With the Orioles about to open the 2021 season at Fenway Park on Thursday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. Austin Hays has been on a roller coaster since his major league debut in 2017, but he was easily Baltimore’s best player this spring after finishing a bumpy 2020 with a .988 OPS in his final 57 plate appearances. You hope he finally stays healthy and puts it all together.
2. Monday’s rough final Grapefruit League outing aside, rookie lefty Bruce Zimmermann is giving off some vibes reminiscent of John Means a couple years ago, showing improved velocity and an ability to miss more bats this spring. The Ellicott City native giving this club competitive outings would be a significant lift.
3. Though the Orioles have a long way to go elsewhere, there’s plenty to like in the outfield without even considering the potential debut of Yusniel Diaz later this summer. The focus will be on offensive upside, but Hays and Cedric Mullins playing in the same outfield improves the defense substantially.
4. Meanwhile, the infield might be intriguing if it were 2016 in Philadelphia all over again as the Orioles will have a new starting shortstop for the fourth straight opener in Freddy Galvis. The likes of Gunnar Henderson, Jordan Westburg, Terrin Vavra, and Adam Hall can’t develop fast enough.
5. I was looking forward to seeing whether Felix Hernandez could revive his career in Baltimore, but mid-80s velocity and a sore elbow made it apparent that the likelihood of him reversing a five-year trend of increasing ERAs was remote. It’ll be interesting to see how the almost-35-year-old proceeds.
6. Though Matt Harvey is younger than Hernandez and showed improved velocity this spring, the former “Dark Knight of Gotham” beginning the season as the No. 2 starter isn’t doing much to hold off the harshest criticism of the Orioles’ rebuild. Harvey owns a 7.82 ERA since the start of 2019.
7. Dean Kremer rebounded in his final spring start to maintain the last rotation spot, but Keegan Akin’s demotion was disappointing. Turning 26 later this week, the rookie lefty allowed 10 earned runs, 15 hits, and seven walks over nine spring innings. You hope Akin regroups quickly at the alternate site.
8. It’s tough to know what to make of the secrecy surrounding Anthony Santander and his oblique issue over the final week of spring training. On Monday, Brandon Hyde expressed optimism about his availability to open the season, but Santander’s injury history understandably makes you skeptical.
9. Regardless of when Adley Rutschman arrives in Baltimore, Chance Sisco can’t feel good about a 3-for-30 spring that didn’t include a single extra-base hit. Given his limitations defensively, the former top 100 prospect is running out of time to prove he’s anything but a placeholder.
10. Though Chris Davis won’t count against the roster on the 60-day injured list, every extended absence makes you wonder if he’s reached the end. Of course, games — and player salary — being lost to the pandemic and a potential 2022 work stoppage incentivizes ownership to keep Davis until the bitter end.
11. The current major league payroll makes it nearly impossible to think about the Orioles spending money, but the plans announced for a state-of-the-art training academy in the Dominican is the kind of development that felt impossible only a few years ago. The efforts being made internationally shouldn’t go unnoticed.
12. No matter what happens in the win-loss department — my haphazard 67-95 prediction at the start of spring training admittedly feels too optimistic — Trey Mancini has so many throughout baseball rooting for him, which is worth a smile every day. His bat really came alive by the end of spring too.