You probably noticed that as of Friday afternoon, I am no longer writing with a Sarasota, Fla., dateline.
Now that I have left Florida and am back in chilly Maryland, where it might snow tonight or tomorrow, I thought I’d pass along some observations from spring training while I hope that snow shovel can stay in my basement collecting dust.
* Watching the pitchers step up and pitch well in the battle for the fifth starter’s position was impressive. It has been a good competition and sometimes competition does bring out the best. The Orioles look like they will truly have some solid pitching depth this season that will extend down to Triple-A, and we could be looking at a Double-A rotation that features Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman and Mike Wright. That is impressive.
One member of the organization said this would be a great year for one of the O’s young pitchers to “pop,” meaning to turn into an ace or No. 1 starter. If that does happen, I can easily see this team back in the playoffs. If it doesn’t, that depth still may be more than enough to make the difference.
* Chris Davis could turn out to be solid on defense at first base, just as Buck Showalter said would be the case. Whatever happened early last year that led to Davis making mistakes, may well be a thing of the past. He’ll need to play well in the regular season for an extended period of time to truly be called a solid defender, but I think he will be able to do that. I also think the offense he showed last year will return. The guy started driving the ball to left-center with authority in the second half last season and when you can hit the ball out to all fields, you have a chance to put up some real impressive power numbers.
* The Orioles’ minor leagues are in quite capable hands with Brian Graham as director of player development. There have been some real good coaches on the O’s farm for years now and they have solid leaders in Graham and new director of minor league operations Kent Qualls. There was an energy to the workouts I saw at Twin Lakes Park. Showalter and Graham are a lot alike.
I also like the direction, instruction and leadership that Rick Peterson provides for the pitchers and Mike Boulanger does for the hitters. I could go on and on about the minor league staff. Anyone who has been a reader here for even just a short time probably has picked up on my fondness for all things about the O’s minors.
But the current makeup of management and staff to coach and lead the players looks very strong as well. I am real, real excited to see what will happen on the farm this year.
* Back to the big league group, there is a quiet confidence in that Orioles’ clubhouse. The players seem to believe they are a good team, but don’t seem to a feel a need to try and convince anyone else. The vibe in that clubhouse seems to have picked up right where it left off last year. It’s a confident and positive place.
* If all this positivity is too much for you, and I know it is for some readers, here are some concerns.
Injuries can derail any team at any time. Nolan Reimold and Brian Roberts are no sure things to be healthy and Nick Markakis is trying to work his way back right now. Of course, there always seem to be injuries that you don’t expect as well. Can the team overcome these?
Is there enough offense? The club ranked ninth in runs scored last year and never did add the middle-of-the-order bat Dan Duquette said he was seeking when the offseason began. Also, is the offense too homer dependent and lacking in variety, on-base percentage and team speed?
Can some players repeat their 2012 success? Players like Nate McLouth, Jason Hammel, Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman come to mind. Can the bullpen repeat its success from last year?
Like most teams, the Orioles have some question marks. Like most teams, there is optimism during spring training. But unlike most recent Orioles’ teams, this one is coming off a playoff season. The clubhouse culture has changed. There is a good nucleus of young players on the roster.
Maybe the Florida sun and heat got to me during my days at camp, but I saw good signs for the 2013 season just about everywhere I looked.