The shuffling of the 40-man roster, with some cards tossed out of the deck, grows louder with today’s deadline for setting it prior to the Dec. 7 Rule 5 draft in San Diego.
The Orioles have met multiple times this week to finalize their list. They’ve created six openings, with the freedom to fashion more as they seek to add players from outside the organization via free agency and trades.
Top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez and shortstop Joey Ortiz, the No. 8 prospect in the organization per Baseball America, are simple additions. Those internal talks must have lasted two seconds.
Rodriguez is expected to be in the rotation on opening day. Ortiz could compete for the shortstop job in spring training after batting .346/.400/.567 with seven doubles, two triples, four home runs, 14 RBIs and nine walks in 26 games with Triple-A Norfolk after his promotion from Double-A Bowie.
Left-hander Drew Rom, 22, is a strong candidate to be protected. The fourth-round draft pick in 2018 struck out 144 batters in 120 innings between Bowie and Norfolk, and he surrendered only 10 home runs.
If I’m compiling a top four, right-hander Seth Johnson would slot into it despite some unique circumstances.
The Orioles acquired Johnson, 24, from the Rays on Aug. 1 in the three-team trade that landed Trey Mancini in Houston. He hasn’t pitched above High-A Bowling Green, making seven starts this year before undergoing Tommy John surgery, but he was the 40th-overall selection in the 2019 draft and owns a 2.81 ERA in 39 minor league games and averages 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
MLBPipeline.com ranks Johnson as the No. 10 prospect in the system after slotting him ninth in Tampa Bay’s organization. People in the industry gave the Orioles high marks for prying him away from the Rays, who certainly know how to identify and develop pitching.
Johnson has a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and reaches 98 mph, and a swing-and-miss slider. He’s described as a potential high-end starter.
The Orioles made a surprising call last year by protecting pitcher Logan Gillaspie, who impressed with his velocity and rising strikeout totals after the Brewers released him. They loved his arm and didn’t want to risk losing it to another team.
Could there be another unexpected move today?
“I think there’s a couple real slam dunks,” executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said last week, “but there’s a couple guys that maybe aren’t huge names in the public, but with all the info and scouting info that teams look at these days, I could see them getting plucked, so we’re going to have to be shrewd about navigating this.”
Noah Denoyer, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2019, pitched for Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League after registering a 2.89 ERA and 0.935 WHIP in 21 games with three affiliates. He struck out 99 batters while working primarily as a bulk reliever.
I think he's going on the 40-man.
With only two catchers on the 40-man, the Orioles could consider protecting 2019 sixth-round pick Maverick Handley.
Reliever Xavier Moore hasn’t pitched above High-A Aberdeen since the Orioles acquired him from the Twins in March 2019 for international bonus pool money, a trade that barely got noticed. He registered a 1.36 ERA and 1.000 WHIP in 30 relief appearances with the IronBirds this summer at age 23, notched 10 saves, averaged 15.8 strikeouts per nine innings, allowed just one home run, and was named an All-Star.
An interesting case.
Among other eligible players are pitchers Easton Lucas, Garrett Stallings, Ryan Conroy, Conner Loeprich, Nolan Hoffman, Nick Richmond, Griffin McLarty, Morgan McSweeney, Houston Roth, Cole Uvila, Tyler Burch, Adam Stauffer, Zach Peek and Kyle Brnovich, infielders Toby Welk, Andrew Daschbach, Luis Valdez, Isaac DeLeon and Noelberth Romero, and outfielders Shayne Fontana, Zach Wilson, Mishael Deson, Isaac Bellony and Davis Tavárez.
Peek and Brnovich, acquired from the Angels in the Dylan Bundy trade, are recovering from Tommy John surgery. But as we learned above, it isn't automatic exclusion.
Brnovich posted a 2.36 ERA and 0.845 WHIP last year in eight starts with Aberdeen, and a 3.86 ERA and 1.137 WHIP in 15 games (11 starts) with Bowie. He’s averaging 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings in two minor league seasons. The Orioles would hate to lose him.
Peek had a 3.57 ERA and 1.191 WHIP in 11 starts this season with Bowie before the elbow injury.
Valdez, who was 19 when he signed with the Orioles in 2019, stole 71 bases between Aberdeen and Single-A Delmarva. Also an interesting case.
The Orioles protected six players last year, including pitchers DL Hall, Kyle Bradish, Kevin Smith and Félix Bautista, and infielder Terrin Vavra. Hall and Bradish were the no-brainers, and Smith and Vavra were solid assumptions. Bautista was a big man sitting on the bubble.
Pitcher Blaine Knight, infielders Adam Hall, Cadyn Grenier and Greg Cullen, and outfielder Robert Neustrom weren’t protected and are eligible again. Left-hander Nick Vespi was exposed and he didn’t allow an earned run with Norfolk.