Before the Orioles took the field against the Yankees on Sunday from Ed Smith Stadium, eight players were either optioned to Triple-A Norfolk or assigned to minor league camp.
Outfielders Austin Hays and Anthony Santander both hit well above .300 in Spring Training, each receiving at least 33 at-bats. They were two names muttered by media and fans alike when talking about the young talent who could travel north when camp concludes.
Santander, who has a rocket of an arm, hit .198 over 101 big league at-bats before being optioned in May of last year. Hays was a September call-up in 2017 and received 60 at-bats. Much of his 2018 season was spent in the trainer’s room dealing with a stress fracture in his right ankle that required surgery.
Hays was a surprising cut considering his service time clock already started. Both his bat and his glove dominated the spring training highlight reel. There’s a number of factors behind the transactions due to how crowded the Orioles outfield is. Even though Hays and Santander won’t crack the Opening Day lineup, some more time on the farm will only help their development.
After Sunday’s cuts, what can Baltimore expect the Orioles starting outfield to look like at the start of the regular season? Here’s how it could shake out.
Left Field: Trey Mancini
The obvious elephant in the room is that if it weren’t for Chris Davis, Trey Mancini would assume first base (his natural position), from the get-go. Davis has not had a great camp but the good news is he’s starting to make contact at the plate. Davis’ leash will not be nearly as long under the new regime, but until a decision is made over his future, he will get starts at first base to start the season.
The Orioles could swap Mancini and Davis at first base to start the year, especially if Mark Trumbo‘s knee is healthy enough for him to make the Opening Day roster. In regards to the game 1 lineup, expect to see Davis at first and Mancini in left.
If Davis gets off to a slow start and is a consistent out, Mike Elias might have to carry out the daunting task of requesting the Angelos boys to wish Davis the best in his future endeavors. That won’t be an easy pill to swallow for either the Angelos family or Orioles fans, but at least Mancini would take over at the position that he played coming up the pipeline.
Center Field: Cedric Mullins
Everyone remembers Cedric Mullins as the jerk that took over in center-field for Adam Jones late in the 2018 season. Mullins started 43 games for the big league club last year, hitting .235 with four home runs in 170 at-bats.
The sample size for Mullins in the majors is small, but we learned that his speed was an upgrade from Jones while his arm was a downgrade. Mullins has really struggled at the plate this spring, leading some to believe that he’ll be listed at the bottom of April lineups rather than the top of them.
With Hays on his way to the majors along with Mullins’ small stature, some anticipate Mullins shifting to a corner outfield role at some point. But with the 24-year-old anointed Baltimore’s new center-fielder last August, the Orioles will give Mullins plenty of opportunities to lock up that role.
Right Field: Joey Rickard
Joey Rickard certainly knows a thing or two about fighting to make a ball-club; he did just that in 2016 after being selected in the Rule 5 Draft. When Brandon Hyde and Elias stressed competition at the start of camp, Rickard seemed to be listening. In 37 at-bats this spring, Rickard is hitting .405 with 15 hits, eight RBI, and two walks.
Rickard doesn’t do anything that “wows” you, but he’s a reliable outfielder that can play all three positions. He’s the type of player with plenty of experience that teams beginning a rebuild covet. Hopefully Rickard carries his hot spring into the early months of the season and leads by example when the prospects begin to come up.
The “Fourth Outfielder” squad
- Eric Young Jr. – The speedy 33-year-old signed a minor league deal with the Orioles last month after two years with the Angels. In 2013 as a member of the Rockies, Young led the National League in stolen bases with 46. By providing leadership and the element of speed, Young has a chance to make the team and mentor the young talent. He’s hitting .286 so far in camp.
- Drew Jackson / Jace Peterson – These two are listed as infielders but they can both play the outfield too. After playing 93 games for the Orioles in 2018, Peterson hit free agency before signing a minor league deal to return to the O’s. Jackson, along with Richie Martin, make up the Orioles two Rule 5 picks this year. Both men are hitting above .321 this spring. Jackson is the favorite to make the team because, as a Rule 5 pick, he must make the big-league roster or he will be placed on waivers.
- Trumbo / Davis – These two aren’t your prototypical outfielders, but both own plenty of experience there. Many Orioles fans will groan seeing either of these names in the outfield slots, but if Mancini starts to play first with both Davis and Trumbo active on game-day, they’ll see some time in the corner spots.
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