Just over two weeks remain until spring training begins. The finalization of rosters will take place, and then the serious evaluation can begin.
What are the biggest storylines of spring training?
1) How is Manny Machado?
Early reports on Machado’s rehab have been encouraging, though the Orioles have not provided any official word recently.
The expectations are that Machado will be ready for Opening Day on Mar. 31 and that he’ll play in spring games at least two weeks before then.
It would be a surprise if manager Buck Showalter plays him as regularly as he did last spring when he made many of the road trips.
It wouldn’t be shocking if Machado were held out of the early exhibition games to protect his left knee.
2) Is Tommy Hunter really going to be the closer?
Unless Fernando Rodney suddenly signs with the Orioles, it’s going to be Tommy Hunter closing, at least at first.
If Showalter has a mystery candidate to close, he can be somewhat hidden because in spring games, the closer doesn’t work the ninth inning.
By then, players with numbers in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s are in the game, and non-roster pitchers are likely to throw.
A closer may work the fourth or fifth inning, and so may covert closer candidates.
It will probably be Hunter, but a mystery candidate would add even more spice to an interesting spring training.
3) Who will be the fifth starter?
If the Orioles sign another starter in the next two weeks, this could answer itself. Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris begin as the first four.
Bronson Arroyo, A.J. Burnett, Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana would vault into perhaps the second or third spot. If they sign one of the lesser names, guys like Bruce Chen, Tommy Hanson, Jeff Niemann or Joe Saunders, they’d be a fourth or fifth starter.
If they signed no one of note, Alfredo Aceves, Zach Britton, Kevin Gausman, Steve Johnson, T.J. McFarland and Josh Stinson would compete for the fifth job.
The Orioles would like Gausman and McFarland to start the season in the minors. The others could all work in the bullpen if they’re not in the rotation.
4) How is Nolan Reimold?
Reimold’s health is an annual preoccupation in Sarasota. He appeared at minicamp earlier this month, and if his neck is strong, Reimold could platoon with David Lough in left field.
It was presumed that 2013 was Reimold’s last chance with the Orioles, but he’s back for another shot this year.
A healthy Reimold would be a great bonus, but he hasn’t been healthy since 2011.
5) Can Ryan Flaherty be the everyday second baseman?
Entering spring training, the answer is yes, but Jemile Weeks will get a look.
Flaherty has earned some goodwill because of his fine work the last two seasons, and he plays other positions. His power potential excites them.
The Orioles want Jonathan Schoop to get some more time in Norfolk before he’s promoted.
Alexi Casilla has an excellent shot at returning as the utility man.
There are other questions, too. Who will be the designated hitters? Who will make up the back end of the bullpen? Who will be the backup catcher?
NOTE: Former Orioles infielder Blake Davis signed a minor league deal with Pittsburgh.