A look at the outfield less than two weeks to opening day

SARASOTA, Fla. - We’ve seen the Orioles send a few young outfielders like Yusniel Diaz, DJ Stewart and Ryan McKenna to minor league camp, but a few youngsters are still around and the Orioles outfield situation is becoming a bit more clear with opening day approaching.

Will the starters be Trey Mancini in left, Cedric Mullins in center and Austin Hays in right? That’s what I see happening with 12 games remaining before the opener in the Bronx. Hays, barring a real surprise, is healthy, playing very well here and has probably not only played his way onto the team but into a starting spot.

Hays is batting .364/.400/.879 with three doubles, a triple, four homers to share the team lead and 12 RBIs to hold the team lead. Over his past four games Hays is 6-for-12 with three doubles, two homers and nine RBIs. Hays brings hustle and energy. It was probably noted in the dugout yesterday what he did in the second inning. He hit a grounder to short but he was flying up the line and made the play close. Hays looks like he did in 2017 when he was a finalist for Baseball America’s national Player of the Year award.

Mullins-Mancini-orange-sidebar.jpgMullins is batting just .152. After getting two hits in the spring opener, he was 2-for-27 before he homered in the first inning Thursday against the Twins. Mullins also brings energy and hustle along with speed and the ability to run the ball down in the gaps. He said yesterday he feels good about the at-bats he’s had. Manager Brandon Hyde agreed with that during his postgame interview.

“I like Cedric’s at-bats,” Hyde said. “He’s got a lot of tools. He can bunt on you, he can run, he can pop one on you like he did today. He’s got some nice pull power from the left side especially. I just like his game.

“For me, it’s just experience and confidence and continuing to throw him out there. I usually get him an extra AB when he starts like I did today. I gave him four today. Just to kind of continue to feel confident at the plate.”

No reason for the rebuilding Orioles not to send Mullins out there everyday this year and find out if they have their leadoff hitter and table setter for the future or not. If he struggles after an extended look, adjustments can be made on the roster.

If Mancini, Mullins and Hays start and that is my projection only and the team has certainly made no pronouncements yet, does Anthony Santander make this team too? He’s hitting .367 with six doubles and two homers, but I can still see him starting this year on the farm. It’s probably for the best. Let him have a healthy year, work on his defense and be ready to head to Baltimore if they need him.

For me Joey Rickard is the fourth outfielder on opening day. He keeps flying under the radar here, lost somewhat in the middle between the emergence of the young outfielders in camp and the additions of the vets in Eric Young Jr. and Dwight Smith Jr. But I have Rickard right now on my opening day roster.

That leaves, maybe one more spot for an outfielder. If they go five deep on the roster perhaps that player is a vet and they choose between Young and Smith. Maybe Drew Jackson is that guy. The Rule 5 pick sure is versatile and could be an infielder and outfielder on this club.

If the O’s go north with a group of these four or five, the upper minors will be where the club can turn later to call on Diaz, Stewart, McKenna or Mike Yastrzemski. Outfield is a position of some strength right now for the Orioles. Their young players have looked good in this camp, flashing skills and tools and we could see one or more in the lineup on opening day.

After Thursday’s loss to the Twins, the Orioles play Minnesota again today when they travel to Fort Myers. I’ll have that broadcast coming your way at 1 p.m. at Orioles.com and/or the MLB At Bat app. David Hess gets the start.

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