caveat.
“There’s a waiver wire that happens throughout the entire season,” Hyde said. “Right now we’ve got 25 guys. There’s a waiver wire that’s happening now and tomorrow. Things happen. You’ve got your 25. There’s no promises made in this game. Transactions happen, so it’s just part of it.”
The age of players on the 40-man roster is plummeting and the struggle is growing to keep them and get a truer read on their abilities.
“The reality is, we might end up losing some of them prior to having total clarity on what they’re going to be,” Elias said. “We’re going to do our best to avoid it, but we do have a lot of young players, players on our Top 30 prospect list that are on our 40-man roster.
“That makes it harder to be patient with them. That’s just the reality of it. That’s part of what we’re trying to do here and juggle is maximize the talent we have in the organization, kind of keep it all here as long as we can so we can make the right calls with these guys.”
The competition at third base between Renato Núñez and Rio Ruiz evolved to where both players are heading north. Núñez can get at-bats as the designated hitter with Mark Trumbo headed to the injured list.
Hyde singled out Ruiz and outfielder Joey Rickard when asked about camp surprises.
“I thought Joey really had a great camp and I didn’t know what kind of player he was, really, to be honest with you,” Hyde said. “I just like his overall game, like I’ve said before, I think he is a baseball player. I like the way he puts the ball in play. I like the way he plays defense, base runs, I thought he had a great camp.
“I thought Rio Ruiz was impressive, also. He’s come a long way defensively, which is fantastic. Those two guys really opened my guys, not only their offense but their defense, and just being sound defensively.”
Rio is at third base today for the final exhibition game and Núñez is the designated hitter. They could handle the exact same roles on opening day in the Bronx, with today’s lineup perhaps offering a sneak preview.
“I see a lot of guys that are in that lineup will probably be in there Thursday, but not the exact order,” Hyde said. “There might be a change or two.”
The Orioles fly out of Sarasota later today and Elias expressed his pleasure at how his first camp unfolded.
“We had a great spring just in terms of the schedule and the weather and the job that the staff did and the energy level from the players. I think anyone that you’d talk to would agree we had a really productive spring in those terms,” he said.
“One of our big goals among many goals was to, in the immediate term, upgrade the athleticism and defense and flexibility of the roster on the position player side and I think we’ve done that. I think we’ve got guys that can move around and play very legitimate defense at their positions and I think that will help the club this year. So that part of it is good and I think that we’ve got a situation where we’ve got a lot of players across the entire 40-man roster who are going to be able to contribute this year and come up in the right sports and continue to develop.”
The message now is to keep that energy going through a season that’s going to challenge them.
“I hope so, yeah,” Elias said. “The guys are excited to get going. They’ve played very hard here. We’ve got guys here that can run. We’ve been taking extra bases. I think the team’s got a little bit of a chip on its shoulder. We lost a lot of game last year. It was a very rough year. We know nobody is predicting us to win a ton of games this year and these guys have a little bit of a chip on their shoulders for that. They’re playing for that and they’re playing for their careers, too.”
Will Elias be disappointed if the Orioles don’t improve on a 115-loss season?
“As I’ve said repeatedly, I’m taking a really big picture, strategic approach to this,” he replied. “We’ve got a huge task ahead of us and any time you’re short-changing a strategy, it’s going to cost you in the long run and our goals are basically two-fold this year. We want to elevate the level of talent across this organization. That includes the 25-man roster, it includes the 40-man roster. It also includes the entire minor league system. And we also want to elevate the capabilities of our baseball operations.
“A lot of that is going on in the background, but we want just the overall talent to get better. If the record improves as a part of that, great, but we’re keeping an eye on the ball in terms of elevating the level of talent in the organization.”
Update: The Orioles took a 4-0 lead in the first inning against Zack Wheeler on Dwight Smith Jr.’s fourth spring home run, a Ruiz RBI double that followed Trey Mancini’s single with two outs and Chris Davis’ two-run shot to left-center field.
Update II: Bundy allowed three straight hits to open the second inning, including Amed Rosario’s RBI single, and the Orioles lead 4-1. Bundy has four strikeouts in two innings.
Update III: Bundy gave up two more runs in the third on a leadoff walk, double, Michael Conforto RBI grounder and Wilson Ramos sacrifice fly.
Update IV: Smith homered again to center field, his fifth this spring, to increase the lead to 5-3 in the third inning.
Update V: Jeff McNeil homered off Bundy in the fifth to reduce the lead to 5-4.
Update VI: J.D. Davis homered off John Means in the seventh to tie the game 5-5.
Update VII: Nunez led off the bottom of the seventh with a double and later scored on Zach Vincej’s sacrifice fly for a 6-5 lead.
Update VII: David Thompson homered off Means in the eighth inning to knot the score at six.