SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles’ latest minicamp provided an opportunity for manager Buck Showalter and some of his coaches to check on the Ed Smith Stadium complex after it incurred damage from Hurricane Irma and with new sod being laid on the Camden Yards replica field. A scoreboard is going up later this winter and the batter’s eye must be replaced. Netting beyond the outfield fence will save baseballs from being lost in the pond or oncoming traffic. Trees have been cleared out - some by nature and others by personnel.
The roster also is under construction with the same holes still in existence.
There’s continuing interest in right-hander Andrew Cashner, according to sources. I’ve heard him described as part of a “large group” of potential starters who could be added via free agency. However, the Orioles haven’t reached the point where a physical is pending.
Chris Tillman worked out at the complex, fished in the pond and resisted the urge to be interviewed. He wouldn’t take the bait. Can you imagine passing up the opportunity?
The relationship between Tillman and the Orioles could carry into the 2018 season. I haven’t heard anything to suggest that the possibility no longer exists.
The minicamp brought together pitchers who could be useful pieces for them over the summer or perhaps by 2019. It also allowed Showalter and the coaches an opportunity to check on Hunter Harvey, Dariel Álvarez and Ryan O’Rourke as they recover from Tommy John surgeries.
Harvey is further along, of course, and will be full-go in spring training. The excitement surrounding him hasn’t died down this week. What he showed in his bullpen session, coupled with the eight starts he made last year, returns him to top prospect status.
Fighting the temptation to break camp with him on the roster should be a pay-per-view event that rivals WrestleMania.
Álvarez’s newfound enthusiasm for pitching was a comfort to the Orioles, who met resistance after first broaching the subject with him last spring. Not that he’s doing a happy dance over it. The low-key personality was on full display during his media session earlier today. But he’s working hard to build up his arm and begin a throwing progression that should put him on a flat mound later this month.
(Yes, a mound can be flat. There’s a pitching rubber.)
Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes Jr. was the hit of the minicamp. His name came up daily, with Showalter and pitching coach Roger McDowell singing his praises. “He can spin the ball” should be printed on a T-shirt.
“He’s a pitchability guy,” said reliever Richard Bleier, who knows Cortes from their days in the Yankees system. “He’s not like a huge stuff guy. And especially for me, I’m not a stuff guy, so I feel like I have a special appreciation for guys who know how to pitch and can get guys out with anything. They don’t just go out there with a 100 mph fastball, a big fastball or slider. I do appreciate that a little bit more.
Bleier was pitching for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2016 when Cortes came up to make one start and tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings.
“It was a spot-start type of thing. Somebody got called up to the big leagues,” Bleier said. “He came in and dominated and then they sent him back down and I was like, ‘Man, this guy is really good. They’re not giving him a chance.’ So it is nice to see him getting a chance somewhere else where it seemed like he wasn’t getting that opportunity with the Yankees just because they like the big arms and they had a lot of them.”
Keegan Akin, the second-round pick in 2016, is recovered from the strained oblique that ended his season at Single-A Frederick after an Aug. 4 start in Wilmington, Del.
“It’s done,” said Akin, who made nine appearances with the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League. “I basically took my four to five weeks at the end of the year and then an extra week or two to heal up and then came down here for instructs (fall instructional league) and got ready.
“It was just an oblique. My right side, just strained it, and at that point didn’t want to push it. There were only four or five weeks left and they said there’s no point in pushing it and injuring it even more.
“I’m good. Definitely good to get a couple weeks off after Arizona and get some rest. Definitely glad to be back at it.”
Akin allowed five runs and posted a 0.92 WHIP in 16 1/3 innings in the AFL
“It was definitely a huge confidence booster,” he said. “Obviously, the season didn’t go the way I wanted it to. Had some downs in the season and to bounce back like that and figure out my mechanics and figure it out on my own was definitely good.”
We also learned that Yefry Ramírez, acquired from the Yankees on July 31 and assigned to Double-A Bowie, has “a good hand” and “a good changeup,” according to Showalter. He already showed off his good numbers, going 10-3 with a 3.41 ERA in 18 starts with Trenton and 5-0 with a 3.66 ERA in six starts with Bowie.
We found out that Miguel Castro has blonde braids and a fourth minor league option. He needs to put on weight, another illness before camp making him look thinner than the reeds in the pond. It also happened toward the end of the season and the Orioles want to find the source.
Left-hander Luis Gonzalez impressed in his bullpen session and the Orioles are deciding whether to invite him to spring training rather than send him to Twin Lakes Park. They’re weighing the benefits of exposing him to the Ed Smith Stadium environment and allowing the veterans to counsel him after a season spent at Single-A Frederick.
Note: Major League Baseball this afternoon released game times for the entire 2018 season. Here’s an updated look at the Orioles schedule, including start times for their games.