More on Orioles roster cuts and pending decisions (tonight's game cancelled)

SARASOTA, Fla. – The Orioles pared their camp roster to 38 players this afternoon. The cuts are presented for everyone. Who’s made the club isn’t as transparent.

The media isn’t alone in the dark. Colton Cowser, Ryan McKenna and Tyler Nevin haven’t learned their fates, mainly because the front office is checking on external options with contract opt-outs arriving today.

Cowser is baseball’s version of a slam dunk, but he’s waiting for official word.

“You never know,” he said. “Just going to continue to work and continue to do what I’m called upon to do.”

There isn’t much more that Cowser can do, with his at-bats and defense setting him up for fourth outfielder duties.

“I think that I kind of came into camp and had an idea of what I wanted to accomplish,” he said. “I tried to develop a solid routine and solid, I guess, resume this camp. But like I said, just trying to go out there and control what I can control and do whatever I’m asked.”

Cowser went into last night’s game batting .325/.449/.725 with a double, five home runs, 11 RBIs, seven walks and 14 strikeouts.

“I think we’re all very encouraged,” said executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias. “It’s not surprising to those of us who have been big believers in him since we took him fifth overall in 2021. But he got punched in the mouth a little bit in the big leagues last year, very normal. I don’t think he was playing with the level of confidence that he’s capable of. I think the guy that we’ve seen in spring training, and again, throw out the numbers because that’s not everything we talk about when we talk about spring training, but confidence with which he’s moving around, the precision he’s showing on defense with his routes, this looks like the guy that we’ve seen in the minors more than the one that came up and had some struggles last summer.

“Again, haven’t made any final decisions on the roster. But Colton’s really, I think, improved his standing with anyone who’s watched him. But it’s nothing out of character for the talent he’s been this whole time.”

The Orioles were limited in how many left-handed outfielders they’d bring to Baltimore, and Cowser beat out friends Kyle Stowers and Heston Kjerstad.

“I love those guys and want nothing but the best for them,” Cowser said. “We all had it in the back of our mind. But I’m still not on the team or anything like that, so I can only speak upon what’s happened up to this point. I want nothing but the best for them. We all will, hopefully, be productive in the big leagues at some point this year.”

Stowers led the club with seven home runs and 14 RBIs and had a .744 slugging percentage in 19 games.

“That’s another one where this is a player that we see as having a very bright long-term future, and having him just kind of sit on the end of the bench and pinch-hit here and there, it’s not ideal,” Elias said. “So, that goes into the calculus, too. But he is going to get an extended chance, and when he does, he’s going to take huge advantage of it. And all of these guys, their times are coming. You can’t predict when, but it’s going to be this year.”

The cuts also included Jackson Holliday, baseball’s No. 1 prospect, Coby Mayo, who’s fourth in the organization per MLB Pipeline, and Connor Norby, who’s seventh. Kjerstad is fifth.

“You look at it, and all these guys are really good ballplayers, great people, go about the business the right way,” Cowser said. “I’m very confident in all of those guys.”

“It’s pretty evident that they’ve been big league caliber guys for a while,” McKenna said, “like the way they approach the game, what you’ve seen in the spring and what they’ve done in the past couple years. It’s a competitive team, they’re going to be good big leaguers for a long time, and we’re just kind of taking it day by day and looking forward to having a good year.

“I’ve been there, I know what it’s like. You’ve got to stay ready. That’s the reality of this game. You don’t ever want to see somebody go down with an injury, but sometimes that’s how opportunities present themselves. That’s how I made my debut and I think that’s the mindset a lot of these guys have is just being ready and doing what they do, being good baseball players and good people.

“I’ve been in pro ball for almost 10 years now and I’ve seen a lot of guys and how to act and how guys shouldn’t really act, and everybody goes about their business the right way here. Very professional, very mature. They’ve had a lot of experiences. Seen guys that are older and just kind of emulating that. I think that’s how they do it.”

Holliday was exposed to the sport at its highest level at an early age as the oldest son of seven-time All-Star Matt Holliday. The clubhouse and field were second homes, and he matured into the first overall selection in the 2022 draft and the top prospect.

“I love his swing,” McKenna said. “His swing is so smooth and the way he gets in good positions. Just the maturity, how he doesn’t let things get to him. His defensive play, the way he knows the game, and just the fluidity of how he plays and the freedom and the confidence. He’s going to be a great player.”

The debut shouldn’t be too far down the road.

“We have a lot of good players here and we’re trying to win every day,” McKenna said, “and if he can help the team win, it’s kind of a no-brainer, you know?”

Elias stopped short of saying that Holliday is the next man up.

“I think it’s very dependent on what we’re talking about in terms of vacancies,” Elias said. “I’ll say this, he would be the term that we use of, like, he’s really important. Jackson Holliday and him as an individual and his development, it’s a really important thing. So, when we feel that he’s ready to impact the team in a complete and permanent way, and not expose him to risk of failure that would involve us shrinking his role or sending him back down, we’re going to figure out a way to accommodate that.”

McKenna had a run-scoring double last night in Fort Myers but is 5-for-35 and wondering whether past contributions, speed, outfield defense and a right-handed bat can override those numbers.

“Haven’t heard anything,” he said.

With the assumption that Cowser and Ramón Urías are going north, Holliday’s camp exit seems to leave one spot for Nevin, McKenna, Nick Maton (0-for-21, 10 strikeouts) or Kolten Wong (5-for-27), who exercised his opt-out clause today. The Orioles must choose a seventh infielder or fifth outfielder.

Wong’s left-handed bat would seem to bring less appeal with Elias emphasizing today that the Orioles will see lots of left-handers in the early portion of the schedule. But he could decide to keep Wong in the organization or pluck a player off the waiver wire or make a late trade. The roster road to Opening Day has many forks in it.

“When we set an end-of-camp roster, this isn’t something that we view through an indefinite, permanent lens,” Elias said. “This is: How do we best kind of deploy the players in our organization for those upcoming first series? How do we retain talent? There’s a lot that goes into it. If you’re a player, it can be hard because management and the coaching staff and the front office are looking at the big picture, the whole organization and the long season ahead, and everybody’s been here working their tails off in camp to try to make the team. But this is not the end-all, be-all of the season.”

* Elias said Albert Suárez, one of today’s cuts, will join Triple-A Norfolk’s rotation.

Asked for his feelings on the club’s pitching depth and whether he’s in the market for a starter, Elias said, “I think the rotation that we’ve set is a quality one. You’ve got five guys that have logged innings, experienced success at the major league level. You’ve got a Cy Young in Corbin Burnes, we’ve got a lefty (Cole Irvin) in the rotation, so I think that’s a nice looking rotation.

“I think we’ve got two guys, (Kyle) Bradish and (John) Means that are convalescing and on their way to be reinforcements. And we’ve got depth in the minors now, too.”

* Tonight’s game with the Pirates was cancelled due to rain.

They don’t make up exhibitions.

Corbin Burnes and Tyler Wells pitch Saturday night against the Blue Jays in Sarasota. Julio Teheran and Chayce McDermott pitch against the Rays in Port Charlotte.

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