So, entering Spring training the Orioles have two sure answers for their opening day 5-man rotation and a wealth of solid options in the bullpen. What they have beyond that is an astounding number of question marks, and it's hard to see them being immediately competitive (or even climbing out of last place this season) because of that. However, it seems to me that Andy MacPhail and the rest of the front office are doing exactly what they need to to get better in the long run. They have solidified all of the positions on the field and spots in the lineup, right down to the bench and acquired a wealth of young (and not-so-young) arms to experiment with. Now the Orioles will have a year or two of evaluation, to hone things down to a solid starting staff of the future, and 2 or 3 years from now will be the time to supplement all this great young talent with a big Free Agent signing or three to get them over the hump. This is all, of course, provided they evaluate the talent they have properly and bring it through the organization at the right pace and with the right mindset. With some coaching staff adjustments and a trend toward more control, the O's are in a very good position to do that.
Now to the immediate problem: The Orioles have 27 pitchers on their Spring Training Roster, and 10 more as non-roster invitees. So how do you hone 37 guys down to a 13 man staff, and 5 starters, in a month? It is clear that the 13 guys they begin the season with will not be the same 13 they end the season with, as more younger guys will get a shot if they fare well in the minors, but who do they break camp with? This is my attempt to sort out the madness before any live competition takes place.
I'll start, just like the O's will, with the list of 37 players.
On the Roster
Wow. That's quite the list of names. For non-Orioles fans I'm sure few of them jump out as great options, but there is a TON of upside attached to a number of those names. But who's ready?
Step 1 - The Obvious Stuff
Now it's time to begin whittling down the list. Some of this process will be easy, but in a way it will make the next couple steps even more difficult.
1A. Locks for the rotation:
Koji Uehara (we didn't sign him to pitch in the minors)
1B. Locks for the bullpen:
Danys Baez (I know they've said they'll look at him for a starting role, but after the injury and a career as a reliever, with all the guys the O's have acquired, I'm just not Baeing it).
Jim Johnson (Some have tabbed him as a potential starter, but the way he pitched in his relief role last year tells me that would be a mistake. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.)
Chris Ray (I can't wait to see if he's the pitcher he was before he got hurt.)
Dennis Sarfate (I suppose he COULD get upstaged by someone else, but his experience is invaluable)
George Sherrill (Who will be the closer? Personally, I like Ray in the ninth with Sherril and/or Johnson in the 8th)
Jamie Walker (I could see him being released or traded sometime this year, but with this much experience we'll break camp with him on the parent club)
1C. locks for the team:
Mark Hendrickson (he's a special case and will wind up in either a starting or long-relief role, depending on how the Spring goes. I'd put Albers here but he may need to rehabilitate in the minors first)
So, that leaves the Orioles with a shorter list of players competing for a short list of spots. Nine spots on the team seem guaranteed with 4 remaining...either 3 rotation slots and one reliever or two and two, depending on how Hendrickson's value is determined. It sounds less overwhelming put this way, until one realizes that there are 28 names vying for those 4 spots. Yikes!
Step 2 - Sorting out the relievers from the starters
Keep in mind that this is based primarily on what they've done so far in their careers...many of the "starters" could end up pitching in relief at some point or vice versa, but I think there's a good chance that a career starter won't break camp in the MLB bullpen or vice versa.
Brian Bass, Bradley Bergesen, David Hernandez, Rich Hill, Radhames Liz, Brian Matusz, Troy Patton, David Pauley. Hayden Penn, Chorye Spoone, Chris Waters, Jake Arrieta, Andy Mitchell, Chris Tillman
Matt Albers (because of the injury - he could start later in the season), Jim Hoey, Bob McCrory, Kam Mickolio, Jim Miller, Wilfrido Perez, Alfredo Simon, Alberto Castillo, Scott Chiasson, Fredy Deza, Brad Hennessey, Ryan Keefer, John Parrish, Ross Wolf
So it looks like an even split with 14 guys competing for the last spots in each role. Time to thin the herd a bit.
Step 3 - Identifying the top candidates to start
3A. Who's (definitely) not ready:
Brian Matusz He should progress quickly but has virtually no professional innings under his belt. Not a guy to break camp with.
Troy Patton Love the kid's upside, but let's see how he pitches in AA or AAA before we promote him. Injuries like his need time to evaluate.
Chorye Spoone He's been highly touted within the organization, but he has put up mediocre numbers at the lower levels and we have far too many pitchers with more upside than him for Spoone to realistically have a shot.
Jake Arrieta Great numbers so far and great potential, but he's only pitched at A Frederick. Can't wait to see him, but the O's need to avoid rushing him.
3B. Who might not be ready:
Three guys had fantastic numbers at AA Bowie but have not yet pitched above that level. They are Bradley Bergesen, David Hernandez, and Chris Tillman. A fourth guy has had some success in a couple seasons at AAA Norfolk (Andy Mitchell) but is a non-roster invitee for a reason. I personally don't see any of these guys cracking the opening day roster unless they have dazzling Spring numbers.
3C. So, your contenders are:
Brian Bass, Rich Hill, Radhames Liz, David Pauley, Hayden Penn, and Chris Waters. None of them has great MLB numbers, but all have experience at the big show. As I've said, any of the four guys under 3B could surpass the field and get a spot, but I consider them long shots who may deserve a chance later in the season.
3D. My favorites and my prediction:
Personally, I think Rich Hill, Chris Waters, and Brian Bass deserve to make the cut...with Bass being the odd man out of Hendrickson is tabbed as a starter. I think Trembley will select Rich Hill, Hayden Penn, and Mark Hendrickson as his opening-day 5 (in unknown order) but personally I don't see Penn turning his career around in Baltimore and I think Hendrickson would be more valuable in the bullpen.
Step 4 - Identifying the top candidates for the 'pen
4A. Injuries to think of:
My heart tells me to put Matt Albers straght onto the MLB roster because he's a great kid with talent and success at this level. My brain tells me he needs to start the season in the minors and work his way back from that injury. Since he elected therapy instead of surgery, he needs to work back slowly.
Jim Hoey is also working his way back from injury, and his MLB numbers are terrible even before that. Kid needs seasoning and rehab.
4B. Need more time:
Scott Chiasson He simply hasn't performed well in the NL, and needs to pitch in the minors first.
Fredy Deza Promising numbers last year but only in 6 games.
Ross Wolf Same as Chiasson
4C. The other long shots:
As with the starters, the folks listed here would need excellent Springs to make the team. They are Wilfrido Perez (great at AA with no MLB experience), Alfredo Simon (mediocre and limited MLB numbers), and Ryan Keefer (his ERA wasn't very good in the minors as a reliever).
4D. So your contenders are:
Bob McCrory, Kam Mickolio, Jim Miller, Alberto Castillo, Brad Hennessey, and John Parrish.
4E. My favorites and my prediction:
Personally, I like Brad Hennessey and Mark Hendrickson to take the last two bullpen slots out of camp. However, as I noted above, I think Trembley will tab Hendrickson as a starter, and probably select John PArrish as his last reliever (along with Hennessey). A final thought is that Bob McCrory and Kam Mickolio seem to be much better than their lofty ERAs at the MLB level indicate. Keep in mind that McCrory has had two bad outings, and started with a 108 ERA by allowing 4 runs to TB in .1 innings. Any time you shave 93 points off of your ERA you're moving in the right direction. Mickolio had a similar spike in ERA (at 27) but has consistently brought it down since.
Well, I hope you stayed with me through all that blab, O's fans, and I hope you have found them interesting and useful in making sense out of the Spring. Please comment with any thoughts you may have. What did I miss? Who do you like that I didn't tab? Who do I like that you thinkis terrible? Please, weigh in.