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The 7 most interesting players the Orioles could add when rosters expand in September

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As fatigue sets in on an Orioles roster that has battled its way to the top of the American League East, the club is nearing some reinforcements.

On Sept. 1, Baltimore can add two players to its roster for the final month-plus of the regular season, supplying much-needed fortifications for both the pitching staff and lineup with the likelihood being the Orioles add one pitcher and position player each; even as rosters expand from 26 to 28, the limit on pitchers they’re allowed to carry increases by only one from 13 to 14.

It’s plausible the Orioles use those extra roster spots in a relatively modest fashion, such as activating outfielder Aaron Hicks from the injured list and recalling a familiar reliever such as Bryan Baker, Joey Krehbiel or Logan Gillaspie. But more intriguing options will be available, including numerous top prospects.

Here are the seven most interesting players the Orioles could add when their roster expands Sept. 1, in order by likelihood.

Tyler Wells

Wells made his first appearance out of Triple-A Norfolk’s bullpen Wednesday, pitching a scoreless eighth inning in the Tides’ 3-1 victory. He was Baltimore’s top starter in the first half of the season, but after he showed fatigue out of the All-Star break, the Orioles sent him to Double-A Bowie and have now decided to return him to a relief role for their playoff push. In his 2021 rookie season, Wells blossomed into a key late-inning reliever for manager Brandon Hyde, and the hope is he can do the same again next month.

DL Hall

After Wells worked the eighth for Norfolk, Hall pitched a scoreless ninth, striking out three while walking two to earn the save. Baltimore’s top pitching prospect after the graduation of Grayson Rodriguez, the 24-year-old left-hander shined out of the Orioles’ bullpen down the stretch last year, and after regaining the velocity he lacked earlier this year, Hall is poised for a repeat. He’s struck out 18 of 30 batters faced since his return to Norfolk after undergoing a strengthening period at the Orioles’ Sarasota, Florida, complex.

Colton Cowser

Cowser struggled mightily in his first taste of the majors. He’s possibly earned the chance to come back quickly by thriving in his return to Triple-A. He hit .348/.464/.739 in his first six games back with Norfolk, and although he went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts Wednesday, he made a sensational catch in center field. Overall, the 23-year-old has hit .326 with a 1.001 OPS in Triple-A this year, showing the impact he can have once he settles into the majors.

John Means

Perhaps the biggest hurdle Means faces when it comes to being activated Sept. 1 is the fact that that date doesn’t align with his current starting schedule. Since beginning his rehabilitation assignment as he works back from his May 2022 Tommy John elbow reconstruction, Means — the Orioles’ best starter throughout their rebuild — has pitched every five days, with his next start scheduled for Friday with Norfolk after three outings with Bowie. That would line up his subsequent start for Aug. 30, with his usage suggesting he’ll build up to 90 pitches in that appearance. Then, Baltimore could make a significant addition to its late-season rotation.

Joey Ortiz

It’s perhaps easy to forget that, among the collection of major league-ready position player prospects the Orioles opened the season with, Ortiz was the first of them to debut this year. Despite hitting .332 with a .913 OPS at Triple-A while playing what’s regarded as elite shortstop defense, Ortiz has received limited and infrequent opportunities with Baltimore. Even now, it’s unclear whether there’s playing time available for him on the Orioles’ infield, but unlike the players who follow him on this list, Ortiz is already on Baltimore’s 40-man roster, making a potential transaction easier, and — should it matter in the team’s decisions — bats right-handed.

Heston Kjerstad

Kjerstad ending this year in the majors would be remarkable. Heart and hamstring ailments forced the No. 2 pick in the 2020 draft to wait two years to make his professional debut, and it took him less than a year from that point to reach Triple-A, raking at almost every stop along the way. A 24-year-old who plays both the corner outfield and first base, Kjerstad has hit .307 with 19 home runs, 26 doubles, seven triples and a .923 OPS in the upper minors this year.

Jackson Holliday

As impressive as Kjerstad’s ascension would be, Holliday’s would easily top it. The 19-year-old shortstop has rapidly gone from the No. 1 pick in last summer’s draft to baseball’s unanimous No. 1 prospect by hitting .332/.455/.524 across three levels. In 27 games with Bowie, he’s batting .333 with a .953 OPS, prompting executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias to tell MASN this week, “He’s about as polished as you can imagine.” But Elias has also repeatedly referred to success in Triple-A as a prerequisite to promote a prospect to the majors; for how this front office has operated, having Holliday skip the level entirely would be unprecedented, but so is much else Holliday has done in his first pro season.

A note of import as it relates to Holliday and Kjerstad: It would make it easier for the Orioles to include them on any postseason roster if they’re added to the 40-man roster Sept. 1, but it’s not a requirement. They could also serve as a replacement for an injured player who has spent the requisite amount of time on the IL.

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