The Orioles reached the halfway point of spring training after reporting in early- to mid-February, and several intriguing storylines have emerged from Sarasota, Fla. Manager Brandon Hyde is evaluating close to 70 players, who are looking to show that they can be part of the long-term future of the club.
Here are five things we’ve learned so far:
1. The resurgence of Chris Davis?
The first baseman has been a polarizing figure for the fan base. Despite his struggles, there always seems to have been a glimmer of hope that Davis will find his swing as one of the most dangerous power hitters in the game. So far, Davis has been the biggest surprise of camp and the team’s hottest player. Through six games and nine at-bats (March 4), Davis has gone 5-for-9 (.556/.647/1.556) with three home runs and seven RBIs.
Davis spent the offseason focused on getting stronger and back to a similar size as when he was hitting 40 or 50 home runs per year. The goal is to let his natural ability take over as opposed to dramatically changing his mechanics at the plate. So far, the work has paid off, but he’ll need to keep the momentum once the real games begin March 26.
2. Adley Rutschman making the most of his opportunity
The team’s top prospect survived the first round of cuts as the Orioles wanted to keep the talented catcher around the major-league coaching staff and players to continue his development. The team also needs to maintain its depth at catcher because of the number of pitchers in camp.
Rutschman obviously won’t make the Orioles’ 26-man roster, but the exposure to top-level pitching will be beneficial for his future. Rutschman is still looking for his first hit of spring training, going 0-for-8 with a run scored through March 4. The team is confident he will be the cornerstone of the franchise for years to come.
3. Alex Cobb poised for a bounce-back year?
The Orioles have been taking their time with right-hander Alex Cobb, who has battled myriad injuries during his short time with the club. The right-hander will throw a simulated game March 6 and then take the mound five days later against the Toronto Blue Jays. Hyde is counting on Cobb to play a key role in the rotation, and the early indications have been positive as far as his health.
Cobb has undergone hip and knee surgeries since signing a four-year, $57 million deal before the 2018 season. He was limited to 12.1 innings in 2019, and he went 5-15 with a 4.90 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 28 starts the previous year.
As for the rest of the rotation, John Means has tightened his grip as the Orioles’ most effective starter and will likely open the season against the New York Yankees March 26. Asher Wojciechowski has shown enough to start the year as the third starter. Wade LeBlanc and Brandon Bailey could fill out the back end of the rotation.
Kohl Stewart has battled some soreness, but he could be back in the mix once the season starts and shows that he can stay healthy. Keegan Akin was a wild card and it appears the Orioles will err on the side of caution and let him begin the season at Triple-A Norfolk.
4. Hunter Harvey: confident and healthy
The Orioles have been waiting patiently for Hunter Harvey to make an impact with the major-league club. That time has arrived. The hard-throwing right-hander finished the 2019 season by appearing in seven games (6.1 innings) with the Orioles, allowing just one run and three hits with 11 strikeouts and four walks. Harvey could open the 2020 season as the closer.
Harvey’s fastball reached the high 90s during his first outing of the spring, a scoreless inning March 2. Harvey could be a huge boost to an Orioles bullpen that struggled mightily last season. If Harvey continues to improve, he’ll be the latest homegrown player to make an impact with the major-league club. Harvey could quickly become a fan-favorite with his mullet-style hair, perhaps inspiring a new look around Camden Yards.
5. Austin Hays and Ryan Mountcastle making a splash?
Austin Hays and Ryan Mountcastle have created some excitement for the Orioles this spring. Hays is poised to take over as the everyday starter in center field. Hays impressed Hyde and the front office when he was called up from the minors late last season and slashed .309/.373/.574 with four home runs, 13 RBIs and six doubles in 21 games (75 plate appearances). Hays will look to find his swing in the next few weeks; he has just two hits thus far.
Expectations are high for Mountcastle, who is edging closer to finally breaking through with the big-league club. There have been few questions about Mountcastle’s ability to produce at the plate. Mountcastle has gone 8-for-24 (.333/.333/.583) with a homer and four RBIs this spring. He may need more time in the minors to improve his defense in left field, but expect to see Mountcastle in an Orioles uniform sooner rather than later.
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