It’s been coming for a few years. The Orioles are building some nice outfield depth. Will there be room for everyone? Will this position provide a surplus eventually they may trade from?
Let’s look at the eight players listed as outfielders on the 40-man roster.
Trey Mancini: The Orioles are thrilled he’s under team control for three more years. At some point, maybe after 2020, they could look to sign him long-term. He was the 2019 Most Valuable Oriole when he hit .291/.364/.535 with 35 homers, 97 RBIs and an OPS of .899. He became the 10th different player in Orioles history to record a season with at least 30 doubles, 30 home runs and 100 runs scored.
The Orioles think he may have an even higher gear on offense and manager Brandon Hyde has encouraged him to look to drive the ball even more. Never completely satisfied, Mancini also talked late last year about taking on a more vocal leadership role.
“I’m definitely more a lead-by-example type,” Mancini said during the late September Toronto series. “I’ll say some things if I really need to. But moving forward, I think I can take on more of a vocal role. I did that before, in high school my senior year. Same thing my junior year in college. I’ve done it before. Obviously, this is a much bigger stage than that, but I do have experience doing that, and I’m not afraid to be a little more vocal. That is my goal, really, going into next year, to try to develop in that role.”
Austin Hays: Thumb and hamstring injuries limited him to 87 games on the farm and a line of .248/.299/.464. But his September run with the Orioles was pretty special. In 75 plate appearances over 21 games, he hit .309/.373/.574 with six doubles, four homers and 13 RBIs. He recorded two steals and a .947 OPS.
He played with a reckless abandon that his manager loved and is essentially an example for the rest of the clubhouse. Attack the game. He does and brings tools for offense and defense. The center field job is his to lose.
Anthony Santander: It took a while, but the player taken in the 2016 Rule 5 draft now looks like an everyday player that bats in the middle of the order. Santander hit .261/.297/.476 with 20 doubles, 20 homers, 59 RBIs and an OPS of .773. He slumped late in the year, hitting .155 in September, and went 1-for-23 to end his year. But in early September, he was batting .292 with an OPS of .854. He consistently hit the ball hard and looked improved on defense. The club has to be intrigued to see more.
DJ Stewart: The club’s top draft pick in 2015 underwent ankle surgery in October and won’t be ready for opening day. It’s not known yet how long it will take him to ramp up. While he put up big numbers at Triple-A in 2019, he hit .238 with the Orioles and has a .744 career big league OPS in 189 plate appearances.
The Orioles may not yet be sure what they have here. He’s got some speed and some pop and he’s held his own defensively on the farm. Does that add up to well-rounded tools to enhance his career or mean he doesn’t have one tool strong enough to carry him?
Dwight Smith Jr.: A concussion and other injuries kind of derailed his 2019 season after he got off to a good start. After the O’s acquired him late in spring, he seemed to homer every spring training game. But his numbers overall were not great at .241/.297/.412. He seemed to love being an Oriole, but is going to have to play his way back into a more prominent role with the club. The emergence of Santander and Hays pushed him down the depth chart.
Cedric Mullins: He’s trying to be the comeback kid in 2020. He was the player brought up to play center field that led to Adam Jones moving to right field. But Mullins’ stay as O’s starter in center lasted just 22 games last year. He had quite the fall, from Triple-A Norfolk down to Double-A Bowie. But it was there where he began to look like the Mullins that was O’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2018. For the Baysox, he hit .271/.341/.402 with 35 runs and 20 steals in 23 tries over 51 games. Then he was solid in the playoffs. But after entering last spring atop the depth chart, he’s now got some work to do.
Stevie Wilkerson: It’s almost not fair to list him as an outfielder since he was drafted as an infielder and has spent so much time on the dirt in his career. He does have some skills the club would want in a utility player in the ability to switch-hit, run well and play several positions. That may be how he has to win a roster spot when the club heads to Sarasota. He also still has part-time closer on his resume.
Ryan McKenna: Added to the 40-man in November, he hit just .232/.321/.365 at Double-A but was a key run scorer for Bowie with 78 along with 25 steals. The O’s see tools they like or they wouldn’t have added him. But he’s hit under .240 twice at Bowie since posting that remarkable .377 average when starting 2018 at Single-A Frederick. He’s always been on the radar and now he’s on the 40-man, so his day could be coming.
The Orioles also re-signed outfielder Mason Williams (who is out of options) and Yusniel Diaz is still very much in the picture. That is a list of 10 outfielders to contend for playing time in 2020 in addition to some players they like at lower levels.
So the club has some nice outfield depth in the organization as the new season gets closer.