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Three Observations From Orioles Spring Training

March 20, 2017
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Stan "The Fan" Charles checks in from spring training with three observations.

Kevin Gausman's Ascent To Elite Status

With right-hander Chris Tillman out and no exact timetable for his return, the nerves seem a bit frayed inside the Orioles' inner circle regarding the makeup of the club's starting rotation. But one development has eased some of the stress -- namely, the polished product that is right-hander Kevin Gausman. 

Gausman will most likely be the Orioles' Opening Day starter against the Blue Jays April 3. After his latest spring training outing against the Tigers March 19, he seems like the right choice. Including his five shutout innings against Detroit, Gausman has posted an ERA of 1.80 through three appearances this spring, with 10 innings pitched and 13 strikeouts. His 0.80 WHIP shows just how dominant he has been.

Gausman's latest performance included one walk and eight strikeouts. After the game, skipper Buck Showalter mentioned Gausman was the first Orioles starter to go five innings this spring and his pitch count was right where the team wanted it to be. That's an important storyline to watch with Gausman, who often ran into trouble last season with high pitch counts after three or four innings.

So, while questions still remain about who the club's fifth starter will be, fans shouldn't lose sight of the good news that Gausman's possible ascent to elite status seems to be going nicely.

Joey Rickard Fighting For A Spot

When executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette made several offseason moves to add multiple outfield options for 2017, there was a sense the player most likely to be negatively affected was former Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard. 

But, at the midway point of his second camp with the Orioles, Rickard clearly seems to have gotten the memo. So far this spring, he is hitting .343 with three home runs, seven RBIs and four stolen bases. In fact, one could argue the 25-year-old, who throws left and bats right, is pushing for even more playing time than before. 

Among players with at least three at-bats this spring, Rickard has a team-high .521 on-base percentage. After the Orioles defeated the Pirates March 17, Showalter made it clear to the assembled reporters just how impressed he was with how Rickard had come in to spring training and taken nothing for granted. The way Showalter put it, Rickard had done his own math and knew what was at stake.

Rickard is also the only outfielder currently on the roster who can cover center field in case Adam Jones is ever lost to injury or just needs a rest. Should non-roster invitee Craig Gentry make the O's Opening Day roster, he could also fill in for Jones in center field.

Who Will Be This Year's Rule 5 Star?

If it's mid-March, then chances are the Orioles are trying to figure out how they can fit a Rule 5 pick or two from the preceding winter meetings onto the Opening Day roster. This year is no exception.

At MLB's winter meetings in December, Duquette drafted two outfielders, Aneury Tavarez from the Red Sox and Anthony Santander from the Indians.

The 24-year-old Tavarez, who has never played above Double-A, is having a nice camp. He's batting .306 with one home run, five RBIs and six stolen bases to go along with a .359 OBP. So, what's not to like? Apparently, there are questions regarding his defense, and his base running is of the high-risk variety. Tavarez has had a healthy and productive camp, and his playing time has benefited from Jones being away at the World Baseball Classic and offseason outfield acquisition Seth Smith dealing with a lingering groin injury.

The same can't be said for the Santander, who is 22 and has never played above Single-A. After having shoulder surgery following the 2016 season, Santander has yet to play the outfield this spring, appearing only as a designated hitter or pinch hitter.

After a slow start during which he struck out 10 times in his first 22 plate appearances, Santander bounced back to homer in back-to-back games March 11-12. He now has seven RBIs and has worked his average up to .250.

Santander has been dealing with a sore right elbow, and though the MRI results seem positive, it's possible the Orioles could use the injury to place Santander on the disabled list to start the season. 

The Orioles could also try to work out deals with the teams they drafted Tavarez and Santander from, which would allow Baltimore to hang on to one or both outfield options.

Duquette has a history of making it very difficult for his Rule 5 players' former teams to get their clutches back on players he likes, so the Tavarez and Santander situations are ones to watch.

Catch "The Bat Around" with Stan "The Fan" Charles every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at PressBoxOnline.com/StanTheFan.  Follow him on Twitter at  @StanTheFan