The players on the Orioles' big league roster spend their mornings working out and playing games at Ed Smith Stadium when the club is home. About 15 minutes away from there, the O's minor league camp is humming along at the Twin Lakes Park complex.
Brian Graham is running the minor league camp, beginning his first season as the club's director of player development. We sat down at the Twin Lakes complex for an interview when I was in Sarasota last week. Some of the topics and quotes have appeared in articles here already but some others have not.
I asked Graham for his take on how minor league camp has gone.
"I'm very excited with the way spring training has gone so far. The attitude and the work ethic and the entire culture of the camp has been tremendous. I think, mainly, that is because of what is happening in the big leagues, everything with the players and the staff. It trickles down and it definitely starts at the big league level.
"Guys are understanding that the system in place works, that the programs that we have in place are working. When the individual players have success in the big leagues, the ones who were in the minor leagues, it shows that everybody has a chance. The minor league players have a chance."
What are your goals for camp and what are you emphasizing with the players?
"Team fundamentals are hugely important. What we are doing from a fundamental standpoint, with cutoffs and relays and rundowns and situational hitting and bunting. We've put a gigantic emphasis on team fundamentals and individual fundamentals. We spend an extraordinary amount of time with our bunting program, with our situational hitting, with, you know, everything from bunt plays to first and third defenses. I really do feel like we are almost a throwback. The Orioles were such a strong organization for so many years and we are almost a throwback to the basics and the fundamentals."
Since Dan Duquette has been with the Orioles, what does he ask of you and your staff and what kind of stamp is he putting on the minors?
"Dan emphasizes the importance of the minor leagues and the importance of a pitching program. Dan is a firm believer in the player development system being the cornerstone of an organization. That starts with scouting and then it goes to player development and then it works its way to the big league level."
What will be the pitch counts for the pitchers in the first few weeks of the minor league season?
"We are in a better situation this year than in the past as we brought some of the younger guys into the early camp and stretched them out. At the big league level, they did a really good job with (Kevin) Gausman, (Dylan) Bundy, (Eduardo) Rodriguez, Mike Wright, some of our key guys there, stretching them out. I believe we will have some starters that are in the five- and six-inning, 75-80 pitch limit to begin the season."
Last season, some of the minor league clubs used six-man rotations. Will we see more of that this year on the O's farm?
"I do think we will have six-man rotations, especially at the lower levels and even possibly at Double-A. It's still to be determined. What the six-man does is allow you to get two bullpens in between starts and it allows you to limit their innings early in the season. We went from a six-man back to five at most of the levels last year. You want your key guys to learn how to pitch in a five-man rotation because that is how you pitch in the big leagues, but at the same time, we are still in a development mode and we have guys that eventually could be big league bullpen guys, but they need to start for us to develop their pitches."
Do you have a sense of how many players the organization will want to keep at extended spring training when the four full-season affiliate clubs break north for opening day?
"In a perfect world, if you are at 45 players, 45 to 50, that's a good solid number. If you are above that number, it is hard to be productive with more than that many. Certainly, you would like to have less, but we have a lot of good players and the competition is tough out here."
When Buck Showalter was at minor league camp recently, it was interesting to see him make the rounds and talk to players and coaches. He seems to want everyone here to know they are important.
"Absolutely. Buck came from the minor leagues, from Rookie League to Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A. He understands what it means to be a minor league manager. To have your big league manager interact like that, that is what creates the attitude. When you talk about creating a culture, having Buck and Dan Duquette spend time like they did here (last Monday). Dan talked to all the coaches and managers and the players. When you talk about elements that make you better, that is one of them."
Orioles release six more: This morning, the Orioles continued to downsize that minor league roster, releasing six pitchers, most of whom had pitched in independent league ball last season and had not been drafted by the club. Only one has ever pitched for the club.
The Orioles released:
Left-hander Logan Mahon, who was signed as a free agent in December. He went 2-1 with a 2.52 ERA last year for the Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League.
Left-hander Dan Meyer, 31, who pitched in the majors for Atlanta, Oakland and Florida, going a combined 3-9 with a 5.46 ERA. He was drafted 34th overall by Atlanta in 2002 out of James Madison University. Meyer, signed as a free agent in November, went 2-6 with a 7.02 ERA for the Long Island Ducks last season.
Right-hander Tyler Clayburn, who was signed as a free agent in November.
Right-hander Jesus Fernandez, who was signed as a non-drafted free agent last July and then went 0-1 with a 2.79 ERA over 10 games for short-season Single-A Aberdeen.
Right-hander Kyle Mertins, who was signed in January, was 4-1 with an ERA of 1.00 last year for the American Association's Sioux Falls team.
Right-hander Mike Recchia, who was signed out of independent ball in January.