Sifting through spring training storylines as report date nears

The offseason is melting away like Frosty. Not quite a puddle, but it’s getting mushier.

(I’m still wondering why Santa Claus left Karen on the roof of her house rather than dropping her off at the front door. She should have demanded to speak with his manager. But I digress …)

The report date for Orioles pitchers and catchers is exactly one month away. A few days earlier for Dillon Tate (Team USA) and Dean Kremer (Team Israel) as they ready for the World Baseball Classic and are marked as absent in camp.

The Orioles already have them pegged for the 26-man roster on opening day. The only concern is how they’ll ramp up earlier than normal, which in theory could make them more vulnerable to an injury. Manager Brandon Hyde will wave goodbye with fingers crossed.

Knowing how close we are to a Sarasota dateline creates another round of camp curiosities, which I’m formulating this weekend between NFL playoff games.

Take my points. Such as:

The rotation
PETA could organize a protest against me for beating a dead horse. It still seems cruel.

Who is the opening day starter, and is he already in the organization? Who are the four pitchers behind him, and in what order?

No other competitions can match it. This is No. 1 on the list. So many directions the club could go, including a veteran who hasn’t been signed yet or acquired via trade.

However it shakes out, the Orioles are counting on their own mostly unproven cast to give them production over a full season. Not just in spurts or for a half. They need to pitch to their potential.

The bullpen
A logical jump after the rotation.

How many of the starter candidates trickle down to the ‘pen? Austin Voth should be one. DL Hall, Spenser Watkins, Bruce Zimmermann and Mike Baumann also are possibilities.

Hall and Tyler Wells could be in a separate category. The left-hander is developing as a starter but showed last September (and in one October game) that he can elevate a bullpen that already was surprisingly good. The former Rule 5 pick was the most consistent starter in the first half before the first of his two injuries, but maybe he gets squeezed from the rotation, at least temporarily, and goes back to getting big outs in relief.

Andrew Politi is trying to make the club as a Rule 5 selection. Keegan Akin and Joey Krehbiel are trying to make full recoveries from their second-half fades and again break camp with the team.    

Tate, Félix Bautista, Bryan Baker, Mychal Givens and Cionel Pérez are the locks.

Backup catcher
I’m kidding.

James McCann was acquired from the Mets to be the second catcher behind Adley Rutschman. The only competition among the group is who emerges as the main starter at Triple-A Norfolk – Anthony Bemboom, who’s the favorite, Mark Kolozsvary, Randy Florentino, Maverick Handley or somebody else.  

The first base backup
Ryan O’Hearn’s acceptance of an outright assignment to Triple-A after clearing waivers - a smart move considering that he agreed to a $1.4 million contract with the Royals to avoid arbitration - makes him a contender to fill in for Ryan Mountcastle. He fits the description of the left-handed bat that the Orioles wanted, and he also can play the corner outfield.

Lewin Díaz also can vie for the job if he actually clears waivers and doesn’t switch organizations again.

Carlos Correa looks at Díaz and thinks, “Man, this guy’s had a crazy offseason.”

Franchy Cordero and Josh Lester will be in camp, but the former is much more comfortable in the outfield.

Keep an eye on Anthony Santander’s workouts, or the articles detailing them if you can’t make it down to Sarasota. He’s going to take more ground balls at first. Same with Rutschman.

The bench
McCann and either Ramón Urías or Adam Frazier - depending on the lineup - are the only locks.

Ryan McKenna and Kyle Stowers could be extra outfielders. Terrin Vavra could make the club as an extra infielder who also can play the outfield.

O’Hearn, Díaz (if he’s in the organization), Cordero, Nomar Mazara, Daz Cameron, someone who hasn’t arrived yet …

Who makes the Final Four?

Obsessing over Grayson Rodriguez
Rutschman knows how it feels. Now, it’s Rodriguez’s turn.

Eyes in the clubhouse will burn holes through baseball’s No. 1 pitching prospect. The media will chronicle every detail of his mornings and afternoons. Which veterans appear to be mentoring him, how he’s handling the attention, how he looks in side sessions and in games. If he’s competing to make the team or just getting ready for his first season.

Oatmeal or cold cereal? Eggs scrambled or over easy?

This is important stuff.

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