Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in five days, but the Orioles continue to get a jump on the official start of camp.
They held a three-day mini-camp at Camden Yards last month that was reserved mostly for pitchers on the 40-man roster - with a few exceptions - but the real action is taking place right now in Sarasota.
Double-A Bowie manager Gary Kendall estimated that 20-25 players are working out daily at the Ed Smith Stadium complex. It started out as four or five back on Jan. 9. As the size of the gathering increased, major leaguers began to outnumber the minor leaguers.
“It’s going good down here,” said Kendall, who’s overseeing the workouts, which will conclude on Tuesday. “Everybody’s getting their work in - throwing progressions, hitting. They’re taking BP and ground balls, getting their defensive work in.
“It’s a plus thing. It’s a good thing.”
The Orioles have arranged similar workouts in the past, “but it’s never been this structured,” Kendall said.
“It’s something that Brian (Graham) and I kicked around a little bit in the offseason the last couple of years. It’s always been a winter program, primarily pitchers because they’re the ones who have to get it going a little sooner.”
Kendall also pointed out that there’s more staffing at this camp, which includes new Gulf Coast League Orioles pitching coach Wilson Alvarez.
The workouts are held five days a week and usually wrap up at noon. Some players stick around the complex to lift weights.
“We were down here early last year and I don’t remember it being as intensified, where we’re out on the field as long,” Kendall said.
The roll call includes Brian Roberts, Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Ryan Flaherty, Nolan Reimold, Tommy Hunter, Jim Johnson, Steve Johnson, Tsuyoshi Wada, Rule 5 pick T.J. McFarland, LJ Hoes and Xavier Avery. Miguel Gonzalez and Zach Britton are expected to arrive this morning. Manager Buck Showalter flew in to Sarasota yesterday.
One purpose of the early camp is for the Orioles to get a look at players coming off surgeries and injuries.
“Nolan has been doing a lot of tee work and stuff like that, getting more comfortable,” Kendall said. “Brian’s taking a lot of swings from both sides of the plate, getting his defense in - starting double plays, getting a lot of reps with ground balls.
“With Wada, all I’ve seen him do is some flat ground work with catchers. Nothing off a mound that I’ve seen. I don’t know of any stuff off a mound yet. Hunter is throwing off a mound. So are McFarland, J.J. and Steve Johnson.”
McFarland will try to make the club as the fifth starter or as a long reliever. He can’t be optioned without clearing waivers and being offered back to the Cleveland Indians. The Orioles want to hold onto him.
“I can tell that he can really pitch,” Kendall said. “I remember seeing him at Akron, all of 2011 and part of 2012. The guy can really pitch.”
Davis is getting early work at first base, where he’s projected to be the starter.
“He’s taking a lot of ground balls - backhand, forehand, coming off the bag,” Kendall said.
The Orioles have arranged for minor leaguers who aren’t invited to major league camp to gather at Twin Lakes Park on Feb. 17 and get ready in case Showalter needs them for an exhibition game. The World Baseball Classic is going to take a bite out of the roster. Split-squad games also require extra bodies.
“We’ve always had that system, but we’ve never had it where this many position players are available where we actually have two at each position,” Kendall said. “It’ll be a variety of players.”
That roll call will include Brandon Waring, Zelous Wheeler, Adrian Marin, Buck Britton, Brian Ward and Caleb Joseph.
“About a 25-man roster,” Kendall said.
All of this is possible because the Orioles can utilize “one of the nicest complexes you’ll see in baseball,” as Kendall put it.
“This is a sign of things to come.”