SARASOTA, Fla. – The Orioles will hold their final spring training workout this morning at the Ed Smith Stadium complex and board their flight to Boston. They get a full off-day Wednesday and begin the playoff hunt the following afternoon.
Opening Day rosters must be set by noon Thursday and the Orioles aren’t ready to announce their final 26. Too much can happen between the waiver wire, opt-outs and possible trades.
The final bench and bullpen spots are getting further scrutiny. The optioning of Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall finally allowed Tyler Wells to settle into the rotation and made room for another reliever. But Danny Coulombe arrived from the Twins yesterday for cash considerations, a left-handed wrench tossed into the latest projections.
The roster as it stands now has 31 players with Rule 5 pick Andrew Politi on waivers, a move that the club hasn’t announced but a source confirmed.
The placement of John Means, Dillon Tate, Mychal Givens and James McCann on the injured list would make it 27.
Update: The Orioles announced that they selected Coulombe's contract and he's wearing No. 54. And that Politi was designated for assignment.
The starters are set with Wells, Kyle Gibson, Dean Kremer, Cole Irvin and Kyle Bradish. If the bullpen is holding Coulombe, Félix Bautista, Cionel Pérez, Bryan Baker, Keegan Akin, Austin Voth and Joey Krehbiel – these are my assumptions – the final spot could come down to Mike Baumann and Logan Gillaspie.
Baumann tossed 1 1/3 scoreless innings yesterday with two strikeouts and hasn’t allowed a run in five games in his new short relief role. Gillaspie worked seven innings in seven appearances this spring and permitted only an unearned run with three hits, two walks and 10 strikeouts.
The position players could be disturbed by a late acquisition, but right now they’re set up as catchers Adley Rutschman and Anthony Bemboom, unless McCann makes a rapid recovery from a sore oblique, infielders Ryan Mountcastle, Gunnar Henderson, Jorge Mateo, Adam Frazier, Ramón Urías and Terrin Vavra, and outfielders Anthony Santander, Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays, Kyle Stowers and Ryan McKenna.
None of the three left-handed hitting backup first base candidates survived. Ryan O’Hearn and Josh Lester were reassigned and Franchy Cordero was granted his release. O’Hearn homered yesterday in his final swing in camp. Cordero could circle back to the Orioles, who want him in the organization.
There’s a short window to reflect on camp before the media fixates on the regular season. For instance, some of the biggest surprises.
They’re bound to happen, but the bookending was weird.
On the first day of camp, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias told the gathered media that Tate would begin the season on the injured list with a forearm/flexor strain, which surfaced in November. He’s out until May.
Stunning news considering how he was expected to pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and talked about it at the Birdland Caravan.
We also learned that Bautista was questionable for Opening Day while undergoing treatment on his left knee and strengthening exercises on his right shoulder. And Hall would be brought along slowly due to lower-back soreness that he noticed about three weeks before arriving at the complex.
Joker, joker and the triple.
With the end of camp in sight, Givens experienced soreness in his left knee that kept him out of games since March 16, and McCann has been shelved for a week.
Two heavy doses of bad news. Two locks who lost their secure statuses.
In between were lesser health issues. Vavra and Lewin Díaz missed time with shoulder soreness, O’Hearn had some swelling in his knee, and Urías was scratched twice with a bruised right thumb. Díaz was reassigned before he could resume playing but had become a longer shot to make the club.
The backup first base competition was legit.
Díaz came out hot but was bypassed by Cordero, Lester and O’Hearn. The trio wouldn’t stop hitting.
It wasn’t just camp filler.
Cordero batted .413 with a 1.100 WHIP, four doubles, a triple, two home runs and nine RBIs in 18 games. Lester started out 1-for-12 and caught fire, finishing with a .291 average, .794 OPS, two doubles, two triples, a home run and 12 RBIs in 23 games. O’Hearn batted .375 with a 1.094 OPS, two doubles, three home runs, six RBIs and five walks in 18 games.
I can name springs when the Orioles would have carried all three.
How Vavra muscled up.
Known as a good contact hitter, which the Orioles really like that about him, Vavra arrived in camp stronger and kept driving the ball to the deepest part of the ballpark.
Vavra slashed .348/.392/.565 in 16 games with two doubles, a triple, two home runs and six RBIs. He posted two exit velocities in Dunedin that topped 100 mph.
The versatility also came into play. Vavra played the infield corners and the outfield. He earned his spot. Too strong, it appears, for anyone to wrestle it away.
Jordan Westburg stayed until the end.
The camp roster didn’t include the usual collection of borderline infield prospects and lower-tier guys. The construction was much different.
The 17 infielders included the first base candidates, with Curtis Terry also in the mix before he was reassigned and later released, and prospects Westbug, Connor Norby, Jackson Holliday, Joey Ortiz, Coby Mayo and César Prieto. The others were projected to make the club – Henderson, Mountcastle, Mateo, Frazier, Urías and Vavra.
Westburg outlasted the rest of the prospects after the Orioles chose him as their Minor League Player of the Year in 2022. He slashed .306/.368/.510 with five doubles, a triple, a home run and seven RBIs in 22 games. He also struck out 15 times in 49 at-bats, which tied Stowers and Colton Cowser for the team lead.
So what? He was one of the most impressive players in camp.
“I think Westy’s played really well,” manager Brandon Hyde said earlier this week. “I really like the way he goes about his business. It’s all business all the time. I like the energy with which he plays, the versatility. He’s played really well in three spots. He’s taken really good at-bats, especially over the course of the last couple weeks. He’s been in the lineup quite a bit, so he’s been facing quite a bit of major league pitching and taking good at-bats. So, I’m really excited about him going forward. I think he’s going to be a really good big league player.
“I like the way he can play all different spots around the field. Hadn’t seen a ton of him coming into camp this year, but the numbers in Double-A and Triple-A last year kind of speak for themselves. But just getting to know him a little bit more this year, he’s an easy guy to root for, and I like the way he goes about it.”
“He’s really close,” Elias said. “He’s had 400 plate appearances in Triple-A, he’s had this really good spring training now under his belt. He continues to open eyes. When we’ve viewed our big-time prospects to be ready - Adley, Gunnar - we bring them up, and so far, they’ve done pretty well, and a big part of it is because I feel like we know what we’re doing with these promotions. We want guys of this caliber to come up and stay up.”
Heston Kjerstad was a beast.
Yes, Kjerstad was the Most Valuable Player in the Arizona Fall League. Yes, he was the second-overall pick in the 2020 draft, is healthy and is beginning to take off. But I didn’t think he’d bat .381/.409/.810 and tie Hays and Rutschman for the club lead with four home runs.
I didn’t think he’d get into 23 games or lead the team in OPS.
The power is legit, too. Nothing exaggerated. He hits the ball hard and far.
Guess I had to see it up close and for an extended period.
Holliday manned up.
The birth certificate says he’s 19. The face could lower that number. But the muscular build and stats make him look like more than a kid.
I thought Holliday would be an early cut, but he stuck around for 16 games and went 6-for-14 with a double and four walks. He comes as advertised in the field, too.
Visitors to camp kept talking about him, couldn’t take their eyes off him.
And it wasn't just the great hair.
Not much left to say about the Orioles’ decision to option Rodriguez. It’s all here in yesterday’s story.
The Orioles thought it was Rodriguez’s time. He’d have to pitch his way off the team. And that’s what happened.
Rodriguez posted a 7.04 and 1.565 WHIP in five starts. The second time through the order kept tripping him.
His stay in Triple-A could be brief, but it wasn’t supposed to happen.