How close are the Orioles to having the 25 players they’ll take north? I’d say pretty close.
I’ll pick 24 players that I think will run down the orange carpet on March 31. I’ll cop out on the 25th because I think it will be another starting pitcher who’s not yet signed.
Barring injuries, the top four starters are Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris. Chen had knee surgery right after the season, and his progress will be an intriguing question during spring training.
Kevin Gausman who should be a mainstay in the rotation for some years, will probably start the season at Norfolk.
And, I think the fifth starter will be a player who’s signed between now and the opening of spring training on Feb. 13.
If the Orioles don’t sign another closer, and it’s looking doubtful they will, Tommy Hunter should start the season in Jim Johnson’s old role. He’ll be backed up by Darren O’Day, Ryan Webb and Brian Matusz.
With Troy Patton gone for the first 25 games due to a suspension, I would guess the other three relievers will be Zach Britton, Steve Johnson and Josh Stinson.
Britton would be a second left-hander in addition to Matusz. He’s out of options, and while he could be the fifth starter, Britton could prove his value as a reliever.
Stinson pitched very well in September and could be the most versatile pitcher in the pen. Last year, Johnson had a troubled season due to injuries and ineffectiveness, and he could beat out a host of others for the 12th spot.
If Johnson isn’t the choice, Brad Brach, Kelvin De La Cruz, Edgmer Escalona and Chris Jones could sneak onto the roster.
T.J. McFarland is probably headed to Norfolk where he can start and help the team later on in a variety of roles.
The skirmish for Matt Wieters’ backup will be another interesting spring training storyline. Steve Clevenger seems to have the advantage for now.
Johnny Monell, acquired from the Giants last month, will challenge Clevenger. Both are left-handed hitters. If he doesn’t win the job, Monell and David Freitas, picked up in the Johnson trade from Oakland, could be Norfolk’s catchers.
The infield looks set with Chris Davis, Ryan Flaherty, J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado. Once the Orioles didn’t re-sign Brian Roberts or aggressively pursue free agents at second, Flaherty got the advantage at second. It looks as if the Orioles would prefer Jonathan Schoop get more second base experience at Norfolk.
Alexi Casilla’s return gives him the edge for the utility infield job. Casilla plays mostly second and short, and Flaherty could move over to third if Machado isn’t ready to start the season.
That leaves six spots for outfielders and designated hitters. Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and most likely David Lough are the starters in right, center and left.
Delmon Young’s addition as a right-handed DH leaves two openings.
If he’s healthy, Nolan Reimold should get one of them. If he’s not, Steve Pearce would probably slide in to that spot.
Lough is a left-handed hitter, and the Orioles would probably want a second left-hander who could DH. Henry Urrutia is probably the favorite for now.
Urrutia will continue to work on his outfield play, but he’ll be looked on as the DH. The Orioles have a host of other outfield candidates: Francisco Peguero, Quintin Berry, Julio Borbon, Xavier Paul, and perhaps Jack Cust, who’s having an audition at the team’s minicamp in Sarasota today.
Peguero is on the 40-man roster and is a right-handed hitter. The others are not on the 40 and all are left-handers.
The guess is that Urrutia gets the final outfield/DH spot.
Berry could see time in Baltimore during the season, but it’s hard to see manager Buck Showalter wanting to take a pinch-running specialist north.
It’s also hard seeing Rule 5 draft pick Michael Almanzar making the club, especially with Young’s signing.
Even though Jemile Weeks is on the 40-man roster, it’s difficult to see him beating out Casilla for the utility spot.
Before, and even during spring training, other names will pop into the mix.