SARASOTA, Fla. — The Orioles have made their most-anticipated roster decisions. But there’s still work to be done.
Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias must finalize his bench and bullpen, scanning for opt-outs who could add something in Baltimore while also evaluating a handful of injuries that cropped up late in camp.
But beyond those marginal moves, the big questions have been answered: The organization optioned right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, its top pitching prospect, to Triple-A Norfolk on Monday. He also came to the determination to reassign infielder Jordan Westburg to minor league camp despite a standout spring from another top prospect. Elias had already made the choice to have left-hander DL Hall to stretch out as a starter in the minors rather than in the Orioles’ bullpen.
And with all three, there was Elias’ promise that, when they’re ready, those prospects will be in Baltimore. That time, apparently, isn’t opening day against the Red Sox.
Elias met with reporters Monday after the Orioles closed spring training with an 8-2 loss to St. Louis Monday. Here’s a breakdown of the most important non-Grayson Rodriguez points Elias made.
Westburg approaches a debut
Rodriguez struggled in his most recent starts. Hall got a late start this spring due to lower back discomfort.
But there were no doubts about what Westburg did at the plate in Florida, and had there been an injury to one of Baltimore’s infield players, Westburg might’ve made the opening day roster.
Instead, he will begin in Triple-A Norfolk again, a level he’s already proven he can produce at. In 2022, Westburg hit .274 with 18 home runs for the Tides. He followed that up with a spring in which he batted .313 with seven RBIs in 21 games.
“He’s really close,” Elias said. “He’s had 400 plate appearances in Triple-A, he’s had this really good spring training now under his belt. He continues to open eyes.”
There was speculation Westburg could have broken camp as a member of the Orioles had the front office decided his upside at the plate exceeded what outfielder Ryan McKenna could produce.
Particularly as shortstop Jorge Mateo earned reps in center field late in the spring — and Austin Hays proved capable in center — there appeared ample backup for everyday center fielder Cedric Mullins, which could allow the team to carry an additional infielder. Plus, infielders Terrin Vavra and Adam Frazier can play corner outfield positions, bolstering that position.
But Elias emphasized that call-ups have been methodical, pointing to catcher Adley Rutschman and infielder Gunnar Henderson as support. The same waiting game will happen for Westburg, the reigning Orioles minor league player of the year.
“When we view our big-time prospects to be ready — Adley, Gunnar — we bring them up,” Elias said, although Rutschman’s debut was delayed due to injury and Henderson didn’t appear until late August. “And so far, they’ve done pretty well, and a big part of it is because I feel like we know what we’re doing with these promotions. We want guys of this caliber to come up and stay up.”
DL Hall’s buildup
Elias pointed to Hall’s experience last season as something they want to avoid. The left-hander made his debut against the Tampa Bay Rays, allowed five runs in 3 2/3 innings, and then was set back to the minor leagues.
He would return later as a reliever, but Elias had no interest in Hall joining the Orioles out of spring training as a bullpen arm.
“I do not want to make him a reliever right now,” Elias said. “He’s too good. We want to build him back up as a starting pitcher. And look, if we’re in a position where the five guys we have now are throwing well, and Grayson’s throwing well, and DL is throwing well, and others in that group are throwing well, we’ll be very happy to sort that problem out.”
Hall pitched four innings in games this spring, allowing two earned runs and three walks while striking out seven. His velocity was down from where it had been in the majors last year, but Hall commanded the ball better, peppering the zone with strikes.
“This is honestly the best he has looked since being in major league camps,” Elias said. “It’s interesting, because this wasn’t the hardest throwing velocity he’s had, but the strikes, the tempo, the pitchability that we’ve seen, he looked great.”
Buying at the deadline
This offseason, Elias declared the rebuild over.
As opening day on Thursday in Boston approaches, Elias reiterated the organization’s focus on battling for the postseason.
“We’re going to be scrapping and clawing the whole way, and my goal is that we get to the trade deadline and we’re in it and we’re looking to add to this group,” Elias said.
The past few years have featured trade deadline sell-offs. Even in 2022, when Baltimore flirted with a wild card berth, Elias decided to trade first baseman Trey Mancini and closer Jorge López. That could change this summer should the Orioles find themselves in a playoff chase.
“We’re right in the thick of things,” Elias said. “We don’t have it easy. We’re still young, and some of these guys are going to take steps forward, and some are going to regress. But I think this is a really talented team.”
The final bench spots
There is still much to shake out before Thursday’s noon deadline to finalize the opening day roster.
Baltimore reassigned the following players Monday: catcher Maverick Handley; infielders Josh Lester, Ryan O’Hearn and Westburg; outfielder Daz Cameron; and pitchers Eduard Bazardo and Reed Garrett. The club also granted the release of first baseman Franchy Cordero and outfielder Nomar Mazara.
Elias was optimistic that Cordero could return after testing his options around the league. The left-handed hitter, who can play in the corner outfield, too, hit .432 this spring with two homers. If there’s no other major movement, the final bench spots will belong to McKenna, Vavra and Kyle Stowers.
Right-hander Mychal Givens will begin the year on the injured list due to left knee discomfort, and catcher James McCann (oblique) might join him, Elias said.
Internally, the bullpen options that remain include Joey Krehbiel, Logan Gillaspie and Mike Baumann. All three could make it, particularly because right-hander Andrew Politi, a Rule 5 Draft selection, is on waivers, an industry source confirmed. Otherwise, Baltimore could be in the market to add a reliever; they acquired left-hander Danny Coulombe from the Minnesota Twins on Monday.
That will all shake out before opening day on Thursday. But those 26 players won’t be the only ones to appear in Baltimore this year.
“It’s just the start of the season,” Elias said. “This isn’t anything permanent.”