BALTIMORE (AP) — The Baltimore Orioles have more interesting and more talented players entering the 2021 season than they’ve had in the last two years. They just don’t have enough of them.
General manager Mike Elias has remade the roster, selling off veterans and building up the farm system, but he knows in the third year of a rebuild that the team isn’t ready to compete in the rugged American League East.
“The competition that we need is here in order to staff this roster in order to put an interesting group out that will have an opportunity to carry forward our goals and have a competitive team and a team that will continue to develop us into the playoff team that we’re ultimately building towards,” Elias said.
The Orioles’ most accomplished player is first baseman Trey Mancini, who underwent colon cancer surgery a year ago and missed the entire season..
Mancini has made it through spring training healthy, but Elias could deal him and Anthony Santander, a rising young right fielder, for more prospects as the July trading deadline nears.
There are projections that give the Orioles no chance, 0.0%, of making the playoffs.
“It’s the least of my concerns,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I’m not worried about an article. I’m worried about he guys in our room. I’m worried about getting better on a daily basis, and we’re controlling what we can control.”
Hyde’s likely Opening Day starter, left-hander John Means, who was the team’s lone All-Star in 2019, agrees with Hyde.
“I think the last two years, we’ve been projected to finish last, and I don’t think we’ve done it yet,” Means said. “I think we’ve outplayed projections every year that I’ve been up here, and the play here is to outplay the projections again.”
The Orioles have many new faces, but most of them had their best seasons back when their new team was a consistent winner. Two projected starters, right-handers Felix Hernandez and Matt Harvey were dominant pitchers in the middle of the last decade. Hernandez left Tuesday’s game with right elbow discomfort.
Baltimore’s new double play combination, second baseman Yolmer Sanchez and shortstop Freddy Galvis, could be an improvement. Sanchez won the Gold Glove for the Chicago White Sox and Galvis is coming off his worst season with Cincinnati last year. On Tuesday, Baltimore signed free agent Maikel Franco to play third base.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
Ryan Mountcastle, new to the outfield last year, could split time between left field and designated hitter. Mountcastle made a smooth transition to the outfield and hit .333 in 35 games. He’s technically still a rookie because he fell four at-bats short of losing that status.
The Orioles could have three rookies in the starting rotation, right-hander Dean Kremer, and left-handers Keegan Akin and Bruce Zimmermann. The trio is woefully short on experience, a combined 11 starts. They’ll need lots of help.
Baltimore’s brightest hope, catcher Adley Rutschman, the overall No. 1 draft choice in 2019, has played just 37 professional games, and sorely missed the canceled minor league season in 2020. He may not see the majors until 2022.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO CHRIS DAVIS?
In 2013 and 2015, Davis led the major leagues in home runs, and then signed a seven-year, $161 million contract.
Since then, things have gotten worse for the slugger, who turned 35 on Wednesday. After playing in just 16 games and hitting .115 in 2020, Davis has batted only twice this spring, and is likely to begin the 2021 season on the injured list with a back injury.
While his teammates were playing last season, Mancini was undergoing chemotherapy and watching each game on television.
In 2019, Mancini was voted the team’s most valuable player when he hit 35 home runs, drove in 97 runs and hit .291.
So far, his spring has gone seamlessly. By design, Mancini has played every other day.
“I felt better at the plate than I expected,” Mancini said after his first game on Feb. 28. “I felt like I had a good mindset up there, picked up where I left off.”
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