As the snow starts to melt here in Baltimore, down in sunny Sarasota the Orioles first spring training game of 2019 is only a couple of days away. It seems like pitchers and catchers only just reported, because well, they kind of just did — about 10 days ago.
Things are moving quickly, at least on the fan side. Maybe not on the player side though, as every spring we hear about the monotony of PFP drills and facing your own teammates in the batting cage. It doesn’t take long for the players to tire of the spring routine and hope for the real games to start.
But this spring brings new intrigue, and it starts with new manager Brandon Hyde. The notable changes we’ve heard about in O’s camp include a more relaxed overall vibe than maybe previous years, a lot of music during workouts and high speed cameras recording the pitchers’ bullpen sessions.
As far as the roster, there are a few familiar veterans holdovers from last year, but there is also a lot of youth. The Orioles chose to basically forego the free agent market this year, signing only one major league free agent — Nate Karns — late in the offseason.
There is competition all over the diamond, including right field, third base, shortstop and catcher. It will be especially interesting to watch the players associated with these positions compete during Grapefruit League games because it will be their chance to show they deserve to start.
Will veteran Alcides Escobar, signed to a minor league deal, be able to hold off young Rule 5 draft picks Richie Martin and Drew Jackson at shortstop? Defensive metrics have not been as kind to Escobar recently as they were at the beginning of his career, so it will be interesting to see if he can still pick it in these spring training games. Last year Escobar did get ample time at other positions in the infield, so in the end it may be a utility job that he garners while one of the youngsters stakes out the everyday at-bats at shortstop.
Catcher is a mystery right now, but defense will be paramount to anyone hoping to snag the gig. Spring is very important for building chemistry between pitchers and catchers, which could be the difference between flying north with the team and reporting to a minor league affiliate. Austin Wynns and Chance Sisco would seem to have the inside track for the catcher position right now, but we will soon see what spring training games bear out.
The right field battle includes guys like DJ Stewart, Austin Hays and newly signed Eric Young Jr. There’s also a chance that whoever doesn’t win this job can become an extra outfielder on the opening day roster. But I would think the only way Young wins the starting job is if Stewart, Hays and any other young guy competing for the spot falls flat on their face.
Third base seems to be one of the least talked about competitions. The main names there include Renato Nunez, who played a bunch of games towards the end of last year while proving himself capable at the plate but not so much on the field, and Rio Ruiz, an offseason acquisition of GM Mike Elias.
Maybe some new name emerges over the course of spring training. But one name that doesn’t really seem to be in the mix at third at the moment is Ryan Mountcastle, who the team is working out at first base. There is also a chance that one of the shortstop candidates slides over to third if none of the previously mentioned names separate themselves.
Lastly, a few important notes as you turn on your televisions and radios this Saturday for the first Orioles spring training game. The higher the number on a player’s jersey, the younger they are and the less likely to make the team. Now this is not always the case, as a player may change his jersey to a lower number later in the spring or at the start of the real season, but just keep that in mind.
Also, there is a lot of lineup turnover in the spring, especially in the early games. Pitchers aren’t stretched out enough to go more than an inning or two, and position players need to constantly be filtered in and out in order for the coaches to get a good look at everyone.
So keep these points in mind when tuning into spring baseball and always remember — especially during a rebuild — that patience is key.