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2019 Orioles Spring Training Preview

February 18, 2019
Todd Karpovich previews spring training for the Orioles, from the competition to fill out the starting rotation to Chris Davis' road to redemption to the battle for the right field and catcher spots.

FILLING OUT THE ROTATION

Right-handers Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb are the only locks for the starting rotation entering spring training for the Orioles. There will be a heated battle for the other two spots. 

"New staff and lot of new faces around," Bundy said. "Definitely looking forward to it. I'm excited. We've got some young guys."

David Hess might have the inside track to become the fourth starter. He went 3-10 with a 4.88 ERA in 21 games (19 starts) last season. The righty managed a 1.384 WHIP, which ranked the lowest among the Orioles' starters.

"I'm getting ready for a great year," Hess said. "I'm trying to figure out where I can improve, and also with the things I did well, build off of that. I'm looking forward to what's to come. Everyone is really excited."

Yefry Ramirez could be another option. However, he will have to overcome some of the struggles that plagued him last season when he finished 1-8 with a 5.92 ERA and 1.531 WHIP throughout 17 games (12 starts). The right-hander must find better command -- he walked five batters per nine innings in 2018.

Other options include:

• Nate Karns signed a one-year deal reportedly worth $800,000 with $200,000 in incentives. The right-hander has dealt with injuries the past several seasons, including thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in 2017. He was shut down by the Kansas City Royals last year with elbow inflammation and never threw an inning. Karns has started 54 games the past five seasons, but he has to prove he can stay healthy.  

• Jimmy Yacabonis went 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP in 12 games (seven starts).

• Josh Rogers, acquired from the New York Yankees for closer Zach Britton, was 1-2 with an 8.49 ERA and 1.89 WHIP in three starts for the Orioles. He was shut down to conserve innings but has some upside as a lefty.

• John Means was 7-9 with a 3.72 ERA in 28 minor-league appearances (26 starts) for Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. Means appeared in one game for the Orioles, allowing five runs and six hits in 3.1 innings out of the bullpen against the Boston Red Sox.

• Mike Wright has yet to evolve into a reliable starter, but he does have experience. He has started 23 games during four seasons, going 10-11 with a 5.75 ERA.

• A wild card is former No. 1 pick Hunter Harvey, who said he is fully healthy after being hampered by various ailments throughout his career, including Tommy John surgery in 2016. He said he plans to battle for a spot in the rotation. Harvey, 24, went 1-2 with a 5.57 ERA in nine starts for Double-A Bowie last season.

REDEMPTION FOR CHRIS DAVIS

No other player will be more scrutinized this spring training than Chris Davis. The veteran first baseman is coming off a season during which he batted .168 with 16 home runs, 49 RBIs and a .539 OPS. Davis had the worst WAR among major-league qualifiers at minus-3.1, according to Fangraphs.

Manager Brandon Hyde and his coaching staff are prepared to give him a clean slate, and Davis plans to take advantage of a fresh start. 

"I made a lot of changes this offseason," said Davis, who will be 33 years old on Opening Day. 

"… I think going through last season, going through that stretch of just failure, day in and day out, really got me to the point where I was like, ‘OK, now we need to exhaust all options and really take a step back and make an adjustment.' I don't feel like I'm an old man. I don't feel like I've lost a step."

THE STARTING CATCHER WILL BE ...

The Orioles have high hopes for Chance Sisco despite his struggles in 2018. The second-round pick in 2013 batted .181 with two homers and 16 RBIs during 63 games (160 at-bats) in 2018. Sisco threw out 13 of 42 baserunners attempting to steal. He was demoted to Triple-A Norfolk twice.

Sisco spent the offseason focused on regaining his confidence and winning the job as the starting catcher. 

"Who doesn't want to be a starter? I want to be back there every day," he said. "I just want to keep growing and keep learning. We've got a really good coaching staff and there will be a lot of learning going on. That's good for us and should be fun."

Austin Wynns could battle Sisco for the top job behind the plate. Wynns batted .255 with four home runs and 11 RBIs in 42 games (110 at-bats). He threw out seven of 22 runners attempting to steal (32 percent). 

The Orioles also signed veterans Jesus Sucre and Carlos Perez to minor-league deals with invites to the major league camp. 

WHO STARTS IN RIGHT FIELD?

DJ Stewart added more muscle in the offseason and hopes to impress the Orioles' new coaching staff to earn the starting job in right field. 

Austin Hays has battled back from a shoulder injury and ankle surgery in 2018. He's confident he will be in the mix to earn a spot and substantial playing time on the big league roster. 

"When I went down to Sarasota [in early January], I was starting to incorporate the cutting," Hays said. "Running full speed, planting on the right foot coming off of it. So we started doing that and it feels real good. So the last step would be baserunning when I get to spring training. But as far as sprinting and everything like that, I'm going all out and it feels really good, so I'm happy with where I am and how the recovery process is going."

Mark Trumbo underwent knee surgery in September, but he's hopeful he will be ready for Opening Day. He could also earn some time in the corner outfield.

"The strength is right where we want it," Trumbo said. "Going to progress to a little more running. I've been hitting and that checked out fine. Throwing is fine."  

Joey Rickard also has a minor league option, putting him in the mix. Prospects Yusniel Diaz, 22, and Ryan McKenna, 21, have been impressive in the minor leagues.  

RULE 5 POTENTIAL

The Orioles need to replace Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop and Tim Beckham in the infield. The team selected shortstop Richie Martin with the No. 1 pick in the Rule 5 Draft to help fill the void. Martin, who was the Oakland Athletics' first-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft, should fight for the starting role at shortstop this season. Martin batted .300 with 25 steals, 68 runs with an .807 OPS at Double-A Midland last season.

Another Rule 5 pick, Drew Jackson, could also make the team out of spring training. Originally drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the fifth round of the 2015 draft, Jackson, 25, has some power and hit .251 with 15 home runs and 46 RBIs last season for Double-A Tulsa. He was selected by the Phiadelphia Phillies with the 11th pick of the Rule 5 draft but was then sent to the Orioles for international bonus money. Jackson could provide much-needed middle infield depth in Baltimore. 

Photo Credits: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Issue 251: February 2019 

Originally published Feb. 15, 2019