SARASOTA, Fla. – The risk of writing about the players left in a spring training camp is that cuts could be made before one types the final sentences. They happen before first pitch, they happen while the media is stuck in traffic leaving Clearwater or Dunedin. They can be shortly after the last out or more than an hour after the bus pulled out of the complex.
The Orioles are prepared to do their heaviest lifting at the conclusion, with the equipment truck already headed back to Baltimore and with a flight to Boston prepped for them. They’re 18 players over the 26-man limit. The time to trim and wait is running out.
It’s easy to be tricked into including players on the current roster who already were cut, since so many come back for games and still have lockers at the Ed Smith Stadium complex. And predicting the next group to go is harder with the unknown statuses of a few pitchers.
Someone must replace Mychal Givens if the sidearmer’s sore left knee forces him onto the injured list. He’s played catch the last two days but that’s it.
Here are the last 44 standing, some on healthier legs than others:
Means and Tate are going on the injured list, so we’re really talking about 42.
Handley is destined for minor league camp and only a late injury would open the door for Bemboom, so we’re really talking about 40.
Speaking of which, veteran backup James McCann hasn’t surfaced in five days due to slight side soreness, per manager Brandon Hyde. The hope is that McCann can play by Monday’s finale.
Westburg hung around longer than prospects Colton Cowser, Heston Kjerstad, Connor Norby, Joey Ortiz, Coby Mayo, César Prieto and 19-year-old Jackson Holliday. The Orioles will reassign him unless an injury to another infielder causes them to reconsider.
Man, is he making an impression, though. Westburg had a sacrifice fly and two-run double last night. He just keeps hitting, and the contact is usually violent.
Ramón Urías was scratched on back-to-back nights with a bruised right thumb that he downplayed Friday afternoon – before coming out of the lineup again. But he started at second base last night.
I’m always hesitant to predict cuts because I don’t want to be wrong, of course, and I also detest sending out that signal to the players. I can say that the odds may not favor some as much as others, and that list includes relievers Bazardo, Canó, Reed and Gillaspie, and outfielders Cameron and Mazara.
This is more about numbers in camp than on a stat sheet.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias deserves heavy props for offseason acquisitions that became more than warm bodies and filler. The depth here is so much better than in past springs, which Hyde has mentioned on numerous occasions. I don’t know details of every contract and opt-outs, but Triple-A Norfolk’s roster is going to be loaded between the prospects and legitimate veteran options.
Keeping Hall in the bullpen would burst the chances of one bubble reliever, but we’re still waiting to find out whether the Orioles really are willing to do that and if he’s built up enough to handle the responsibility. He’s appeared in only two exhibition games, but he certainly did impress last night.
The temptation to take him north might be too great to ignore.
Keeping Politi, the Rule 5 pick with seven scoreless appearances out of nine, also would knock over another reliever. He took a step back last night, but the huge gains made are working in his favor.
I’ve been working under the assumption that Wells is a reliever if he isn’t in the rotation and Rodriguez is the No. 5 starter. But I also thought Bradish was starting the second game and Kremer the fourth based on how they lined up, and look what happened.
We zig and the Orioles zag.
Akin hasn’t surrendered a run this spring, Hyde has stated that the lefty is displaying stuff that’s as good an anyone’s, and I’m assuming that he’s made the club. What he did in the first half last season can’t be ignored, either.
Joey Krehbiel wasn’t guaranteed a spot when he arrived, with his decline last summer and removal from the active roster a stain on his resume. He allowed eight runs in 1 2/3 innings in his first two outings this spring, but Friday night’s scoreless inning against the Yankees stretched his spotless streak to six appearances in a row. Gonna be hard to leave him behind.
I’ve been touting mocks that don’t have any non-roster invites on the 26-man roster. Cordero, Lester and O’Hearn want a minute for rebuttal. They’ve earned the floor.
“We’re more talented than ever before since I’ve been here, so that’s been a lot of fun, kind of watching the competition that’s been in camp from the bullpen, rotation, to the last few spots on the roster, position player-wise,” Hyde said. ”I think everybody’s played really well, so it’s going to be hard decisions across the board. Even the second half of our games have been fun to watch, so even the guys that don’t break with us and upper-level minor league guys, there’s a lot of excitement about the talent we have.”
The Orioles used 58 players last year, a good reminder for those who are optioned or reassigned. They won’t necessarily be buried in the minors. The roster won’t become totally stagnant.
“That’s what guys hopefully take when they don’t make the team or get sent down in camp, that the door’s not closed,” Hyde said. “There’s going to be a ton of opportunity throughout the season and things can change. It happens so fast. You just want to make sure that you remind everybody to stay ready, to have the right mindset, to go down there to prove that you should be in the big leagues, but also that you’re prepared as possible when your name’s called because you just absolutely never know, and it’s happened every year with us.
“Guys have got an opportunity and stuck for the rest of the season. You just remind them of that. I know it’s frustrating at first, but just understand it’s just a date and a lot of things can happen.”
The club has moved to the other side of its rebuild and the bar is raised.
“It just takes a while,” Hyde said. “This is year five and takes a while for guys drafted to come through the system. We’re still pretty inexperienced, but our guys got great experience last year, and bringing a lot of guys back. I think it’s going to be fun to watch them this year.”
Not everyone in the industry is sold on the Orioles as a playoff contender. Hyde is beginning to notice.
Doesn’t really care, but he’s aware.
“I was just listening to the radio. We’re picked last in almost every website and Vegas. Expectations are that we’re a little bit better, but I don’t think our guys are looking at expectations or feeling pressure of any kind. We did a nice year last year, but we want to build off that.”