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Orioles 2018 Spring Training Preview

February 11, 2018
It's A Big Year For …

Adam Jones

Jones has played 1,468 games for the Orioles throughout the past 10 seasons, eighth-most in team history, and his 1,618 hits are the fifth-most.

The center fielder will be 33 in August and is entering the sixth and final year of his contract.

Jones has deep roots in Baltimore and would like to finish his career with the Orioles. Will that be possible?  

Brad Brach

Because Zach Britton will begin the season on the disabled list, Brach is the favorite to be the Orioles' closer.

The right-hander filled in with mixed results when Britton was hurt during the first half of last season.

Brach saved 18 games but blew six opportunities and recorded a 3.77 ERA in save situations. He had a 2.68 ERA in non-save appearances.

Brach would like to be a major league closer, and if he has a good 2018, he could get a chance elsewhere.

Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter

Neither executive vice president of baseball operations Duquette nor manager Showalter has a contract beyond this season.

Showalter indicated at December's Winter Meetings that he'd like to continue managing the Orioles beyond this season, and he's popular enough in Baltimore that he can probably return in 2019 and beyond.

Duquette's ambitions are harder to discern. A competitive team would make him a better bet for a contract renewal. 

***

Who's Fighting For A Job?

Joey Rickard

The Orioles thought they had quite a find with Rickard after he was selected in the December 2015 Rule 5 draft.

Rickard had a terrific spring training in 2016 and a nice start to the season, but in July he suffered torn ligaments in his left thumb, and the outfielder's year ended with a .268 average in 85 games. 

Last season, Rickard slipped offensively, batting .241 in 111 games. Rickard's regression was particularly marked in the second half when he hit .216 with seven RBIs.

Because Anthony Santander, a Rule 5 pick a year after Rickard, still needs 44 days of major league service to lose his status, it's likely Rickard will begin 2018 with Triple-A Norfolk.

Mike Wright

Wright has a 5.86 ERA in 43 games with the Orioles during the past three seasons. But this season it's different. Wright is now out of options, and he has a final chance to make the club.

He had initial success as a starter in 2015, but it's been a rocky road since then.

The Orioles are desperate for starters, and if Wright shows he can help the team's rotation, he can make the club in 2018. He'll get a chance to pitch in relief, but the competition looks more difficult.

Gabriel Ynoa

Both Wright and Ynoa are out of options, which means they'll be exposed to waivers if they don't make the Orioles.

Ynoa, a 24-year old right-hander, was 2-3 with a 4.15 ERA in nine games, four starts, for the Orioles last season. He will be one of many competing for a starting role.

Donnie Hart

The left-hander had an impressive debut in 2016, allowing one run in 18.1 innings. Last year, it wasn't as easy.

Hart's ERA rose to 3.71, and he was sent down to Norfolk three times.

His scuffles against left-handed hitters were particularly worrisome. After holding left-handers  to a .132 average in 2016, Hart allowed them to hit .273 in 2017.

Though Britton is hurt and the Orioles need left-handers, Hart's place on the roster is hardly assured. 

Jaycob Brugman

If the Orioles carry 12 pitchers instead of 13, and they didn't have to keep Santander on the early-season roster, both Rickard and Brugman could have chances to make the club.

The Orioles don't have many left-handed hitters, and Brugman, a left-handed outfielder who hit .266 in 48 games with the Oakland Athletics, could help.

Brugman has options, so it's likely he'll see time in Norfolk and Baltimore. 

***

Will These Rule 5 Players Be The Exception?

In December's Rule 5 draft, the Orioles took three pitchers:

Nestor Cortes

Cortes is a 23-year-old left-hander drafted from the New York Yankees. In three minor league levels last season, he was 7-4 with a 2.06 ERA in 30 games, 13 starts.

In 11 games, six starts, for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre, Cortes was 2-4 with a 1.49 ERA. He did not allow a home run in 48.1 innings.

Cortes, who could compete for either a starting spot or a bullpen job, was the only one of the three Rule 5 players to be invited to minicamp.

"This guy likes to pitch," Showalter said. "He can manipulate the baseball."

Pedro Araujo

Araujo is a 24-year-old right-hander drafted from the Chicago Cubs' organization. Last year, he was 6-1 with a 1.76 ERA in 45 games, all but one with Class-A Myrtle Beach.

Unlike Cortes, he has no real experience above Single-A ball and is exclusively a reliever.

Jose Mesa

Mesa, a 24-year-old right-hander drafted from the Yankees, is the son of former Orioles pitcher Jose Mesa. Last year, the younger Mesa was 5-1 with a 1.93 ERA in 29 games, eight starts, for Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

Mesa allowed three runs in 34.1 innings for Trenton and didn't allow a home run. 

***

Hot Prospects To Watch

Hunter Harvey

Harvey, a pitcher  and the Orioles' No. 1 draft choice in 2013, had Tommy John surgery in 2016 and eight short rehab starts at three levels in 2017.

Showalter isn't sure whether the right-handed Harvey, who has never pitched above Low-A Delmarva, will start there, Class-A Frederick or Double-A Bowie.

"I think we'll have a pretty good feel for where he is in the spring," Showalter said. "He'll get some innings here." 

Austin Hays

Hays rocketed to the major leagues in 2017, becoming the first player from the 2016 draft to make it to the big leagues.

The 22-year-old outfielder hit .329 with 32 home runs and 95 RBIs with Frederick and Bowie and hit .217 in 20 late-season games with the Orioles.

Hays' spot on the Opening Day roster isn't guaranteed, but he has an extremely bright future with the Orioles.  

Tanner Scott

Scott struck out 87 batters in 69 innings for Bowie but walked 46. The left-hander allowed 45 hits and two home runs.

The 23-year-old clearly intrigues the Orioles, who had him throw short starts for Bowie last year.

While he's unlikely to begin the 2018 season in Baltimore, Scott could play a crucial role on the team. 

Chance Sisco

It's hardly a given that Sisco, 22, will trot down the orange carpet for the Orioles' season-opener March 29, but he's certainly the team's catcher of the future.

Sisco is a left-handed hitter, and that's a plus with the Orioles. While the team is confident about his hitting, he needs to show he can be a competent major league defender this spring training. 

***

Spring Training Dates To Watch

Feb. 13: Pitchers and catchers report to Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota, Fla.
Feb. 14: Pitchers and catchers' first workout
Feb. 18: Position players report
Feb. 19: First full squad workout
Feb. 23: First Grapefruit League game vs. Tampa Bay Rays in Sarasota, 1:05 p.m.
March 15-16: Orioles make first overnight spring training road trip since 2010 to play St. Louis at Jupiter, Fla., March 15 and the New York Mets at Port St. Lucie, Fla., March 16.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Issue 241: January / February 2018 

Originally published Jan. 19, 2018