The Orioles don’t know whether their spring training complex in Sarasota will be open and stay that way for spring training 2021. The world could throw them another curve, if it ever straightens out.
Playing on the assumption that the team will reconvene at the Ed Smith Stadium complex, manager Brandon Hyde can resume a task that’s likely to have been started in the offseason.
How to make an excess of outfielders fit on an active roster.
He won’t work alone, of course. Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias is providing Hyde with the options. Whether he’s keeping players or trying to move them in exchange for pieces to the rebuild puzzle.
For the sake of this exercise, let’s consider the best/worst case scenario, which is having too many outfielders. A good problem, but a problem nonetheless.
The Orioles again used Ryan Mountcastle in left, Cedric Mullins in center and DJ “Babe” Stewart in right for both ends of the doubleheader. Austin Hays is trying to get at-bats in simulated games between raindrops at the alternate camp site. He’s expected to return next week. Anthony Santander will be healed before the first frost. Trey Mancini will complete his chemotherapy treatments on Sept. 21 and already has mapped out a workout plan in order to be full-go in Sarasota.
Losing the minor league season likely has denied Yusniel Diaz a chance at his major league debut this year, but the reports on his at-bats at the secondary site are glowing. They could replace the light towers at Prince George’s Stadium.
A reasonable plan would be to start Diaz at Triple-A Norfolk and recall him later in the summer. Exactly what Elias wanted to do this year. But where to put him?
Ryan McKenna was a late addition to the secondary camp and got a taste of major league life, or at least the 2020 version of it, on the taxi squad. He tends to get overlooked, but the Orioles didn’t want to risk losing him in the 2019 Rule 5 draft and protected him along with Mountcastle and pitchers Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer.
But where to put him?
If Mountcastle shows up at first base, it’s going to be on a limited basis. He’s a left fielder now and handling the position as if he’s been playing it for years. And forget about third base. It isn’t part of the discussion.
Mancini is a natural first baseman who should be praised for adapting to the outfield corners. It took a lot of hard work, including daily sessions with former executive Brady Anderson and first base coach/outfield instructor Wayne Kirby on the back fields at the spring complex. But he can be penciled in at first base only if Chris Davis is on the bench or out of the organization.
The designated hitter spot allows Hyde to fit an extra outfielder in the lineup, but only if Renato Núñez is at first base or out of the organization. The Orioles appreciate his power in all of its streaky glory, but he’s limited in the field and a potential trade chip over the winter unless Elias strongly believes that he’s an important component of the rebuild.
Núñez is eligible for arbitration over the winter after having his salary set at $578,000 this year. A team in need of a power bat and sold on his ability to play the infield corners could find him available.
That’s still a lot of outfielders in camp for a limited number of spots. But unless you wax nostalgic for infielders playing the outfield, this is a predicament that fans should relish as the Orioles seek to increase their level of talent and create a surplus.
Plus, it isn’t your problem. Let Elias and Hyde deal with it.
“I look at it as a good problem to have,” Hyde said.
“I don’t think you could ever have enough talent. So many things happen.”
Mountcastle, Mullins and Stewart had multiple hits Wednesday night by the third inning. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Orioles hadn’t seen it done by their starting outfield since B.J. Surhoff, Anderson and Albert Belle in a 16-5 victory over the Rangers on May 16, 1999 in Arlington. They did it by the second inning.
“I’ve been so impressed with those three guys, the way all three of them have been swinging the bat,” Hyde said. “Obviously, we lost Santander, who was having a great season and a huge run producer for us. That’s a big loss, and looking forward to having him back next spring. And obviously Trey, can’t wait to see him again and look forward to being back with him. And we’re excited about the young guys, too - McKenna and Diaz and the potential they have.
“The more talent you have, the better, and looking forward to watching these guys as they mature into major league players.”