5 Sarasota Stories to Watch this Spring Training

empty baseball field with sun rising
photo: O's PR Director Kristen Hudak

It has been a relatively warm winter in Baltimore, but a long one nonetheless if you’re a fan of the Baltimore Orioles. The lasting image that has stuck with us throughout the last few months has been Ubaldo Jimenez giving up the walk-off home run to Edwin Encarnacion in the American League Wild Card game.

Finally, we can start to put that behind us. The boys are in Sarasota as pitchers and catchers get back to work for the first days of Spring Training.

There are not a lot of changes to the roster as the Orioles enter Spring Training. It was a typical offseason under Dan Duquette with few moves made other than the Yovani GallardoSeth Smith deal and Mark Trumbo re-signing. Otherwise, it was another winter of minor moves to acquire depth throughout the organization.

The “experts” are once again doubting the Orioles. The national media is still not fond of the rotation. They believe the O’s are too reliant on the home run and have made no moves to better themselves. Say what they want, Buck Showalter will enter Spring Training with a roster that is capable of making it back to the playoffs.

There is plenty to watch for before the 25-man roster takes the field on April 3 for Opening Day. Here are five storylines to keep an eye on as Spring Training unfolds:

 

Rule 5 Players

Jason Garcia runs in Sarasota.

Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Photo

Duquette and Showalter have a history of finding room on the roster for players selected in the Rule 5 draft. Ryan Flaherty, T.J. McFarland, Jason Garcia and Joey Rickard have all made the Opening Day roster.

That will be a more difficult task this season. The Orioles selected two outfielders in the draft – Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander – who will have an uphill fight to make the club because of the numbers in the outfield.

Tavarez is a 24-year-old speedster that the O’s outfield is missing. He could get an extended look as a leadoff hitter after posting an on-base percentage of .374 and stealing 20 bases in Boston’s minor league system last season. Adam Jones has been vocal about adding more athleticism to the outfield, and Tavarez could turn out to be that player.

There is a good chance Santander sticks around in the early part of the regular season as he recovers from surgery on his throwing shoulder. The O’s will be able to stash him on the disabled list, but eventually, they’ll have to make a decision.

Each will have a difficult time of sticking around unless they can quickly carve themselves out a defined role. Unfortunately for both, there are plenty of other players battling for those final roster spots as well. Speaking of…

 

Fringe Players Battling for Roster Spots

Trey Mancini jogs in.

Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Photo

Now that they have brought back Trumbo and made the move for Smith, the starting lineup looks to be mostly set. The reigning home run leader is expected to be the primary designated hitter against right-handers, while Smith would man left field.

Smith will likely not be in the lineup against lefties, and for much of the offseason, it has been assumed that Trey Mancini would get the first crack at taking those at bats. Mancini hit three home runs in five games in September, but it is still unknown if he can be consistently effective in the Majors. He also does not have a primary position to play, with Chris Davis being locked in at first base.

Speaking of the outfield, there are nine outfielders on the 40-man entering the Spring Training. Hyun-Soo Kim enters his second season with the O’s, but his potential against lefties is still unclear. Rickard is the early favorite to land the role as the primary backup. Mancini and Christian Walker are hoping to show they can play the corner outfield as well. Add in the two Rule 5 picks and Dariel Alvarez, giving Buck plenty of options to choose from.

While most of the bullpen is set, there will be a battle over who wins the long reliever role with Vance Worley no longer with the team. Showalter will have plenty of options to choose from between recently acquired Gabriel Ynoa, McFarland, Logan Verrett and a handful of other pitchers. Maybe there is another dark horse that becomes a significant part of the bullpen.

How the starting rotation plays out could have a long way of determining that…

 

Back End of Starting Rotation

Tyler Wilson pitches during Spring Training.

Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Photo

While the Orioles do not have that bonafide ace, they will enter Spring Training with plenty of potential starters. What we will find out over the next month and a half is whether someone wins or loses a role as a starter.

Many were shocked when the team let Miguel Gonzalez go after a disastrous Spring Training last season. That opened the door for Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright to make the rotation with Kevin Gausman on the DL. As I have previously written, should Jimenez or Wade Miley have a similar a similar spring, they could get the same treatment.

Plenty of youngsters will get a long look as starters, including the aforementioned Ynoa, Verrett, Wilson and Wright. Chris Lee and Joe Gunkel are also hoping to impress Showalter. Buck needs to have a plan ready in the event injury becomes a factor or a veteran is struggling.

Showalter does not need a fifth starter for much of the first month of the season because of scheduled off days, which could play a factor in many of his roster decisions. While it would be a shock to see one of the young arms win the job over a veteran, it will ultimately come down to has the best stuff come April.

 

Lineup Changes

Hyun-soo Kim prepares to hit.

Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Photo

I’ve already touched on how the lineup will change for Trumbo, Smith and Mancini based on the opposing team’s starter. While that has been a hot topic for much of the offseason, Buck has plenty of other concerns with his lineup.

His top objective of the offseason will be to figure out who will bat leadoff. Adam Jones filled that role for most of last season, but Showalter would like to get him back to somewhere in the middle of the lineup. Kim will have the first crack at the job, but he is not your prototypical leadoff hitter. He is a lot like Nick Markakis: he will hit a ton of singles, but is not a threat on base paths.

Showalter will also have to figure out where to place his catcher in the lineup. Matt Wieters gave the O’s a switch hitter that could be moved up and down the order. Now, they have Caleb Joseph, coming off a fluke season in which he did not record a single RBI, and Welington Castillo. They will likely be placed somewhere in the 7-9 range, based on performance.

Showalter is going to experiment with a lot of different lineups. That’s because many of his star players will miss a good portion of Spring Training due to the World Baseball Classic.

 

World Baseball Classic

There is a certain pride that comes with wearing a national team uniform. Regardless whether the games truly matter or not, we want to see our county win. However, clubs are not too excited about their players missing extensive time during the spring.

The Orioles will send five players to the WBC: Adam Jones (USA), Michael Givens (USA), Welington Castillo (Dominican Republic), Manny Machado (Dominican Republic) and Jonathan Schoop (Netherlands). Team USA and the Dominican Republic are two favorites entering the tournament so it could be some time before they return to the Orioles.

Castillo’s absence will be the most scrutinized as he will have little time to get acclimated with the O’s pitching staff. The other concern with these games is the risk of injury while playing exhibition games. Losing any of the five players at the WBC would be a huge blow to the Orioles.

There will be plenty keep an eye on as Spring Training plays out. We are sure to see players who not only impress, but disappoint as well. There is a lot that can change over the next two months. What makes the fan happy is that baseball is finally back and we can start the countdown to meaningful games.

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About Joe Serpico

Joe learned his journalistic ways in the halls of Annenberg and McGonigle en route to becoming Temple Made. He was a Temple News contributor, and the lead reporter for the 2011 NCAA Women's Basketball Championship. A die-hard Philadelphia sports fan, Joe has suffered through many years of letdowns by his...more

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