The start of spring training is getting close for the Orioles. Pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 12, the first full-squad workout is Feb. 18 and the first game is set for Feb. 23. Opening day is March 28 at Yankee Stadium and a new season will be officially underway.
With all this fast approaching there are still plenty of unanswered questions for the 2019 season. Here are a few of them.
Who will fill out the starting rotation?
In some order we know that Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner and Dylan Bundy are locked into the first three spots. After that, on a depth chart right now, we would probably list David Hess and Yefry Ramírez for the fourth and fifth spots.
But that duo figures to find plenty of competition in camp, and maybe well into the season. A large group of hurlers has designs on getting starts in Baltimore this year. Some of those pitchers are Josh Rogers, Dillon Tate, John Means, Jimmy Yacabonis, Hunter Harvey, Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin and Luis Ortiz.
Should the team sign any free agents?
Do the Orioles need to add a veteran starter to eat some innings and allow those young starting pitcher candidates to get time on the farm? Make them force their way into the majors? Or does the club need to give several young pitchers a chance and see which ones emerge?
The Orioles are more likely to sign a free agent to a one-year contract than to a multi-year deal, general manager Mike Elias said at FanFest. No reason to block the path of any young players this organization needs to take a look at as the rebuilding begins to play out on the field this season. So a minimal number of signings - none for longer than one year - is probably the way to go at this point.
Will Jonathan Villar play second base or shortstop?
At the Winter Meetings, Elias indicated that Villar would be the starting shortstop. But since then the club has acquired a host of players who could play short, second or third and/or be utility candidates. That list includes Richie Martin, Drew Jackson, Hanser Alberto, Jack Reinheimer, Rio Ruiz, Christopher Bostic and Zach Vincej. Steve Wilkerson is still on the 40-man roster and Jace Peterson will be a non-roster player at spring training. So will Ryan Mountcastle. No shortage of infield/utility candidates. So where Villar plays is still to be determined.
Who will bat leadoff?
It would seem this will be either Cedric Mullins or Villar. And the other could bat second. Or maybe they’ll both bat in both spots at times during the season. If they do hit one-two it could give the Orioles more speed at the top of the lineup than they’ve had in a while. Late last season Villar talked about morphing the Orioles into a “speed team.”
Who will be the starting catcher?
This player may not yet be on the roster. Then again, maybe he is. The Orioles list five catchers on their spring training roster right now, and four have started in the majors.
But on the current 40-man roster they have little big league experience. Chance Sisco has 45 career major league starts and Austin Wynns has 33. Wynns is the better defender and Sisco is out to re-establish himself after a rough 2018. The Orioles have three non-roster catchers heading to spring training in Carlos Pérez, Martin Cervenka and Andrew Susac.
Pérez has 177 career major league starts, more than the other four catchers combined. Susac has 66. The 28-year-old Pérez, from Valencia, Venezuela, made 75 starts in 2015 and 76 in 2016 for the Los Angeles Angels. He started 15 games for the Texas Rangers last season and six for the Atlanta Braves. He might have a strong shot to break north with an opening day roster spot.
Pérez is a strong defensive catcher, and one scout rated him with an above-average 60-grade arm and cited pop times to second base in the 1.95 range. Pérez also gets praise for calling a game, pitch framing and handling a pitching staff.
These are just a few questions to ponder about the 2019 season, and we didn’t even touch on the bullpen, defense or whether any veterans will be traded in July. What are your answers to these questions, and what questions do you have for the coming season?