The other day I was driving around and listening to the radio broadcast of a Tampa Bay Rays game –and one of the two Rays broadcasters, Dave Wills, was chatting with his broadcast partner (and Baltimore native) Andy Freed. Wills said he was talking to Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash about the breakdown of the Rays’ staff, and Cash said he fully expected the Rays to use 30-35 pitchers. Wow.

Then it hit me at how unimportant this year’s projections are, along with the fact I have yet to see the black and orange actually play yet. But predicting the Opening Day roster is, of course, a rite of spring ritual — like throwing darts at a board.

So here’s my best guess on the 26-man roster, with the following three players starting on the injured list:

— OF DJ Stewart
— 1B Chris Davis (60-day)
— RHP Hunter Harvey (60-day)

Right-hander Felix Hernandez, who is on a minor-league deal, recently came down with a sore elbow and will also stay in Sarasota, Fla., to begin the season.

INFIELD (7): Trey Mancini, Yolmer Sanchez, Freddy Galvis, Maikel Franco, Richie Martin, Rio Ruiz, Pat Valaika

The infield will include three extra infielders, as I think Rio Ruiz will survive this initial cutdown. Pat Valaika has become Brandon Hyde’s favorite bench player. While it was my hope that Richie Martin would get optioned out to Triple-A and just get used to playing again, I think Hyde saw enough of him in 2019 to want another sample of seeing him up close. It would be useful for the short-term future of the Orioles if they could bank on him for a 2-3 year run until the kids are ready.

The regular infield on most days will see Trey Mancini at first base, Yolmer Sanchez at second, Freddy Galvis at shortstop and Maikel Franco at third. Mancini is looking to cap off his brave comeback with a successful return to the field. Sanchez is a better defender than Hanser Alberto, costs less than Alberto would have, and oh, probably won’t hit a whole heck of a lot.

A one-year contract brought Galvis to town to play short. Galvis will probably pop 15-17 homers and play solid defense, but don’t be surprised if he is on base less than 30 percent of the time. Franco will play third most days once he is ready, but he won’t remind anyone of Brooks Robinson or Manny Machado. But Franco also has a chance to pop 20 homers or close to it.

OUTFIELD (4): Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays, Anthony Santander

With DJ Stewart on the IL to start the season, it’ll be a rotation of Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays and Anthony Santander in the outfield early on. Mountcastle will be in left, with Mullins in center if he hits at all. (Mullins is no longer a switch hitter — he’s only hitting from the left side now.) Austin Hays will play the corner outfield spots some, but he could shift to center more regularly if Mullins takes a step back.

It appears Santander will play right and hold down the DH slot on some days. But with Mancini coming back after missing an entire season, it may be hard to pencil him in for more than 140-145 games. On those days, Mountcastle probably swings in to play first and Hays might move to left.

One thing to point out — my analysis has Stewart probably taking Rio Ruiz’s or Richie Martin’s spot on the roster by April 15-20.

CATCHER (2): Pedro Severino, Chance Sisco

The catching will continue to be tough to watch with lots of passed balls coming from Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco, but the Orioles might get 15-17 homers out of the position. Adley Rutschman can’t come soon enough for me.

STARTING PITCHERS (5): John Means, Matt Harvey, Jorge Lopez, Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin

Now for the fun part — the pitching staff. The rotation will not be top tier. Fans will eagerly await John Means’ turn in the rotation throughout the year, because he will most likely give the O’s their best chance to win. Ex-Mets star Matt Harvey has had two good efforts in a row in Sarasota, and that’s sadly enough to make him the No. 2 starter on the staff. Right-hander Jorge Lopez will most likely be a starter for a good chunk of the season.

Right-hander Dean Kremer (7.36 ERA/1.73 WHIP) has been lousy in Sarasota, but there is hope he might just be “working on some things.” Lefty Keegan Akin is sporting a 5.40 ERA with a 1.80 WHIP, but he’ll most likely be the No. 5 guy to start. After those five, lefties Wade LeBlanc and Bruce Zimmermann will probably start the season as swingmen and long guys out of the pen. But as sure as I am that the sun will rise tomorrow, both will get more than a few starts.

While I project Felix Hernandez to start on the IL, I think it’s safe to say that if he is healthy he’ll get about 10 starts, and then if he shows anything, he might get another 12-15 starts.

RELIEF PITCHERS (8): Shawn Armstrong, Paul Fry, Wade LeBlanc, Tanner Scott, Cole Sulser, Dillon Tate, Cesar Valdez, Bruce Zimmermann

The bullpen will not be where Hunter Harvey dazzles us again for three innings per week. The nuts and bolts will be held down by right-handers Cesar Valdez, Shawn Armstrong and Dillon Tate, and lefties Tanner Scott and Paul Fry are both solid as well. If you are a fantasy player trying to nab who will get the saves, it seems to me that Cole Sulser may just get another audition from Hyde. Armstrong and Valdez may also get looks. But I think the best bet is Sulser to get about 15 saves.

That’s my roster prediction and I am sticking to it. But the 13 pitchers I have noted to make the roster will be easily joined by another 12-15. I’d predict that the O’s would be up there with the Rays at 30-35, but I simply don’t know if the O’s have enough arms to get that many in major-league games.

It’s a real strong bet that Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther and Alex Wells will make meaningful cameo appearances.

For me, it would take a decision by O’s management to go with 14 pitchers for either of the Rule 5 picks — Mac Sceroler or Tyler Wells — to make the big-league club.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Stan Charles

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