As the final days of the Grapefruit League wind down, the Orioles are narrowing their choices in shaping their 25-man roster that will take the field against the Boston Red Sox next Monday at Camden Yards.
Forty players remained in major league camp entering Wednesday’s split-squad doubleheader, but most destinations can already be projected as manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette decide who will come north for Opening Day. Baltimore optioned pitcher Steve Johnson and outfielder Henry Urrutia to Triple-A Norfolk and reassigned infielder Alexi Casilla and outfielder Quintin Berry to minor league camp prior to Wednesday evening’s game against Tampa Bay.
Of the 36 players left, at least five will begin the year on the disabled list as infielder Manny Machado (knee), outfielders Nolan Reimold (neck) and Francisco Peguero (wrist), and pitchers Johan Santana (shoulder) and Edgmer Escalona (shouldler) are still recovering from ailments. Rule 5 selection Michael Almanzar (knee) could join them, which would give the Orioles more time to decide on his future and whether they want to attempt to keep him on the 25-man roster as they did with pitcher T.J. McFarland and infielder Ryan Flaherty in the last two seasons.
Relief pitcher Troy Patton will begin serving his 25-game suspension for testing positive for amphetamine use and will not count against the Opening Day roster.
Showalter has already announced his Opening Day rotation with Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wei-Yin Chen going to the hill in the opening series and Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris making the following two starts in Detroit. This means McFarland and Kevin Gausman — who’s had a terrific spring and could beat down the door to the starting rotation sooner rather than later — will begin the year in Triple-A Norfolk’s starting rotation.
After that, it comes down to difficult decisions as the Orioles are expected to decide between Alfredo Aceves and Evan Meek for the final spot in the bullpen unless they decide to break camp with 13 pitchers on the Opening Day roster. The rest of the bullpen is projected to be filled out by Tommy Hunter, Darren O’Day, Brian Matusz, Ryan Webb, Josh Stinson, and Zach Britton.
The much-heralded middle-infield competition is down to rookie Jonathan Schoop and Jemile Weeks, who was acquired in the offseason trade of Jim Johnson. With Flaherty expected to fill in for Machado at third base, Schoop would give the Orioles a right-handed bat to play third base against left-handed pitching, but the Orioles certainly don’t want the 22-year-old to be sitting on the bench if they decide the newly-acquired Steve Lombardozzi is going to be the starting second baseman for the time being. Showalter could elect to go with Schoop at second and Flaherty at third against right-handed starters with Schoop shifting to third and the switch-hitting Lombardozzi inserted at second base against southpaws.
Steve Clevenger has already won the backup catcher job, so that appeared to leave two more bench spots for the trio of Delmon Young, Steve Pearce, and Reimold before Thursday’s news of Reimold heading to the disabled list. Signed to a minor-league contract this winter, Young’s opt-out clause doesn’t go into effect until June 1 while Reimold and Pearce are both out of options.
Here is a look at the remaining 36 players in major league camp with a line going through names predicted to be left off the 25-man roster to begin the regular season:
RHP Chris Tillman
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
LHP Wei-Yin Chen
RHP Miguel Gonzalez
RHP Bud Norris
RHP Tommy Hunter
RHP Darren O’Day
LHP Brian Matusz
RHP Ryan Webb
LHP Zach Britton
RHP Josh Stinson
RHP Evan Meek
RHP Kevin Gausman
LHP T.J. McFarland
RHP Alfredo Aceves
DISABLED LIST (not counting against 25-man roster)
3B Manny Machado (knee)
OF Nolan Reimold (neck)
OF Francisco Peguero (wrist)
LHP Johan Santana (shoulder)
RHP Edgmer Escalona (shoulder)
INF Michael Almanzar (knee)
SUSPENDED LIST (not counting against 25-man roster)
LHP Troy Patton