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O’s Could be in a Jam Against Lefties

Chris Davis in the batter's box.
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With little flexibility on bench, O’s may be limited against southpaws.

When putting together a projected Orioles opening day lineup and roster earlier this spring, it was a little easier for me to picture what the Orioles would do for the majority of their games to start this season. That is to say, what they would do in games against right-handed starting pitchers.

You may picture things a bit differently, but this is how I have felt things will shake out thus far.

  1. Austin Hays – CF – R (or Cedric Mullins – CF – L)
  2. Trey Mancini – 1B – R
  3. Anthony Santander – RF – S
  4. Ryan Mountcastle – LF – R
  5. DJ Stewart – DH – L
  6. Pedro Severino – C – R
  7. Freddy Galvis – SS – S
  8. Rio Ruiz – 3B – L
  9. Yolmer Sanchez – 2B – S

With this projected lineup, the four-man bench would feature first baseman Chris Davis, catcher Chance Sisco, infielder Pat Valaika and either Mullins or Hays as the reserve outfielder (obviously whoever isn’t starting).

Another lineup option could feature both Mullins and Hays in the outfield with Mountcastle taking at-bats as the designated hitter, thus moving Stewart to the bench.

This is all going along with my assumption that the Orioles will break camp with 13 position players and 13 pitchers to fill out the 26-man roster.

But if these are the 13 players the O’s decide to run with, how would Brandon Hyde pencil his lineup in against left-handers?

The easy answer here is that Valaika slides in at third base, moving Ruiz to the pine. But would you keep Stewart in as the designated hitter against the lefty?

Hyde may have to. And maybe he wants to give DJ at-bats no matter what arm the pitcher throws with, just to finally give him a good look as an everyday guy in the lineup. But ideally, I would think the manager would want an appealing right-handed hitting option to platoon with Stewart.

There are some right-handed hitting options who are fighting for roster spots this spring. That list includes infielders Ramon Urias, Rylan Bannon, Richie Martin, Tyler Nevin, and Jahmai Jones, and outfielders Yusniel Diaz and Ryan McKenna. However, I’m sure the Orioles would prefer some of those guyss to get some more seasoning in the minors.

But for the sake of this exercise, let’s run through some possibilities.

Urias, Bannon or Martin would give the Orioles an extra infield option on the bench, and any of them could slide in Ruiz’s spot against lefties while letting Valaika either become the designated hitter or play some first base to give Mancini some DH reps. Martin seems the least likely of the three, as he still has yet to make an appearance in a game this spring after undergoing hamate bone surgery on his left hand prior to camp.

Jones reached the big leagues with the Los Angeles Angels for three games last season. He would provide an option at second base and all three outfield spots. You could either start him at second against southpaws and move Sanchez to third with Valaika becoming the designated hitter, or start Jones in left field and give Mountcastle some time in a DH role.

Nevin, Diaz and McKenna will likely do all they can to push for a spot, but with none of them sporting any experience above Double-A, the O’s will likely want them to start the 2021 season in Triple-A Norfolk.

These all sound at least somewhat intriguing, but there’s one problem with adding any of them.

Who gets taken off the projected roster?

Hyde is not going to take off one of Mullins or Hays, who are battling for the starting center-field job. He can’t remove Sisco, the backup catcher. If he leaves out Valaika, that’s defeating the purpose of trying to find another right-handed hitter to start against lefties.

There would only be three possibilities.

Ruiz is one option, which would then eliminate the platoon that would involve him. Instead, the club would carry one of Urias or Bannon to assume full-time duties in the infield. There’s always the chance of this happening, but I’d argue those odds are slim to start the year.

Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports

Another move would be to remove Stewart, who is not only fighting for reps in the lineup, but also for a spot on the roster. But I’d like to think the Orioles would give the former first-round pick one more shot at proving he can stick in the majors prior to the looming promotion of Diaz, one of the top outfield prospects in the organization, who will likely get his feet wet in Triple-A Norfolk before getting his call. By optioning Stewart, the Oriolesin would essentially run with my alternative lineup option against right-handers: starting both Hays and Mullins in the outfield and sliding Mountcastle into the designated hitter’s role.

The last option is Davis. The veteran first baseman signed a seven-year, $161 million contract following the 2015 season. We won’t get into it here, but you all know how those particular results have panned out.

I haven’t had much of an issue with the Orioles continuing to carry Davis on the roster. In the beginning stages of the rebuild, he wasn’t really blocking anyone in Norfolk from making a jump to the big leagues. He has spent most of his time out of the lineup over the last couple years with the occasional start. Regardless, there haven’t been any household names who he was stealing a roster spot from.

Times are a little bit different heading into this season. Now I’m not saying Urias, Bannon or Jones are top-notch prospects with Mike Trout futures ahead of them. But they’re young right-handed hitters hoping for an opportunity, and each could issue some level of service against left-handed pitchers, something a struggling, left-handed hitting Davis likely won’t provide.

I’m not one to advocate for any player to be designated for assignment or released. I won’t be one rooting for anyone to lose their job, no matter how much money the individual makes. But I will say this: If there was a time for Davis to be the odd man out, I feel like we’re approaching that time. It doesn’t seem probable that it will happen, as the Orioles may decide to ride the rest of Davis’ contract out, but it would be the most effective way to add another bat to the roster without taking away someone else’s attractive baseball qualities.

There are multiple ways manager Brandon Hyde can make an intriguing lineup against right-handed pitchers. Unless he wants to give Stewart an opportunity as the everyday designated hitter, though, he’s going to have to get creative against southpaws. If he wants one of Urias, Bannon or Jones on the opening day roster, a tough decision will have to be made with likely either Stewart, Ruiz or Davis, barring any injuries as camp progresses.

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