The reduction in rosters to 26 players and the possibility of manager Brandon Hyde carrying 14 pitchers really has tightened the utility competition at spring training.
A three-man bench with a backup catcher and extra outfielder probably would leave room only for Pat Valaika, who must be designated as the favorite after batting .277/.315/.475 with four doubles and eight home runs in 2020, playing six positions and signing for $875,000 in January to avoid arbitration.
A fourth reserve would allow Hyde to get more creative, and Ramón Urías to feel a little more encouraged.
Urías was selected off waivers from the Cardinals last February, made his major league debut on Aug. 22 with José Iglesias on the injured list, and went 9-for-25 (.360) with two doubles and a home run in 10 games. He made four starts at shortstop and two at second base, and started at third base yesterday against the Yankees.
“I’m going to play him both sides on the left side (of the infield) and second base, also,” Hyde said yesterday in his Zoom conference call.
“We haven’t taken a long look at him. We didn’t see him much at the end of the year last year. I thought he did a fine job filling in at the end at shortstop, but it’s a guy who can play multiple positions. I think he handles the bat well, I like the way he uses the opposite field and can do some things offensively. So we’re going to give him a lot of at-bats this spring training and try to get him to feel comfortable and play with some confidence.
“I just want to see him play more. I didn’t see him a whole lot last year.”
Urías went 1-for-2 with a single yesterday. His primary competition beyond Valaika might come from Stevie Wilkerson, who can play anywhere and started at first base yesterday with Chris Davis in the trainers’ room.
Richie Martin is rehabbing from hamate bone surgery. Jahmai Jones could be the starting second baseman at Triple-A Norfolk, though the Orioles will make a full evaluation as he moves between the infield and outfield. Rylan Bannon doesn’t appear to be an option at shortstop, which removes the utility tag, but he eventually could push Rio Ruiz off third base or share the position.
* Yusniel Diaz has been in the lineup twice in three games and both starts came in left field.
Don’t read too much into it. He’s going to play center and right, as well.
Diaz homered Sunday and struck out three times yesterday - because it’s baseball. He’s going to begin the 2021 season with Norfolk after spending last summer at the alternate camp site.
“They were impressed with his progress last year,” Hyde said. “I just think D needs at-bats. He’s got big-time tools, he’s got power to all fields. Now it’s just being a little bit more of a complete hitter, a little bit more consistent, being able to work counts, strike zone judgment. They worked on that.
“I like the way he can play defense. He can play three spots in the outfield. I know he loves to play center field, but he can play both corners, as well. I think it’s about time with Diaz and at-bats and consistency.”
* You’re going to start noticing that pitching prospect Michael Baumann is referred to as “Mike” this season.
He’ll answer to either name, but said the less-formal version is fine.
There seems to be at least one change each spring. Mike Wright Jr., Travis Lakins Sr., Stevie Wilkerson, Christopher Lee, etc.
Baumann, 25, was shut down at the alternate camp site with a right flexor strain. He says he feels “strong” and “powerful” as he waits to make his spring debut.
“After the MRI and diagnosing what was going on, just took a lot of rest, continued to work out what I could without gripping and doing some upper body,” he said. “After resting up until about the beginning of December, that’s when I could start throwing again. So I’ve been slowly progressing up until spring training and now we’re just getting going.”
Baumann split 2019 between Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie and posted a 2.98 ERA and 1.048 WHIP in 24 games. He’s averaged 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
* On this date in 2018, the Orioles signed Danny Valencia to a minor league contract.
And his hair was perfect.
Valencia hasn’t played in the majors since the 2018 season, his second stint with the Orioles. He’s a career .312/.370/.494 hitter against left-handers.
On this date in 2013, the Orioles signed free agent pitchers Cesar Medina, Yeraldo Fermin and Inocencio Heredia to minor league contracts.
I’m here to tell you, if you remember Medina, Fermin and Heredia, I’m handing over the keys to this blog.