Orioles roster uncertainty appears narrowed to two decisions

SARASOTA, Fla. – The camp roster held at 45 players yesterday. Jorge Mateo is confirmed for Opening Day in Baltimore.

Can the remaining decisions be simplified to, who’s the last reliever and bench player? Are we actually at that point in spring training?

A reduction to two spots with this many players on the major league side is interesting, to say the least.

To say the most, this is the correct math if bullpen locks are Craig Kimbrel, Yennier Cano, Danny Coulombe, Cionel Pérez, Mike Baumann, Dillon Tate and Keegan Akin. And if we’re waiting only to find out whether Jackson Holliday is on the Opening Day roster or the Orioles decide between second baseman Kolten Wong and a fifth outfielder like Kyle Stowers, Ryan McKenna or Heston Kjerstad.

In hindsight, it isn’t that simple. It’s more than just two players going head-to-head for one job, like the good ol’ backup catcher wars of past spring trainings before James McCann arrived.

Ruined it for all of us.

“We have a lot of talent,” said Adley Rutschman. “I’m glad I’m not the one who has to make the decisions.”

I’ll stay braced for a late relief acquisition, whether in trade – we’re due a cash considerations transaction – or a plucking from the waiver wire. Otherwise, Jacob Webb is out of options and might have the edge, except Bryan Baker, Julio Teheran, Albert Suárez and Andrew Suárez remain in camp.

The world is braced for confirmation on Holliday, who came off the bench last night against the Red Sox, went 0-for-2 and played shortstop and second base. Wong also is a left-handed hitter, which appeared to set up a two-man competition – baseball’s No. 1 prospect against a veteran with lots more experience at second and a pair of Gold Gloves. But Wong isn’t the only roadblock in front of Holliday.

The Orioles would need to feel secure in having Mateo and Ryan O’Hearn as extra outfielders, the former backing up in center field, the latter a corner guy. Putting Colton Cowser on the roster, which seems like a certainty, gives them a thick security blanket at all three spots.

“He’s made huge strides defensively and shown that in spring training,” manager Brandon Hyde said of Cowser. “A lot more confident in the outfield, playing more aggressive. I do feel comfortable putting him in center field or left field, which is as tough or tougher in our park. And you have to factor those kinds of things, also, when you’re setting your roster. Our park does play a factor in who we’re bringing from an outfield standpoint.”

Kjerstad isn’t a center fielder and would be challenged by the left field dimensions at Camden Yards in this early stage of his career, though he’s had some impressive moments defensively. Taking him over Cowser and Stowers would have required five outfielders on the roster or serious trust in the infielders to handle outfield responsibilities.

News that Gunnar Henderson is going to be the everyday shortstop this season improves his Gold Glove candidacy but might complicate Holliday’s chances of going north.

Some fans on social media posted that the door opens wider for the kid. Does it? Holliday isn’t needed at shortstop, especially with Mateo around to back up, so he’s narrowed to second base duty if he stays. Bouncing between second and short seemed like a better major league gig.

(Now, for the counter argument: Jordan Westburg will play more third base with Henderson away from it, which opens up second base for Holliday. Is that where your mind went?)

Hyde said the club hasn’t decided whether to go with six or seven infielders. Ramón Urías is on this club, though it hasn’t been confirmed, so Holliday would be the seventh.

We’re back to an alternative - not a prediction, mind you - of sending down Holliday and keeping that fifth outfielder, whether it’s Stowers and his power binges and terrorizing of left-handed pitching, or McKenna and his speed/defense combo.

The days of limited choices for the Orioles and heavy scouring of the waiver wire are dying.

“I think it just shows the amount of talent that we’ve got in the clubhouse,” Rutschman said, “and it’s fun to watch guys go to work every day.”

Players will be optioned, reassigned or exposed to waivers who earned spots based on performance but couldn’t infiltrate a crowded field. Those are the difficult conversations that Hyde and executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias are prepping for in the final days.

“This position player group almost to a man has had excellent springs,” Elias said yesterday morning on 105.7 The Fan. “You can see it in the numbers, and it creates some sleepless nights for me and Brandon Hyde, especially down the stretch here in spring training, cause there’s so many good options that we have to fill out this roster and we know there will be a couple of heartbreakers going back to Triple-A to start the season.”

“When you have so many good, talented players, it’s a lot of hard decisions for the front office to put together a roster,” McKenna said. “I think it’s a good problem to have, but yeah, there’s only 26 guys who are going to be heading up with the team starting the year with the Orioles. It doesn’t surprise me that all these talented players are having good springs and are big league caliber players. It’s just putting the right piece together and putting a good team out on the field.

“I’m not surprised. We’ve got such talented young players and they’re going to be good big leaguers, so it’s just kind of playing it by ear and see how it goes.”

McKenna served as the designated hitter last night and had a tie-breaking double in the seventh after grounding to the mound and striking out. He’s 5-for-34.

He’s also a favorite of Hyde’s, is important to the club because of his speed, outfield defense and dugout energy, and is bereft of minor league options. He’s been booted from the shuttle.  

"I was hoping he'd get an at-bat against a left-hander and he put a good swing on one," Hyde said. "It hasn't been his best camp offensively. Kind of working on some things. But nice to see him get one tonight."

Said McKenna: “Obviously, you want to perform and do well in camp, and that’s something where I’ve kind of been working on some things, so the production hasn’t been there. But I think, going back to last year and what I provided and just what they know I bring to the table, there’s value in that.

“I’m still confident that I’m going to have a great year this year. I know the Orioles are ready to go and are going to be competitive and make a really good run at it this year, so my mindset is I’m excited to be a part of that. But if they decide to do something else, that’s kind of out of my control, so just taking it day by day. I’m excited to head up north but if something changes, then we’ll go from there.”

Any alterations would be done to accommodate prospects or players who used to hold that status before graduating from it.

“They’re full of energy and it’s contagious,” said Anthony Santander. “Those guys have unbelievable talent. I know any of those guys can help you win a lot of games.”

Santander is a pending free agent who turns 30 in October, making him one of the oldest players on the team. He jokes that the kids keep him young.

“Sure,” he said. “I don’t feel that old yet, but 100 percent. … They give me a lot of energy because they’re right behind you, they want to take your job. We always know this is a competition and we understand the talent they’ve got. You have to go there and try to have that same energy level and athleticism.”

Can it be too much energy at times over a six-week period and with so many early mornings? A smile spreads across Santander’s face.

“I mean, uh …,” he says, the pause drawing laughter around him.

“We have to stay positive in these six weeks of spring training to prepare ourselves to have a good season, and the main thing is to stay healthy in spring training.”

Brandon Hyde sets rotation, Mike Elias talks roste...
Henderson happy to stay at shortstop, Hyde impress...

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to https://www.masnsports.com/