Projecting the 2015 Orioles roster to begin the season

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(Edited: 8:30 a.m. Tuesday)

Only a couple 25-man roster spots remain up for grabs as the Orioles are a week away from Opening Day and the start of the 2015 season.

Manager Buck Showalter frequently warns against being fooled by a player’s performance in March, but a few individuals have made strong statements to help Baltimore defend its 2014 American League East title. As we’ve learned throughout the Showalter era, roster flexibility is a must, so it’s critical to remember which players have minor-league options that could impact their standing on the big-league roster at any given time.

Below is my final projection for how the 25-man roster comes together this week. The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number projected on the roster at that given position.

PITCHERS (12 with starting pitchers underlined)
IN: Brad Brach, Zach Britton, Wei-Yin Chen, Kevin Gausman, Miguel Gonzalez, Tommy Hunter, Ubaldo Jimenez, Bud Norris, Darren O’Day, Chris Tillman, Logan Verrett (Rule 5 pick), Wesley Wright
TRADED: Brian Matusz
DESIGNATED FOR ASSIGNMENT/OUTRIGHTED: Ryan Webb
OPTIONED: T.J. McFarland
SENT BACK TO ORIGINAL CLUB: Jason Garcia (Rule 5 pick)
Skinny: Since Showalter hinted at Gausman being used in relief last week, I’ll predict the Orioles send him to the bullpen, which is risky if you want him to be stretched out enough to move into the rotation if another starter falters. With Gausman in the pen, Webb will be designated for assignment and likely clear waivers because of his $2.75 million salary for 2015. Though they shouldn’t expect a big return, I’ll predict the Orioles finally pull the trigger on trading Matusz to clear payroll and to open another spot in the bullpen. As Rule 5 picks, Verrett and Garcia have created tough decisions as both have pitched well this spring. With Verrett being older and more polished, my guess is the Orioles will attempt to use him out of the bullpen if they can’t work out a trade with the New York Mets to keep him in the organization. However, it will be very difficult trying to carry him all year if the Orioles hope to use their trademark roster flexibility.

CATCHERS (2)
IN: Caleb Joseph, Ryan Lavarnway
DISABLED LIST: Matt Wieters
OPTIONED: Steve Clevenger (on roster for Opening Day only)
Skinny: Joseph will enter the season as the starting catcher with Wieters still on the mend from last year’s Tommy John surgery, but the battle for the backup job is down to Lavarnway and Clevenger after J.P. Arencibia was reassigned to minor-league camp on Monday. Clevenger would make more sense on the surface since he’s already on the 40-man roster, but my gut says the Orioles prefer Lavarnway’s defense and they’ll add him to the roster to back up Joseph until Wieters is ready to return.

INFIELDERS (6)
IN: Everth Cabrera, Chris Davis (suspended for Opening Day), Ryan Flaherty, Manny Machado, Jimmy Paredes, Jonathan Schoop
DISABLED LIST: J.J. Hardy
Skinny: The Orioles have mentioned on a number of occasions that the veteran Cabrera has a remaining option as they’ve attempted to make him a super utility player this spring, even putting him in the outfield. Before Hardy’s injury to his left shoulder, it would have made sense to give Cabrera a few weeks to play all over the diamond at Triple-A Norfolk to get more comfortable defensively after spending most of his career at shortstop. Either way, Flaherty’s status as the primary utility man appears to be in jeopardy with Cabrera bringing some much-needed speed to the table. Entering Monday with a 1.069 on-base plus slugging percentage, Paredes has hit his way onto the roster despite his defensive limitations.

(Editor’s note: Hardy’s test results Monday revealed he would begin the season on the disabled list, which moved Cabrera to the 25-man roster in his place.)

OUTFIELDERS (5)
IN: Alejandro De Aza, Adam Jones, Steve Pearce, Travis Snider, Delmon Young
DISABLED LIST: David Lough
SENT TO TRIPLE-A NORFOLK: Nolan Reimold
Skinny: With Lough’s hamstring and back issues continuing to linger and the speedy outfielder on shaky roster footing anyway, it only makes sense for the Orioles to put him on the 15-day disabled list to begin the season as De Aza would be back up center field in a pinch. Entering Monday with a .413 on-base percentage this spring, Reimold has put himself back on the radar as a possible option in the outfield and will be one to watch closely at Norfolk in the coming weeks.