Baltimore Orioles: Spring Training Thoughts As Camp Opens

SARASOTA, FL - FEBRUARY 23: Chance Sisco #15 of the Baltimore Orioles celebrates with teammates after hitting a three-run home run against the Tampa Bay Rays in the ninth inning during a Grapefruit League spring training game at Ed Smith Stadium on February 23, 2018 in Sarasota, Florida. The Rays won 6-3. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
SARASOTA, FL - FEBRUARY 23: Chance Sisco #15 of the Baltimore Orioles celebrates with teammates after hitting a three-run home run against the Tampa Bay Rays in the ninth inning during a Grapefruit League spring training game at Ed Smith Stadium on February 23, 2018 in Sarasota, Florida. The Rays won 6-3. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

The long wait is finally over, Baltimore Orioles fans.

I may be looking out my window at ice-covered roads right now, but down in Sarasota, Florida, Baltimore Orioles pitchers and catchers are officially reporting for spring training. A few quotes, hearing how new offseason workout regiments made players X, Y, and Z as fit as ever, and a few sunny photos will provide a moment of relief from the workday, but the excitement will quickly fade away.

The Orioles are still 11 days away from their first spring training game (still no word on any televised contests this year) and 44 days away from opening the season against the New York Yankees, but at least baseball is back, right?

Once spring training games begin, there should be plenty to keep fans engaged up until Opening Day. Other than Chris Davis at first base, every infield position is up for grabs, as is the backend of the starting rotation.

With three Rule 5 draft picks, 18 (and counting) non-roster invitees in camp, and a handful of players, including Mike Wright, who are out of options, there should be plenty of competition to go around.

What are some of the storylines, camp battles, or individual players you will be paying close attention to? Here are five storylines that intrigue me as spring training 2019 commences.

Is DJ Stewart going to be a starting outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles?

DJ Stewart has fallen down the prospect rankings recently with the addition of a hefty prospect return at the 2018 trade deadline and the drafting of current top prospects like DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez, however, Stewart now enters 2019 camp with a chance to claim a starting outfield job at Camden Yards.

He didn’t have quite the season he wanted in Norfolk last year, hitting .235 in 116 games before finishing the season at the big league level. In numerous trips to Norfolk, Stewart often looked uncomfortable at the plate, routinely swinging at pitches way out of the zone and falling victim to the strikeout. Yet at each of those games I attended, he ended his afternoon or night with a big hit on a beautiful swing. He frustrates me, but only because I know there is the potential to be an everyday outfielder, he just needs to put it all together.

Stewart ended the year on a high note, logging three home runs and three doubles in 40 at-bats and hit safely in six of his final ten games. Maybe the outfield competition will push Stewart into having a big spring.

One last chance for LHP Chris Lee.

A fourth-round pick of the Houston Astros in 2011 and former top 10 prospect for the Baltimore Orioles, this is the final chance for Chris Lee to carve out any sort of role with the O’s. After a solid 2015 season with both Frederick and Bowie (3.29 ERA, two HR allowed in 145 innings), shoulder, oblique, and more injuries have limited Lee’s playing time and effectiveness. He was able to find a bit of success as a reliever in a very small sample size in AA, which may be his best bet moving forward.

His slider is a respectable pitch and making the switch to a fastball/slider reliever may provide positive results. There’s also his groundball rate which sits between 55-60% in larger sample sizes, however, he doesn’t miss bats and issues a large number of free passes. Lee’s work will be cut out for him if he ever plans to pitch at Camden Yards.

How does Chance Sisco perform in spring?

I’m fully on board the idea of sending Chance Sisco to AAA Norfolk to begin 2019, especially if Mike Elias thinks he can get Sisco over his next developmental hump. A former top prospect in Baltimore, Sisco moved between AAA and the pros in 2018, managing a lowly .181 average and .557 OPS in 160 at-bats in the big leagues. He struggled defensively and was far away from the career .306/.386/.420 hitter he was in the minors.

Veterans Carlos Perez and Jesus Sucre will be in camp this spring and both veterans are noted for their defensive abilities. By all accounts, Sucre sounds like an elite clubhouse guy and someone who Sisco can learn a lot from over the next few weeks. I’m fine with Austin Wynns and Sucre taking the reigns for now, but ideally, Sisco shows that gap power and patience at the plate that he has exhibited in the minor leagues.

Who is Renato Núñez?

The starting third baseman? I know, he isn’t a future multi-time All-Star (well, the 2019 O’s representative could be anyone) but he held his own in his limited time in the big leagues last season. Núñez hit .275 with a .336 OBP, and a 0.9 fWAR in 60 games, recording seven home runs and a 113 wRC+. He’s a former top prospect with the Oakland A’s and should be a reliable stopgap as the Orioles continue to figure out if Ryan Mountcastle will stick at third base or bring someone else into the fold.

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His Steamer projections show a 21 home run season and a .239/.299/.421 slash, culminating in a 1.9 fWAR year. Baseball Prospectus isn’t as high on the third baseman, projecting a .214/.265/.419 slash with 22 home runs. He is 24 years old but has been playing professional baseball since 2011, accumulating just 90 games in the big leagues. A full year of playing time will allow us to better answer the question, who is Renato Núñez?

Was 2018 Richie Martin the real deal?

A former first-round pick of Oakland A’s, Richie Martin brings speed, versatility, and a big glove to the Orioles’ infield. Martin has adjusted his swing and put together a solid season in Double-A last year, slashing .300/.368/.439 with an .800 OPS. He logged 29 doubles and swiped 25 bases, both career-highs for the 24-year-old shortstop.

If the new regime can unlock Martin’s development, the Orioles will have themselves quite the Rule 5 steal. He’s going to take his lumps this year as he makes the required jump from Double-A to the pros but as long as he continues to show continued progression at the plate, there seems to be little doubt with his glove. There’s plenty of competition for the middle infield spots, but no one immediately jumps out as a lock. Martin showing an ability to put the bat on the ball will be one of the bigger individual storylines I will be following this spring.

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What storylines are going to keep you interested throughout the spring? Any players you are particularly excited to watch? Let us know below.