A couple of quick thoughts as the Orioles hit the home stretch of spring training. They have seven spring games remaining over the next seven days and this time next week the spring games will be over.
I have no stats to compare this to past years, but the O’s spring roster for their game versus Philadelphia on Monday was at 51 with 36 from the 40-man and 15 non-roster invitees still officially on the camp roster. That seems like a lot on the roster this late in camp. The Orioles last made spring roster cuts last Tuesday after their game in Bradenton versus the Pirates. (And they did make some cuts late Monday afternoon).
It is interesting that this late in camp, three young prospects, there via non-roster invites, are all still officially on the roster and I speak of Jordan Westburg, Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad.
All have been impressive in this camp and all three could impact the O’s roster during the 2023 season. None is likely to be there on Opening Day but the fact the club has kept them around so long I think shows us how they feel about this group of three and that they realize all three could be back later in the year.
Kjerstad has been hitting the entire camp. On Feb. 25, in the first spring game, he homered twice at Ed Smith Stadium just missing a third homer. He went 3-for-3 and now he is 4-for-9 with a homer his last three games. He just keeps hitting the ball hard and with authority.
He leads the team with 21 games played in spring and is second to Josh Lester with 40 at-bats. He’s getting a long look and is taking advantage of it, batting .400/.429/.850/1.279 with four doubles, a triple, four homers and nine RBIs. He homered off an office building behind the right field fence against Atlanta in North Port.
He still seems likely to start this year at Double-A Bowie, but perhaps now more than ever, maybe it is also possible and maybe likely he ends it with Baltimore. One point working in his favor is he must be added to the 40-man roster next November ahead of the December 2023 Rule 5 draft and maybe getting there a few months sooner is now in the cards for him.
In early November, when I interviewed MLBPipeline.com’s Jim Callis on Kjerstad, he had just seen him play in the Arizona Fall League where he hit a long homer on the first night of action there. He would go on to be named the AFL's MVP.
Said Callis then: “On opening day (of the AFL), I saw him hit a massive home run at Scottsdale Stadium. The good news for Orioles fans is he looks like the guy, the No. 2 pick in the draft from a few years ago. He looks like the guy I thought was the best left-handed college power hitter in that draft. I had seen him at the College World Series in the past and he’s got big left-handed power. It's power over hit (tool). He’s got about a 30 percent strikeout rate in the Fall League. He’s always had some strikeouts but still managed to hit for average if that makes sense.
“He looks like the type of guy that could hit .260 with maybe 30 homers. He’s not a blazing runner or anything, but he moves well enough. He’s got a strong arm. I haven’t talked to the Orioles since I’ve seen him, but I have to think they are quite pleased with how he’s looked.”
MLBPipeline.com was the only outlet to include Kjerstad in their top 100 prospects list recently and they placed him at No. 80. He was one of 11 O’s prospects to get top 100 mention from at least one major outlet.
Westburg is having a nice finish to his camp. He showed off his right-center field power Monday with a triple off the fence in Clearwater against Philadelphia. He is 5-for-10 his past four games. Overall, in 16 games, Westburg is batting .308/.364/.513/.877 with three doubles, a triple, a homer and four RBIs.
Cowser, the No. 5 overall pick by the Orioles in the 2021 draft, has shown better plate control than the other two prospects, although he did strikeout four times on Monday. Kjerstad has two walks to 10 strikeouts and Westburg has two with a dozen strikeouts. And while Cowser has fanned 15 times, he leads the team in spring with 13 walks and 13 runs scored. He has not doubled or tripled but has three homers and nine RBIs. He has often looked very relaxed and composed at the plate taking a real pro plate appearance and seeing a lot of pitches, leading to the high walks total.
This group has done well and for each, their day is coming. Maybe sooner than later.
How is rotation shaping up: The Orioles could still surprise us, but the starting rotation may finally be coming into focus. Manager Brandon Hyde said after yesterday’s game that nothing is set yet but the O’s could be moving toward a five to open the year of the group that is starting right now.
Kyle Gibson pitched Sunday, Kyle Bradish yesterday, Cole Irvin goes today with Dean Kremer pitching tomorrow and Grayson Rodriguez on Thursday. If the O’s go with that five and in that order, that would line up Gibson for Opening Day and Bradish to pitch the home opener on April 6 at Oriole Park versus the New York Yankees.
The starters all seem to be close to or built up around 70 pitches right now, putting them at 80 the next time through and with a potential 90-ish count for their first regular season games.
Lefty DL Hall made a strong spring debut yesterday. And while the final line shows three hits and three runs (one earned) allowed in 1 2/3 innings, he was showing mostly good fastball command and topped at 96. The Phillies swung at five of his changeups and missed and whiffed on four of them. He got five swings and misses on nine secondary pitches. The quality of his secondaries is one reason the Orioles still see a starting pitcher here. He won’t be built up enough for the season-opening rotation. And for me that makes the best play right now to send him to Triple-A or keep him in Florida at extended spring to build innings. Then be ready for his rotation chance if and when it comes.
Roster cuts: The O's did trim their roster by five late yesterday afternoon. They optioned lefties Bruce Zimmermann and Nick Vespi to the minors and reassigned to the farm infielder Lewin Díaz, catcher Mark Kolozsvary and lefty Dawinzon Hernandez. The camp roster is at 46 with 34 from the 40-man and 12 non-roster invitees.