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Friday Bird Droppings: Where the minor leagues are back on

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Coming off their scrapped 2020 seasons, the Orioles affiliates unveiled their 2021 schedules, which include a few twists.

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees
Yusniel Diaz, the Orioles’ No. 8 prospect, should finally get to make his Triple-A debut this year.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, Camden Chatters.

We’re three days into Orioles spring training and, well, so far so good (knock on wood). Most of the team has arrived at camp. Workouts are happening. Zoom interviews are being conducted. Players are in the best shape of their lives, or so we can imagine. Six more weeks of this without incident and the O’s will be on track to start the regular season as scheduled on April 1.

There’s also some news that’s perhaps even more exciting to Orioles fans: the 2021 minor league season, at least as of now, is a go. All minor league teams announced their 2021 schedules yesterday, with Triple-A teams set to kick off April 6 and all lower leagues to begin May 4. Every league will finish play Sept. 19, a couple weeks later than usual.

It’s a welcome sight for the Birds, who, as a rebuilding organization, were hit particularly hard by the cancellation of the 2020 minor league campaign. Their up-and-coming prospects were denied a full year of professional development in a competitive atmosphere. Playing a bunch of intrasquad games at an alternate training site just doesn’t get the juices flowing in the same way. And a few prospects who might have made their MLB debuts in 2020, like Yusniel Diaz, instead weren’t able to finish climbing the organizational ladder.

As those minor league teams finally get to take the field again, though, their schedules will look quite a bit different from usual, partly because of COVID-19 protocols and partly because of MLB’s massive restructuring of the minors this winter. The Triple-A Norfolk Tides, for instance, will reduce their travel load by playing against only the six other teams in their division, which includes new opponents such as Jacksonville, Memphis, and Nashville. The Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds will be facing a bunch of teams for the first time ever, as their newly formed North Division includes three clubs who were formerly part of High-A. The Aberdeen Ironbirds will be facing entirely new opponents, having jumped up two levels from short-season ball to the High-A East League. The Double-A Bowie Baysox, meanwhile, will play against mostly the same teams they always have, except that they’re now part of the Southwest Division of the Northeast League. I can’t get over how silly that sounds.

The biggest change throughout the minors is that every series will be a six-game series that stretches from Tuesday through Sunday, followed by a Monday off day every week. So if you’re a fan of Monday minor league games, bad news — there won’t be any in 2021.

The changes are going to take some getting used to. But — with the standard caveat that COVID could still wreak havoc on things — it appears the minor leagues are coming back, baby! And Orioles fans are champing at the bit to track the progress of their favorite prospects against actual, real-life opponents. It’s been a long wait.

Links

King Félix’s drive: ‘The Hall of Fame’ - Orioles.com
Part of Felix Hernandez’s motivation for continuing to pitch is to try to pad his Hall of Fame resume with wins and strikeouts. Um, if it’s wins he’s after, I have some terrible news for him about the team he just joined.

Félix Hernández on his Hall of Fame credentials – The Athletic
To that point, Dan Connolly surveyed a few writers at The Athletic to get their take on Hernandez’s Hall of Fame case, and most agree that he’ll fall short of induction. They’re forgetting the part where he becomes the ace of the Orioles’ staff and leads them to four World Series! ...Right, guys? Am I right?

Chris Holt on six-man possibility, plus minors schedules are out - Steve Melewski
Pitching coach Chris Holt explains that that to protect their young arms, the Orioles are discussing the use of a six-man rotation. And you thought it was hard enough for the O’s to scrounge up five useful starting pitchers.

Hyde on Mancini, Harvey, Hernandez, Jones, infield and more - School of Roch
According to Brandon Hyde, Trey Mancini looks really good on the field. As far as I’m concerned, that makes this season a victory already.

Orioles birthdays and history

Is today your birthday? Happy birthday! Not a single player in Orioles history shares your Feb. 19 birthday. Get good enough at baseball and maybe someday you’ll be the first!

On this day in 2014, the Orioles made one of the most regrettable signings in franchise history, inking right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $50 million contract. The onetime Rockies ace was coming off two shaky years followed by a strong one in Cleveland, and O’s GM Dan Duquette was banking on the latter being the real Jimenez. Spoiler alert: it was not. Only one of Ubaldo’s four seasons in Baltimore (2015) could be considered in any way decent, as he battled constant control problems and ineffectiveness. His final stats as an Oriole: a 32-42 record, 5.22 ERA, 80 ERA+, and 0.1 WAR per Baseball Reference. Not quite what the O’s were hoping for with their $50 million. Extremely nice guy, though!