So close to the start of spring training, so insecure about how much I’m willing to guarantee about the 2023 Orioles.
They won’t move out of Baltimore during the season. Bet the house on it.
They won’t change managers. They won’t change mascots. They won’t change Boog’s BBQ into a vegan concession stand.
But what about the team itself prior to opening day? Here are a dozen:
Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin are locks for the rotation.
One signed for $10 million and the other came in a trade that cost infield prospect Darell Hernaiz and is a needed left-hander. Gibson could be the opening day starter in Boston if the Orioles want a right-hander at Fenway Park. The Orioles expect Grayson Rodriguez to break camp in the rotation. They are openly rooting for it. But I can’t issue an absolute guarantee. At least, not at the Gibson/Irvin level.
Félix Bautista, Cionel Pérez, Mychal Givens, Dillon Tate and Bryan Baker are in the opening day bullpen.
It’s the other three spots that are mysteries. Austin Voth, who signed for $1.85 million to avoid arbitration and is out of minor league options, nabs one if he isn’t starting. Tyler Wells is in the ‘pen if the Orioles change his role again.
Bautista is the closer.
What could possibly change that plan? He’s the guy and it’s undisputed. The rest is up to him, whether he holds onto the job. But that's how he breaks camp.
Gunnar Henderson starts at third base on opening day and spends most, if not all, of the season on the left side of the infield.
Jorge Mateo hasn’t left the club. He won a Fielding Bible Award at shortstop and led the American League in steals. That leaves third base, where Henderson is going to be a plus defender and remind fans how Cal Ripken Jr. and Manny Machado began their major league careers.
Cedric Mullins is the leadoff hitter.
Maybe he’s lowered in the order against some tough left-handers if his splits resemble the 2022 set. Otherwise, he’s first in the lineup. Because, duh.
James McCann is the backup catcher.
There’s usually a camp competition, some of them more heated than others, but not this time. Pretty boring. It would take an injury for Anthony Bemboom to make back-to-back opening day rosters.
Ramón Urías will exceed his 19 starts at second base in 2023.
Urías won a Gold Glove at third base, where he started in 84 games, but Henderson is in the way. Time for a cool change. Urías and Adam Frazier will get lots of time at second. Urías also could play some short if needed. The Orioles value the versatility.
Adley Rutschman will make some starts at first base.
He played the position in college and the minors, but the Orioles didn’t want to put too much on his plate while he adjusted to life in the majors. They want to be careful with his workload this year but also keep his bat in the lineup. Serving as the designated hitter is one way to do it, but so is letting him join the group backing up Ryan Mountcastle. I won't put a number on it.
Oh yeah, Mountcastle is the starting first baseman.
Also from the “duh” category. The Orioles aren’t changing his position again and they haven’t soured on him. They’ll keep working to get more consistency out of him and shorten the dry spells. Fewer games against the Blue Jays won’t help.
The left field wall is going to keep tormenting guys like Mountcastle.
Can’t let it get in your head. Mountcastle has the power to overcome it, of course, but there will be long fly balls that don’t reach the seats and make him, and others, stare in disbelief. Maybe throw back their head, spread out their arms, yearn for the good ol’ dimension days. It's still going to be a topic, in conversations and in media reports of the games.
The Orioles will make at least one high-impact addition for the second half.
John Means is expected to return by July at the earliest. He can be that guy. No trade partner required. Just a reinstatement from the 60-day injured list. An ace dealt into the rotation. I’d expect some deals to be made, as well, but Means guarantees an impactful move.
Anthony Santander will homer from both sides of the plate.
Maybe not in the same game, though it did it four times last season to set the franchise record. But he’ll hit a home run while batting right-handed and left-handed. Hey, you want guarantees. I have to be careful.
OK, toss this one. I'll try again.
The Orioles will carry more than one left-handed reliever.
Pérez won't fly solo with the Birds. There's no way that they'll permit that kind of imbalance, with seven right-handers and only one southpaw. Maybe it's DL Hall if he isn't in the rotation (or optioned). Maybe it's Keegan Akin or Bruce Zimmermann in long relief. Maybe it's Nick Vespi, who says he'll be ready for opening day after undergoing hernia surgery. Could be a five/three split. It will not be seven/one.
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