More on Orioles resistance to opening with 14 position players

SARASOTA, Fla. – A second off-day of the spring provided rest and recreation to a group of players who would rather hit a golf ball than the wall.

What it couldn’t accomplish is the task of figuring out how to pare the camp roster to 26 players. That’s a higher pay grade.

Competition is great. It’s also a pain in the rear because players who should be introduced to a packed house on March 28 will be working out in Sarasota and waiting for the minor league season to begin. Seems unfair but that’s business, the kind from an organization that’s operating at a much higher talent level than in the past.

The rotation is at least close to set with Corbin Burnes, Grayson Rodriguez, Dean Kremer, Tyler Wells and Cole Irvin, whatever order beyond the ace. Let’s assume that Rodriguez and Kremer are two and three.

But what the heck is going on with the position players?

I’ve been on the beat full-time since 1997 and can’t remember this much uncertainty and this many grueling choices, especially involving prospects. Makes sense with the top-rated farm system in baseball.

The only sliver of clarity came after Sunday’s game against the Braves, with manager Brandon Hyde saying the club probably would carry 13 position players rather than 14, which would have solved one issue but create another.

“We’re gonna need 13 (pitchers),” Hyde said.

“You just don’t want to be shorthanded early.”

It doesn’t matter that the early schedule has open dates on March 29 and April 4, 8, 18, and 25. The Orioles don’t want to push their pitchers and risk injury. They want to be ready for the unexpected, like a line drive taking out Kyle Bradish on April 3 in Texas.

What the extra position player could have done, however, is allow, say, for the Orioles to carry Jackson Holliday, Jorge Mateo, Colton Cowser and Kyle Stowers.

Stowers, with three home runs Sunday in Lakeland to give him seven along with 13 RBIs, could be a fifth outfielder that otherwise might not exist. And the Orioles still could keep seven infielders. Imagine such a thing.

They could have had Adley Rutschman and James McCann as catchers; Holliday, Mateo, Gunnar Henderson, Ramón Urías, Jordan Westburg, Ryan Mountcastle and Ryan O’Hearn as infielders; and Cowser, Stowers, Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander in the outfield.

Mateo wouldn’t have to back up in the outfield, and he’s only made two starts in center this spring, a miniscule amount considering the plan we thought was laid out. An extra outfielder could be used at designated hitter, and that’s a solid way to rest Anthony Santander and keep him healthy.

Urías remains an underrated player who brings value to the Orioles with his glove, versatility and a bat that’s produced a .389 on-base percentage, .586 slugging percentage, three home runs and nine RBIs in 12 games. Mateo’s speed is intoxicating to the Orioles and moving him around the field can further justify keeping him on the roster.

Holliday remains the most intriguing figure, of course. Does baseball’s top prospect, who turned 20 in December, go north or get sent down and infuriate a fan base?

The spring numbers are mostly good. Holliday has appeared in 13 games and hit .300/.333/.550 with three doubles, two triples, a home run and five RBIs. But yes, he’s also walked twice and struck out 14 times.

The at-bats were impressive Sunday, with Holliday working the count to 3-1 multiple times. He drove the ball to the opposite field. He looked like a baby-faced professional hitter.

Is he a major league player on March 28?

The Orioles can’t say right now.

“We’re just evaluating him,” Hyde said after Sunday’s game. “Played the second half of some games last year, obviously had an incredible minor league season, jumping all kinds of levels. So, just wanted to see him face some major league pitching.

“We’re getting a little bit closer to realistic with the pitching that we’re going to see. We’re just watching him right now and figure out if we think he’s ready to break camp with us or not.”

“I hope everybody makes it as difficult as possible,” Hyde said. “Kyle’s swung the bat awesome this camp. Really happy for him after a kind of tough year last year dealing with a lot of things. To come into camp swinging the bat the way he is, that’s been amazing.”

It would be more amazing if the Orioles finalized their Opening Day roster immediately after the off-day.

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