How Stewart’s surgery impacts the outfield competition

Whether DJ Stewart is able to compete for a spot on the Orioles opening day roster is a closed matter. The microfracture procedure on his right ankle on Oct. 17 likely prevents him from returning to baseball activities until late in spring training and eliminates him from consideration.

A closed matter that opens a door.

No one roots for a teammate to sustain an injury or undergo surgery, but Stewart’s absence from camp drills and at least the early games increases someone else’s odds of heading north.

Is it Cedric Mullins, who could be blocked by Austin Hays from returning to center field?

Mullins could back up at all three outfield positions and perhaps seize one of the corner spots on a more regular basis depending on how the rest of the roster is constructed. He tumbled from the majors to Triple-A to Double-A this summer, but found his stroke in August and through the Eastern League playoffs.

The speed alone makes Mullins a valuable asset. More production at the plate than he showed this year and Stewart’s absence can thrust him back into the picture.

Dwight-Smith-Jr-Approaching-Ball-Black-Away-Sidebar.jpgIs it Dwight Smith Jr.?

Smith appeared in 101 games with the Orioles after they acquired him from the Blue Jays in spring training for international bonus slot money. Eighty-two starts in left field and seven as the designated hitter. His defensive preference was made obvious.

The play in left didn’t solidify his chances of making the opening day roster. There were some issues in tracking fly balls and with his throws. Baseball-Reference.com assigned Smith a minus-1.4 dWAR.

Smith hit five home runs in 12 exhibition games after joining the Orioles and he slashed .276/.325/.486 with seven doubles, five home runs and 19 RBIs in his first 27 regular season games.

The concussion suffered in June contributed to Smith’s stalled momentum and he finished the season batting .241/.297/.412 with 16 doubles, 13 home runs, 53 RBIs and a -0.9 WAR.

Is it Mason Williams?

The Orioles need to clear significant space on the 40-man roster and Williams sits on the bubble. But he batted .308/.371/.477 with 15 doubles, three triples, 18 home runs and 67 RBIs in 121 games with Triple-A Norfolk and earned his inclusion on the expanded September roster.

A knee injury ruined the rest of his audition and he finished with eight hits in 30 at-bats.

Williams could stay in the organization even if he comes off the 40-man, with the Orioles trying to re-sign him to a minor league deal.

Is it Stevie Wilkerson?

Manager Brandon Hyde would prefer to use Wilkerson in a super-utility role, if the former eighth-round pick out of Clemson University stays on the roster, instead of giving him most of the starts in center field. But Wilkerson’s ability to play the outfield really comes in handy with Stewart on the injured list.

Of course, a 26-man roster leaves room for an extra outfielder and lessens the need to force an infielder into a new position.

Is it Ryan Mountcastle?

No.

The Orioles will promote Mountcastle when they’re certain that he’s ready and have determined the best position for him, not simply to take the spot of an injured player.

This is all about Mountcastle - and perhaps when they want to start his service clock.

Is it Anthony Santander?

Better question: Would Stewart or anyone else really have any impact on Santander?

The Orioles seem prepared to keep Santander and make him a regular part of their lineup after he collected 20 doubles and 20 home runs in 93 games and was better defensively than advertised, leading the team with five outfield assists and showing no fear while chasing fly balls to the fence. He fits nicely in left or right field.

There’s just one less person trying to move him out of it.

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