SARASOTA, Fla. — One of the major questions on the penultimate day of spring training has been answered, and with it, part of the Orioles’ opening day roster construction took shape Sunday.
Baltimore optioned left-hander DL Hall to minor league camp, signaling that Orioles leadership views his further development as a starting pitcher to be more valuable than including him in the bullpen while he still builds up stamina.
Hall, MLB Pipeline’s No. 97-ranked prospect in baseball, dealt with lower back discomfort that delayed his start to spring training. As a result, he’s pitched twice this week, including 2 1/3 innings Saturday. But the possibility of a relief role in the major leagues didn’t guarantee Hall enough of a consistent buildup for Baltimore to be comfortable.
“It’s just hard to build guys in the bullpen, honestly, just because you never know what’s going to happen night to night,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We just felt like the best thing for him right now is to keep him as a starter and get him stretched out in Norfolk.”
Additionally, the Orioles optioned right-handers Spenser Watkins and Yennier Canó. With Watkins, his option narrows Baltimore’s starting pitching competition to three pitchers for two spots, assuming left-hander Cole Irvin’s role is secure: Grayson Rodriguez, Tyler Wells and Kyle Bradish.
Watkins played a large role in the 2022 season as a fill-in starter, throwing 105 1/3 innings with a 4.70 ERA. Earlier in camp, Hyde said his effort last year “needs to be recognized,” but the vast competition for the starting rotation left Watkins again on the outside looking in at a role. He held a 4.15 ERA in 13 innings this spring.
“We’re happy to have Spenser in Triple-A with us,” Hyde said. “We’re going to need more than five starters. Just want him to stay ready.”
Hall made his debut in August against the Tampa Bay Rays, conceding five runs in 3 2/3 innings. He was returned to the minor leagues after that start to develop as a reliever, and out of the bullpen, Hall contributed for Baltimore down the stretch with 13 strikeouts and four runs against him in 10 innings.
After he threw 2 1/3 innings Saturday night, Hall said he was “just looking forward to taking an opportunity to get big league hitters out, no matter out of the ‘pen or starting.”
But the seventh-best prospect in Baltimore’s system will wait longer for that to become a more permanent reality.
“I think it’s just a matter of time for him,” Hyde said. “We were super-happy with how he threw the ball this spring and loved the progress he’s made. None of these guys want to hear that they’re not breaking with us, but I think he took it like a pro.”
The Orioles bullpen has two potential openings given the forearm strain for right-hander Dillon Tate that will keep him out until mid-May and the sore left knee that has created doubt around right-hander Mychal Givens. Givens threw off the mound Sunday in a live bullpen session, but he cut the session short because of additional knee discomfort, throwing his glove against the dugout railing in anger.
With Hall headed to Triple-A, it virtually guarantees left-hander Keegan Akin a place in the bullpen alongside left-hander Cionel Pérez — with Irvin, they’re the lone southpaws on the major league pitching staff. Akin can cover multiple innings, giving him versatility out of the bullpen.
The rest of the bullpen picture depends on whether Wells makes the rotation or serves as a long-reliever, perhaps in a piggyback role behind Rodriguez. Those final decisions should be made before the Orioles fly to Boston on Tuesday afternoon for Thursday’s opening day.
The Orioles now have 41 players in camp, with more decisions looming to reach a 26-man roster to face the Red Sox.
Félix Bautista, Bryan Baker, Pérez, Akin and Austin Voth are seemingly locks for the bullpen. With three other spots open, Rule 5 Draft selection Andrew Politi has an inside track. Joey Krehbiel, Mike Baumann, Logan Gillaspie, Eduard Bazardo and Reed Garrett are also in camp and have a chance to make the bullpen.