With spring training set to start in about two months - if it does start on time - the Orioles have a host of questions without answers and issues to address.
Nothing new here. Baseball rosters are always changing and few teams have most of their key questions resolved before Christmas in any given year.
So here are a few O’s questions out there where we wait on answers.
Who plays shortstop?: After the trade of José Iglesias, the Orioles have a bit of a hole in an infield in transition. Second baseman Hanser Alberto was non-tendered, first baseman/designated hitter Renato Núñez was released, Iglesias was traded and third baseman Rio Ruiz struggled, especially late in 2020.
Núñez made 28 starts last year to lead all players among first basemen. Alberto led with 48 starts at second and Iglesias did so with 22 at short, while Ruiz topped the list of starters at third base with 50. Of this group, only Ruiz may make some starts at that spot next year.
Iglesias made only the 22 starts at short, but the Orioles played .500 ball (11-11) in those games. Iglesias played strong defense when he was on the field and hit .373/.400/.556 despite being in just the 12th percentile in average exit velocity. He was not always crushing the ball, but it was finding grass and he led the club in Wins Above Replacement at 1.6, per Fangraphs.com. He led the club in expected batting average at .359.
All of Birdland is anxious to see how the club tries to replace that.
A lot of options are in play. They include adding a free agent, trading for a player or signing someone that has previously been used at several positions and giving him the shot to settle in at short. They could platoon and/or give several players a shot. The option that doesn’t seem at the top of the list right now is finding their shortstop in house. General manager Mike Elias has indicated several times now that he’s going to add a player or players to play short.
Will it be one guy to take over for Iglesias or several that rotate in and out? Stay tuned for more.
How will Trey Mancini do?: Every update and every report on Mancini’s return from colon cancer has been glowingly positive. No setbacks, no issues, no concerns right now. Great news.
What we don’t know - and can’t know until he is faced with the rigors of a long season - is how will his body handle that. Will stamina be an issue as the year goes on?
For now, the Orioles are just delighted to know they are getting a middle-of-the-order hitter back and can’t wait to group him with the likes of Anthony Santander and Ryan Mountcastle in the heart of the order.
“There is no reason for me to believe if spring training started tomorrow, that I wouldn’t be ready to go. Because I would,” Mancini said during a November update with O’s media. “When I get there in February, I really think everyone will look at me and not think anything happened, if they didn’t know what happened. All my attention is turned back toward baseball.”
Yep, all great news so far on this front.
Will the young players look good again?: Something that was a bit unusual for baseball happened with the Orioles last year. Most of the young players that arrived in the majors for the first time had instant success. They didn’t struggle; in fact, the opposite happened. They thrived.
Over 35 games and 140 plate appearances, Mountcastle batted .333/.386/.492 with five doubles, five homers, 23 RBIs and an OPS of .878 for the Orioles in 2020. His OPS+ of 140 was 40 percent better than league average. Starting pitchers Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer pitched well and looked like they could become key members of the rotation.
Some of the holdovers got better, some much better, like lefty bullpen guy Tanner Scott. Dillon Tate and Hunter Harvey flashed their first-round talent. Santander was the Most Valuable Oriole. A young nucleus is being formed and that is very encouraging.
But will some of the young players take steps back? It happens. It won’t mean they are not what we thought they were, but young players usually have plenty of ups and downs on the way to becoming key players and/or stars.
Those are a few questions that Birdland must be thinking about as the 2021 season approaches. Any thoughts on these three topics or other questions to add to the list?