Baltimore Orioles Spring Training Recap
This year has brought out a rather unusual Baltimore Orioles spring training. Typically, spring is a time of hope and optimism for all 30 MLB teams. But even before the start of spring training, pundits and oddsmakers gave the Orioles no chance of making the playoffs, much less winning the World Series. However, that’s not stopped the Orioles from having an eventful spring. Plus, there are always plenty of reasons to buy Orioles tickets once the regular season gets underway, even if expectations are low. With opening day right around the corner, let’s look back at the important news and notes from Orioles spring training in 2021.
In terms of wins and losses, it hasn’t been a particularly good spring for the Orioles. Baltimore entered the final week of spring training just 8-14 in Grapefruit League play. They are tied for last place, with the Rays - with the Astros being the only team in the 15-team Grapefruit League to win fewer games this spring.
The caveat is that the results of spring training games are beyond meaningless. Teams don’t play their best players the entire game, and managers don’t manage to win the game. Nevertheless, it always feels good to win games, even if they don’t count. Unfortunately for the Orioles, that’s something they’ve struggled to do consistently this spring.
Guess Who’s Back?
The highlight of Baltimore’s spring training season has been the return of first baseman Trey Mancini, who was sorely missed during the 2020 season. Mancini sat out last season after being diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer. While the world suffered through a global pandemic, Mancini was fighting cancer.
However, Mancini has officially been in remission since September and is back on the field in what could be the best feel-good story of the 2021 MLB season. Not only is he healthy enough to play, but Mancini has performed this spring. In his first 13 Grapefruit League games, Mancini hit .342 with two home runs and an OPS of .850, setting him up as the favorite for MLB’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.
The Young Guns
Despite Baltimore’s propensity for losing Grapefruit League games this spring, several players have stood out. In addition to Mancini, some of the team’s young stars have impressed during the exhibition season. Right fielder Anthony Salander is currently hitting .310 with an OPS of .866. Ryan Mountcastle, an early candidate for Rookie of the Year, is hitting .256 with three home runs, giving him an OPS of .865. Finally, center fielder Austin Hays has been the team’s best player, hitting .375 with an OPS of 1.019.
The players who the Orioles were hoping would perform at a high level have answered the call. If Mancini, Salander, and Mountcastle can carry over strong spring performances into the regular season, the heart of Baltimore’s lineup should be formidable. The club will also be ecstatic to see the development of Hays this spring after he impressed in small doses in both 2019 and 2020. Unbeknownst to much of the baseball world, the Orioles are quietly putting a few more pieces of the puzzle in place this spring.
The Orioles weren’t big spenders during the offseason, but in the middle of spring, they made a low-risk, high-reward signing. On March 16, Baltimore agreed to a one-year deal with third baseman Maikel Franco worth $800,000, a small sum for someone with Franco’s track record. While he’s never lived up to the potential he flashed early in his career with the Phillies, the 28-year-old Franco still boasts plenty of upsides.
Between 2016 and 2018, he hit at least 22 home runs per season before a disappointing 2019 campaign. Franco had a solid 2020 season, hitting .278 with eight home runs over 60 games with the Royals. He’ll come to Baltimore with something to prove, and so, picking up a player who could be the team’s everyday third baseman in the middle of spring training at an affordable price is a huge win for the Orioles.
Remember This Guy?
The average baseball fan may not recognize a lot of the pitchers on Baltimore’s staff, but there’s at least one name that will turn heads. A week before the start of the regular season, the Orioles selected the contract of Matt Harvey, who was with the team during spring training on a minor-league contract.
The 31-year-old Harvey was one of the best pitchers in baseball early in his career with the Mets. He was an all-star in 2013, missed the 2014 season because of Tommy John's surgery, only to win Comeback Player of the Year in 2015 while helping the Mets reach the World Series. Alas, injuries started to get the best of him after that, and his career looked over after he posted an ERA of 11.57 in seven appearances with the Royals last year. However, Harvey has started to recapture his old form this spring. His velocity is starting to come back, and despite a few troubling years, he could begin the season as a member of Baltimore’s starting rotation.