The Orioles’ outfield offers a clear glimpse of the future. Much of the franchise’s rebuilding effort will center around the development of these players.
General manager Mike Elias is hopeful these young outfielders will play a key role in a renaissance of the franchise. Here’s a breakdown of the outfielders who are set to break camp with the big-league club, barring injuries.
Ryan Mountcastle will start in left field and is one of the early favorites for the American League Rookie of the Year award. The Orioles were patient with Mountcastle, allowing him to work on his defense and perfect his swing at the club’s alternate site last summer. That strategy paid off, as Mountcastle made a huge impact when he made his debut last August, hitting .333/.386/.492 with five homers in 35 games.
He has just five hits this spring, but he’s hit three doubles during his past three starts.
“I’ve still got to get the timing down,” Mountcastle said earlier this month. “It takes a little bit in spring, for me at least, to get my timing down and get locked in.”
As it stands, Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins are battling for the starting role in the middle of the outfield. Both players have improved defensively and are developing more consistency at the plate. Hays made an impact last season after coming off the injured list Sept. 14, hitting .377/.404/.585 with three home runs and 12 runs scored after recovering from a non-displaced rib fracture. His 20 hits were tied for fourth in the majors during that stretch, and his 12 runs tied for fourth.
Through March 17 this spring, Hays has gone 10-for-27 with two doubles and two RBIs. The key for Hays is staying healthy.
“I’ve proven in a short span of time I can have success at the big-league level,” Hays said. “Hopefully no more IL, DL stints. Need to show I can perform at a high level for a full season.”
Mullins, meanwhile, has decided to stop switch-hitting and is focusing on hitting from the left side of the plate, where he has long been a much more effective hitter. He has hit .251/.305/.394 from the left side of the plate during his big-league career and just .147/.250/.189 from the right side.
“The decision was mainly based off the numbers I was putting up throughout the minors and the time I’ve had in the big leagues,” Mullins said. “I fully committed this offseason and kept in contact with [the Orioles staff], telling them how much I was working on it and what kind of different approaches I was using to get adjusted to it seeing left-on-left.”
The Orioles might consider platooning Hays and Mullins, depending on the opposing pitcher.
There excitement surrounding Anthony Santander heading into the 2021 season. He is coming off his best season, hitting .261/.315/.575 (40-for-153) in 37 games. Santander was named the Most Valuable Oriole and was a Gold Glove finalist despite suffering a season-ending oblique injury Sept. 5.
At the time of his injury, Santander was leading the American League in extra-base hits (25) and was tied for second in doubles (13), third in total bases (88), tied for third in RBIs (32), sixth in slugging percentage (.575) and tied for sixth in home runs (11).
The biggest question is whether Santander will finish the season with the Orioles because he is an attractive trade chip.
“My main goal is to be healthy,” Santander said. “If I’m healthy, I’m able to help my team win as many games as possible, and that’s what I want to do.”
DJ Stewart has battled a hamstring issue during spring training, and there are some questions about whether he will head north with the rest of the big-league club. Stewart is expected to spend time as the designated hitter as well as play the outfield this season. However, Stewart’s role is a fluid situation.
“We’re not going to put him out there unless he’s a full 100 percent,” manager Brandon Hyde said.
If Stewart is not healthy, Hyde could keep Mullins in center and move Hays to left field. That would push Mountcastle to the DH role. (Mountcastle could also share time at first base with Trey Mancini, who is also a capable outfielder.)
In addition, the Orioles could get a look at Yusniel Diaz and Ryan McKenna at the major-league level at some point this year, especially if Santander is traded.
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