With an unprecedented Opening Day set to take place later this week amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. With Major League Baseball’s most recent testing report revealing a 0.05 percent positive rate from more than 10,000 samples, the 2020 season will indeed begin later this week. The impact of travel will further reveal the viability of navigating the 60-game season. Fingers crossed.
2. From masks and dugout overflow tents to the absence of fans, the ballpark experience is strange, but artificial crowd noise is preferable to an almost distracting silence otherwise. “Reactions” to in-game events are awkward, but the normal ambience of a “crowd” can help the suspension of disbelief for TV viewers.
3. The Orioles are playing a 7:30 p.m. Opening Day game at Fenway Park on Friday and a 7:35 p.m. home opener a week from Wednesday. That lack of weekday baseball makes perfect sense in the absence of fans, of course, but add it to the lengthy list of weird.
4. Not counting potential promotions later this summer, Austin Hays tops my list of interesting youngsters to watch on a rebuilding club still with many more placeholders than prospects. A strong defender in center field with pop emerging as a long-term piece would be quite valuable.
5. A rotation with four projected starters over age 30 lacks upside, but you hope Alex Cobb, Wade LeBlanc, Tommy Milone, and Asher Wojciechowski are functional enough to keep Brandon Hyde from burning through relievers at an alarming rate, especially with the limitations created by the cancellation of the minor leagues.
6. Remember that spring hype over Chris Davis adding weight and going 7-for-15 with three home runs and nine walks in the Grapefruit League? That was such a simpler time, but we’ll see what the veteran with two more years remaining on his contract after 2020 can do.
7. After missing large chunks of five straight professional seasons, Hunter Harvey was finally healthy last season, but the former first-round pick transitioned from a starting role to relief. Can we get this talented 25-year-old both sustained health and a normal season eventually?
8. Let’s hope the Orioles won’t wait long to promote Ryan Mountcastle as the 2019 International League MVP will work at the alternate camp in Bowie for now. Mountcastle, 23, isn’t a slam dunk, but let’s see the bat and whether he can find a defensive home in left field.
9. It was a surreal Friday night intrasquad game in mid-July, but seeing top prospect Adley Rutschman bat at Camden Yards was still a pretty cool scene. Sorry the outcome below wasn’t a little more exciting.
— Luke Jones (@BaltimoreLuke) July 18, 2020
10. Dwight Smith Jr. hasn’t been ruled out for the opener yet, but the Orioles placed him on the 10-day injured list. With left field seemingly wide open, it’s quite the contrast in fortunes for Smith and DJ Stewart, who wouldn’t have been ready in late March due to ankle surgery.
11. Dilson Herrera may still find himself on the wrong side of the roster bubble, but the former top 100 prospect in the Mets system offers some positional versatility and has shown power in intrasquad games. The July restart has been kind to the 26-year-old vying for a job.
12. The absence of Jim Palmer and Gary Thorne — both over 70 — from regular telecasts is understandable, but MASN still not providing in-market subscribers the ability to watch games on their phones or computers is inexcusable. The network remains absent from all streaming services. This isn’t OK in 2020.