Sizing up 2023 Orioles’ Opening Day roster

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We made it through another winter, and Opening Day has arrived.

The Orioles enter the new season with some semblance of expectations for the first time in years after a remarkable 31-game improvement in 2022 to finish above .500 for the first time since 2016. The question now becomes whether Baltimore will take the next step and qualify for the postseason with one of the more promising collections of young players in the game.

General manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde officially set the Opening Day roster hours before first pitch at Fenway Park on Thursday, but we know the Orioles will use an abundance of players over the course of a 162-game slate. And that’s an exciting dynamic with Baltimore still widely regarded as having the best farm system in baseball.

Below is the initial 26-man roster for the 2023 campaign:

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STARTING ROTATION (5): Kyle Gibson, Dean Kremer, Cole Irvin, Kyle Bradish, Tyler Wells

Skinny: Elias added Gibson and Irvin over the winter to eat innings — a combined 348 2/3 frames between them last season — and raise the floor of a rotation that’s still depending on a few young arms to take the next step. Kremer will try to build on his breakout 2022 that included a 3.23 ERA while Bradish aims to repeat his impressive 3.28 ERA after the All-Star break last year. Meanwhile, Wells wants to remind everyone that he was arguably Baltimore’s best starter before an oblique injury in late July.

Next man up: The decision to send down top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez prompted understandable accusations of Elias manipulating service time, but the 23-year-old had a rocky spring and is still trying to get back to where he was last May before a lat injury cost him three months of action and his expected major league debut last season. Giving Rodriguez the opportunity to exhale and dominate Triple-A hitters for a few weeks before summoning him to Baltimore is far from the end of the world. Fellow pitching prospect DL Hall still needs to build up his innings after a late start to spring training because of a back issue, but he could also be knocking on the rotation door very soon.

BULLPEN (8): Felix Bautista, Bryan Baker, Cionel Perez, Austin Voth, Keegan Akin, Logan Gillaspie, Mike Baumann, Danny Coulombe

Skinny: A year ago at this time, there was angst over Elias trading Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott days before Opening Day, but the bullpen — headlined by an electric rookie season by Bautista — proved to be one of the biggest reasons why the Orioles contended for a playoff spot. Injuries to top setup man Dillon Tate and returning veteran Mychal Givens create similar early-season concerns as it’s no forgotten that Baltimore had some difficulties bridging the gap to Bautista down the stretch after former closer Jorge Lopez was dealt at last year’s trade deadline. The sleeper arms to watch are Baumann and Gillaspie, who both made the Opening Day bullpen over 2022 mainstay Krehbiel.

Next man up: On the heels of a poor finish to 2022, Krehbiel got off to a nightmare start this spring before settling down to log 5 2/3 scoreless innings over his final six appearances in the Grapefruit League. In other words, there’s little reason to think Krehbiel won’t still find himself in the mix at some point.

CATCHERS (2): Adley Rutschman, Anthony Bemboom

Skinny: Voted Most Valuable Oriole and second for American League Rookie of the Year, Rutschman is already the face of the franchise and could establish himself as a bonafide superstar and the league’s best catcher in his first full major league season. With veteran backup James McCann currently sidelined, Bemboom makes the Opening Day roster for the second straight season.

Next man up: Looking beyond McCann and Bemboom in the current pecking order, Maverick Handley is very good defensively and could be the eventual backup to Rutschman, but some questions remain about his offense after he batted .236 with a .769 on-base plus slugging percentage at Double-A Bowie last season.

INFIELDERS (6): Ryan Mountcastle, Adam Frazier, Jorge Mateo, Gunnar Henderson, Ramon Urias, Terrin Vavra

Skinny: There is no shortage of depth with this group as the veteran second baseman Frazier joins what was already a crowded picture with even more upside and talent on the way. Other than Mountcastle at first base, there could be plenty of day-to-day changes to the infield, but all eyes will be on Henderson, who will play third base and shortstop and is a favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year after a promising call-up last September.

Next man up: Jordan Westburg and Joey Ortiz had success at Norfolk last season, and the former followed that with a very strong Grapefruit League performance that made the winter signing of Frazier look even more curious. Considering the numbers in the infield with more prospects on the way, something has to give at some point with a potential trade or two making sense.

OUTFIELDERS (5): Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Austin Hays, Ryan McKenna, Kyle Stowers 

Skinny: The outfield looks the same as it did at the end of last year with Stowers being the upside name to watch entering his first full season in the big leagues. The starting trio of Mullins, Santander, and Hays is a familiar one by now, but Hays needs to put a difficult second half of 2022 behind him to maintain an everyday role.

Next man up: Considering Frazier, Vavra, and even Mateo have the ability to play some outfield, there is no plenty of outfield depth on the Opening Day roster. However, a strong start at Norfolk would put 2021 first-round pick Colton Cowser — who homered three times, walked 13 times, and posted a .920 OPS in the Grapefruit League — on a quick path to making his major league debut this season.

INJURED LIST: RHP Mychal Givens, RHP Dillon Tate, C James McCann, LHP John Means

Skinny: The hope is McCann (left oblique strain) and Givens (left knee) will return in April, but the timeline for Tate is trickier as he hopes to return at some point in May from a right elbow flexor strain, the kind of injury requiring caution. The Orioles are targeting a July return for Means, who underwent Tommy John surgery last April and recently began bullpen sessions in which he’s throwing his fastball and changeup.

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