The demise of baseball’s offseason began with two cancelled flights today to Tampa, leading to the great race last night to the airport. Still plenty of time to compile a list of spring training story ideas and top candidates to be stalked at their lockers and on the back fields at the Ed Smith Stadium complex.
Chris Davis is going to be asked again and again about his offseason workouts and changes from previous winters, though he’s already detailed them in multiple interviews. His batting practice sessions will be overly scrutinized, as if somehow revealing whether he’s primed for a bounce back season.
Anyone coming off an injury or, worse, a surgical procedure will be harassed for updates. Richard Bleier about his lat, Mark Trumbo about his knee, Austin Hays about his ankle, Hunter Harvey about his shoulder and forearm area. Dillon Tate will be asked again about the sore shoulder that eliminated him from consideration for a September call-up. Andrew Cashner will be asked about the bursitis in his left knee that kept him out of the rotation after Sept. 12, Alex Cobb about the blister on his right middle finger that limited him to two innings on Sept. 11 and four pitches on Sept. 23.
Luis Ortiz will be grilled about his weight and the conditioning program that he vowed to make a top priority.
I must know what Rule 5 pick Pedro Araujo learned as a rookie in 2018 and how confident he feels about staying on the roster for the first 17 days of the upcoming season. And the level of attachment from the new head of baseball operations and manager.
The media will get an opportunity to meet Nate Karns (I’m told he doesn’t go by “Nathan”), signed to a one-year deal and given a chance to crack the rotation. How he fairs, from bullpen sessions to game action, will bring a heightened level of interest.
The competition for the last rotation spot could be fierce and it’s going to provide an abundance of copy. The candidates include Yacabonis - we’re assuming - Ortiz, David Hess, Yefry Ramírez, Josh Rogers and John Means. Tate also could factor into it.
Gabriel Ynoa is a spring invite after the Orioles re-signed him to a minor league deal. He didn’t pitch last season and made only two starts at Double-A Bowie, pretty much sealing his 40-man fate. He also will provide copy.
Dean Kremer led the minors in strikeouts last summer and also is a spring invite, his career headed in a different direction. It may be premature to list him among the starting candidates, but this is a rebuilding club and he’ll make his pitch, so to speak.
How long until manager Brandon Hyde is asked about his opening day starter? Dylan Bundy will be pestered about his chances of handling the assignment in back-to-back seasons, and his second-half slump.
The Orioles will have six catchers in camp and, as I’ve pointed out, the possible pairings are numerous. So many ways they could go before opening day. And this is assuming they won’t bring in anyone else.
The free agent market still includes Martín Maldonado, Matt Wieters, A.J. Ellis, Nick Hundley and Stephen Vogt.
Caleb Joseph remains unsigned after the Orioles non-tendered him, but he won’t return. This is guaranteed.
Chance Sisco will rehash his lost 2018 season again after doing so at FanFest. He’ll detail how he’s regaining confidence and ready to vie for the starting job.
Rule 5 infielders Richie Martin and Drew Jackson, the latter coming to the Orioles in a trade, are competing for starting jobs or utility spots. Martin has the early edge because he was the first overall pick, but there’s room for both of them. Their every move and how they interact will be documented.
A decision is pending on Jonathan Villar’s position, with the assumption now that he’ll play second base. Confirmation needs to come in Sarasota.
Non-roster outfielders Yusniel Díaz, Ryan McKenna and Mike Yastrzemski have their own compelling stories. The top prospect coming over in the Manny Machado trade, a rising prospect who starred in the Arizona Fall League and a one-time prospect who finally received an invite to major league camp and wants to be known as more than Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski’s grandson.
Every ground ball hit to third baseman Ryan Mountcastle will summon the paparazzi. How he’s progressed at the position is a big deal because the Orioles really like his bat and would prefer to keep him in the field at age 21 (he turns 22 on Feb. 18).
The Orioles aren’t done signing players and they could swing at least one trade. They brought in Cashner, Cobb, Chris Tillman and Colby Rasmus last year after the start of camp. In 2014 they signed pitchers Suk-min Yoon, Ubaldo Jiménez, Johan Santana and Luis Ayala and outfielder Nelson Cruz in Sarasota.
They released outfielder Jack Cust in March, one month after signing him. The comeback story was put to bed.
The clubhouse opens to the media on Tuesday and the first workout is held the following day. How Hyde and his staff run spring training and any changes to the facility also will be noteworthy.
We got used to former manager Buck Showalter’s spring style, including the chats as he watched drills or moved from one field to the next, but nothing lasts forever.