With the Orioles’ first few Spring Training games in the books, I think it’s time for me to take a look at some of the things to be excited about for the next month or so. The O’s are starting a whole new regime, from GM to manager to mindset, and it could bring a whole new energy to baseball in Baltimore in the coming years. As we all know, there are a number of prospects to keep an eye on this year, from Yusniel Diaz to Ryan Mountcastle to DL Hall. But, as it’s my job to add a little extra insight, here are a few players that might be flying under the radar who could be interesting guys to follow this spring.
1. Ryan McKenna, OF
McKenna burst onto the scene last year, taking huge strides at the plate to complement his plus speed and glove in centerfield. The outfielder made his way all the way to AA Bowie, and while he is probably at least a year away from being an actual big-league contributor, McKenna has a chance to make a statement in Sarasota as a non-roster invitee. If he can continue to get on base at a solid clip, he has the potential to be a regular for the Orioles, and that’s why MLB Pipeline named him as their 7th best prospect coming into 2019.
2. Alcides Escobar, SS
There’s been a lot of talk about the Rule-5 picks Richie Martin and Drew Jackson this offseason, and for good reason: the Orioles should be inclined to keep at least one of them on the roster all year. However, much of the discussion is about Richie Martin taking the starting role at shortstop in 2019, especially if his bat continues to produce. However, Escobar is the type of addition that could be interesting for Brandon Hyde. He is certainly a proven veteran and, in my eyes, is the favorite to start at short on Opening Day. That could spell trouble for whichever Rule-5 selection performs worse this spring.
3. Dillon Tate, SP
Tate was the big piece that the Orioles received from the Yankees in return for Zack Britton. If I recall correctly, he was once a very well-liked prospect in New York’s system and showed a lot of potential before taking a step back last year. He didn’t perform great when he got to Bowie in August, but if he can find his stride again he could be an intriguing player. After all, the Orioles are lacking depth in starting pitching and could find themselves working a bit of a carousel at the 4 and 5 spots this year. If Tate pitches well, his name could be thrown into that mix.
4. Richard Bleier, RP
Okay, this guy isn’t a prospect or new addition, but before you jump on me, let me explain why he’s an important player to watch. If you think about it, as the O’s approach the trade deadline this summer, might there be no better player to flip than Bleier? Before getting injured last year, Bleier was one of the Orioles’ best bullpen arms. On top of that, the reliever has become increasingly coveted at the deadline for contending teams. While Bleier isn’t Brad Hand, who the Indians dealt won of their top prospects for last year, he could bring back a very solid return if he comes back well this year.
5. Austin Hays, OF
The Orioles have a decent crop of outfield prospects at the moment, but one of their better and yet somehow overlooked ones is Austin Hays. Just two years ago, before I even wrote for the podcast, Hays was a very exciting talent that Jason and Jerry were incredibly excited about. He was hitting, fielding, running, and doing it all in Bowie before the Orioles called him up in September. Last year, Hays had a tough campaign that was hurt by injuries, but I think it’s a very real expectation for him to get back to his prior production and make himself a candidate to be called up again by the end of the year.