As Orioles manager Brandon Hyde surveys his outfield options this spring in Sarasota, Florida, he won’t exactly be looking at anyone new.
Everyone in the team’s outfield mix — and there are no bad candidates in a group featuring Anthony Santander, Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart — has had some major league success, and that came after the Orioles’ front office made them spend more time in the minors than they might have liked.
In 2019, Stewart was one of the first cuts from big league camp, while Hays and Santander lit up spring training but were sent to minor league camp anyway to play at Triple-A Norfolk.
In 2020, Mullins was meant to start the year in the minors before major league rosters were expanded for the shortened 62-game season. Mountcastle was never going to make the team out of spring training despite being the reigning International League Most Valuable Player at Norfolk.
Each had developmental goals they needed to hit, but the Orioles also had incentives to keep them in the minors for the purposes of club control and future costs through salary arbitration.
Whatever the motivation, the results are hard to argue with — a trio of slugging corner outfielders in Mountcastle, Santander and Stewart, and potential center fielders who can impact the game with their bat and legs in Mullins and Hays. All are liable to make the major league team this year, and as a group are some of the Orioles’ most promising long-term big leaguers currently on the roster.
The Orioles’ success with their patient approach means young prospects knocking on the major league door in Jahmai Jones, Yusniel Diaz and Ryan McKenna will likely be subject to the same plan.
The first spring under executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and Hyde in 2019 was the beginning of a full-throated sale of the team’s future talents, and to many that meant highlighting the young players already on their roster. Hays rocketed to the majors in his first full season in 2017 but dealt with injuries the year before, and Santander likewise debuted in 2017 as a Rule 5 draft pick but spent most of 2018 dealing with injuries in the minors.
Stewart was one of several prospects to debut in the majors late that season, as was Mullins, who took over center field for star Adam Jones that August.
But only Mullins made the team out of camp in 2019, despite Hays and Santander slugging through their time in big league camp.