As the Orioles gather in Sarasota, Fla., to prepare for the 2016 season, here's a look at 15 questions for the club in spring training.
1. Who Will Play Themselves Onto The Opening Day Roster?
Nearly every spring, it seems there's at least one previously unheralded player who puts up such a dazzling Grapefruit League performance that he wins a spot on the Opening Day roster. In 2015, it was Jimmy Paredes, who went 20-for-55 (.364) and tied the team lead with 12 RBIs in spring training, convincing the O's to make room for him on the team after camp broke. Will anyone do the same in 2016?
2. Is Chris Davis Well Stocked On Household Supplies?
Manager Buck Showalter wasn't a fan of Davis' drawn-out contract negotiations this winter, saying, "Chris, when you walk into a Target store, can you buy anything you want? So how much is enough?" Now with a $161 million extension under his belt, Davis is all set for his next trip to Target. He could buy 11.5 million packs of socks, 42 million four-packs of AA batteries or about 248 million rolls of toilet paper (the ultra-soft kind).
3. Will Christian Walker And Trey Mancini Borrow Some Outfield Gloves?
Perhaps the two players most affected by Davis' return to the Orioles are first base prospects Walker and Mancini, who have seen their path to the majors -- at least at their preferred position -- blocked for the long term. If Walker and Mancini hope to contribute in the bigs for the Birds, it's in their best interests to become more versatile defensively. Spring training might be the time for the duo to experiment elsewhere on the diamond.
4. Will The Orioles Pull Off Any Last-Minute Acquisitions At Camp?
Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has been known to wait until spring training to finish building the Birds' roster. In 2014, he signed two high-profile free agents -- right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez and outfielder Nelson Cruz -- during the last two weeks of February, after the rest of the team had already reported to camp. Don't put it past Duquette to look for a similar last-minute acquisition this year if he can find good value on the free-agent or trade market.
5. Which Spring Training Clichés Will Fans Hear The Most?
With each new spring comes a chance for players and coaches to fill reporters' notebooks with well-worn baseball platitudes. Arriving players will proudly claim, "I'm in the best shape of my life." Pitchers will rave about a strong outing, saying, "The ball was coming out of my hand good," or brush off a poor performance with, "I'm just working on some things." Yes, cliché-spouting is a tradition as familiar as baseball itself.
6. Which Newcomers Will Make A Favorable First Impression?
For players who are new to the Orioles, spring training represents their first chance to show the coaches what they're made of -- and to put themselves on the organization's radar screen. In 2015, non-roster right-hander Chaz Roe's preparation and professionalism in spring struck a chord with Showalter, and even though Roe didn't break camp with the team, he ended up spending most of the season in the majors.
7. How Will Chris Tillman And Miguel Gonzalez Look?
The 2015 Orioles were torpedoed by their struggling starting rotation, so in 2016 they're relying on their holdover starters to step up their game. The two biggest bounce-back candidates are right-handers Tillman and Gonzalez, who -- after combining for a 68-37 record and 3.44 ERA from 2012-14 -- were 20-23 with a 4.96 ERA in 2015. A solid spring performance from both could help O's fans feel a bit more optimistic.
8. Will The Orioles Get Sick Of Playing The Minnesota Twins?
The Orioles' Grapefruit League schedule is filled with teams close to the Birds' Sarasota home. The Twins, who train in nearby Fort Myers, Fla., are the Orioles' most frequent opponent this spring, with six games. The Birds have some unfinished business with the Twins, who won all seven games of the 2015 regular-season series, including a crushing sweep in Baltimore in August that sent the O's into a 1-12 tailspin. And when the Orioles wrap up camp and open the regular season April 4, their first opponent will be -- you guessed it -- the Twins.
9. How Will Hyun-Soo Kim Adjust To Life In The U.S.?
The 28-year-old Kim, whom the Orioles signed Dec. 23, is coming to the United States after spending the first 10 seasons of his career in the Korean Baseball Organization. There isn't a long track record of KBO position players jumping to the majors, so it remains to be seen how Kim's impressive overseas statistics will translate to MLB. The outfielder will also be trying to adapt to a new country and culture. The O's will be keeping an eye on how well he gets acclimated during spring training.
10. Will The Orioles' Spring Training Record Have Any Bearing On The Regular Season?
Some fans think a team that performs poorly in Grapefruit League play is destined for a rough year, while a winning spring record foretells of regular-season success. Recent history hasn't supported this theory, though. The Orioles' 11-13 spring record in 2012 gave no indication they would explode for a 93-69 regular season, just as their 2013 Grapefruit League championship didn't translate into a regular-season postseason spot. Many spring games are decided by minor leaguers or non-roster invitees, so Grapefruit League records usually don't mean much.
11. Will Another Rule 5 Draftee Stick With The Orioles?
Few teams have used the Rule 5 draft more aggressively than the Orioles of late. During three of the past four seasons, the O's have kept a Rule 5 pick on the roster all year long. Their latest such draftee is outfielder Joey Rickard, whom the Birds selected from the Tampa Bay organization. The O's are sure to give him a long look, and they'll do everything they can to keep him on the roster. But if he looks overmatched in spring training, they may simply decide to cut bait.
12. Will Matt Wieters Find Spring Training More Enjoyable Than Last Year?
At camp in 2015, Wieters -- who was about eight months removed from Tommy John surgery -- was severely restricted in his spring activities. He started just one game behind the plate, and he was also rusty offensively, going 0-for-23. His uninspiring spring made it clear his elbow wasn't ready, and he started the season on the disabled list. This year, Wieters is completely healthy and should be full-go for camp.
13. Which Out-Of-Options Players Are In Danger Of Missing The Cut?
The Orioles usually have some tough decisions to make at the end of camp, especially when deciding which out-of-options players to risk exposing to waivers. This year, Paredes and Roe are two such players who might be vulnerable to a roster crunch. Other out-of-options players include outfielder Nolan Reimold and right-hander Dylan Bundy, but both figure to have roster spots well in hand, barring injury.
14. Can The Orioles Avoid Any Major Injuries?
While the O's will have plenty of things to pay attention to during spring training, ultimately they have one main goal: make sure everyone survives in one piece. They weren't so lucky in 2015, when shortstop J.J. Hardy suffered a torn labrum during the final week of Grapefruit League play, an injury that plagued him all season. The Birds will consider spring a victory if they avoid any such health issues this year.
15. How Long Until Everyone Starts Itching For Meaningful Baseball?
Let's face it. As much fun as spring training is at the start, it usually only takes a couple of weeks before players and fans are anxious to put the exhibition games aside and get the regular season started. A jam-packed Grapefruit League schedule of 33 spring games in 32 days may start to wear thin on the Orioles. They'll be counting the days until April 4.