Spots open in Orioles' rotation, bullpen

By The Sports Xchange
POSTED: 11:05 PM Feb 13 2014   UPDATED: 11:05 PM Feb 13 2014

A solid core of position players in their prime puts the Orioles in an enviable position of sorts.

But unknowns in the rotation and in the bullpen leave some competitions open as the Orioles open came in Sarasota, Fla.

The club also will be settling out position battles or platoon situations at second base, left field and designated hitter. Also, depending on the progress of Manny Machado's recovery from knee surgery, third base may be in flux, as well.

While most eyes will be on Machado's progress, focus will also be on the closer's role. Tommy Hunter is the leading candidate to replace Jim Johnson, the All-Star closer dealt to Oakland in December.

As far as personnel goes, there are only a few new faces in camp. The Johnson trade was the biggest move of the offseason. While it's possible the club could add a bat in the early weeks of spring training, the front office was content to stand pat with the roster's core from last season.

The Orioles and Korean right-hander Suk-min Yoon agreed on a contract just before the start of spring training, giving the team another option for the back end of the rotation or in long relief. But the team did not acquire the veteran starter it set out to nab in the offseason. Because of that, the rotation will look much like it did a year ago.

Right-hander Chris Tillman, who grew into his potential in 2013, is the favorite to lead the rotation into 2014. He'll be joined by lefty Wei-Yin Chen and righties Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris. The fifth slot is up for grabs, and lefties Zach Britton and T.J. McFarland may have an inside track. Britton is out of minor league options.

David Lough, Henry Urruita, Nolan Reimold, Delmon Young, Francisco Peguero and others will compete for at-bats in left field and at designated hitter. Ryan Flaherty, Jemile Weeks, Alexi Casilla and top prospect Jonathan Schoop will vie for playing time at second base.

As the lineup goes, the leadoff spot is unsettled, though right fielder Nick Markakis -- entering the final year of his six-year deal -- could bat first on most nights.

The Orioles lineup, rotation and bullpen to open the season likely won't be the one they trot out later in the summer. Prospects Kevin Gausman and, perhaps later, Dylan Bundy, could make an impact in the second-half of the season. Judging by how the club handled its roster in the offseason, it may be eagerly waiting on Gausman, Bundy and Schoop to arrive.