The annual Orioles minicamp gives manager Buck Showalter an opportunity to become more familiar with some of the minor league pitchers and the media a chance to figure out which ones grabbed his attention, intrigued him and can be viewed as potential contributors over the summer.
Certain names come up without prompting, sometimes on multiple occasions during a single interview.
Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes Jr. was the hottest topic for three days, a scorching subject due to his ability to “spin the ball” and the assorted intangibles. But left-hander Andrew Faulkner was a serious contender for runner-up status despite never stepping on a mound.
I knew that Faulkner, 25, interested Showalter over the summer and further confirmation arrived in Sarasota after he was re-signed to a minor league deal.
The Orioles didn’t recall Faulkner from Triple-A Norfolk after an April trade with the Rangers and they designated him for assignment and outrighted him in September to create a 40-man spot for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who came off the 60-day disabled list. Plans were scrapped to send Faulkner to the Arizona Fall League. But there wasn’t much statistically to suggest that he shouldn’t get another chance to pitch in the majors, as he did in 20 games with the Rangers over the two previous seasons.
The 24 walks (two intentional) for the Tides in 38 2/3 innings were a blotch, but he posted a 2.79 ERA and allowed only one home run in 38 2/3 innings and opponents batted .216 against him. Showalter has noted that left-handers hit .208.
The call never came.
“You’re always a little disappointed,” Faulkner said. “Obviously, my goal is to pitch in the big leagues, but at the same time it was a long year and I think they were in a spot where it was more good for them to get some younger guys some looks to see how they performed. Yeah, it stunk, but when I looked back and I thought about it, it made sense and it was probably a good idea.”
Faulkner said a couple of teams were in play to sign him as a minor league free agent, but he chose to stay in the organization. One factor was linked to Showalter’s reputation for handling his relievers.
“It’s just a good opportunity,” he said. “I’m in a spot where there aren’t that many lefties. It’s a good spot. It’s a spot where they use their bullpen a lot. They don’t wear guys out compared to other places, so it’s nice to feel like there’s an opportunity.
“It’s also a place where you can stay off the DL, which is comforting, knowing that you won’t get absolutely worn out. That was my main reason.
“There were a few other teams, but (the Orioles) showed immediate interest and this was one of my first choices, so I signed pretty early.”
Faulkner had a brief conversation with Showalter upon arriving at minicamp and later met with him in a much broader get-acquainted session.
“We have some mutual friends in Texas,” Faulkner said. “I know a lot about him and I think he knows a lot about me, which is great. It’s good to hear.”
Zach Britton’s Achilles surgery eliminates one left-hander from the bullpen on opening day. Richard Bleier has nailed down a spot after posting a 1.99 ERA and 1.184 WHIP last summer in 57 appearances. Cortes could be a long reliever backing up the right-handed starters - let’s assume there are four of them - if he doesn’t crack the rotation. Donnie Hart will try to recapture his specialist role after riding the Triple-A shuttle last year.
Left-handers batted .273 against Hart after going 5-for-38 in 2016.
The Orioles signed former Mets left-handed reliever Josh Edgin to a minor league deal back in November. He’s registered a 3.49 ERA and 1.279 WHIP in 177 major league games and left-handers have batted .223.
Joely Rodríguez caught Showalter’s eye at minicamp. Also signed two months ago, Rodríguez is 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA in 38 games with the Phillies. The Orioles are giving him a clean slate, erased by an arm that slings mid-90s fastballs and biting sliders.
(Sidney Ponson hears “biting sliders” and rushes to White Castle. But I digress ...)
Ryan O’Rourke, a third November signing, made an appearance at minicamp while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
Former first-round pick Brian Matusz remains a free agent in search of a job. His name was floated during internal discussions, but it didn’t get much air. The Orioles aren’t pursuing a reunion.
Shameless plug alert: I’m back on 105.7 The Fan tonight for the “Orioles Hot Stove Show” from 6-7 p.m. inside the Orioles Grille at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel. Showalter will join us for the full hour.