Birdland Caravan notes with Means, Mountcastle, Cowser and more

On the first day of Birdland Caravan, where reporters got the chance to interview some players and coaches at the Warehouse, lefty John Means pronounced himself healthy and ready to take on a full season innings load in 2024.

Means returned from Tommy John surgery to get back on a big league mound on Sept. 12 and went 1-2 with a 2.66 ERA in four starts down the stretch. He pitched a huge game Sept. 23 at Cleveland allowing one hit and run over 7 1/3 innings. But he missed the AL Division Series when his surgically repaired left elbow became sore leading up to the series with Texas.

“It was just tight (then), and they looked at the MRI and they told me to take a break on it. Build up in the offseason and be ready to go. I feel really good, really good (now). Had a nice build up this offseason and should be ready to go.”

After throwing 45 1/3 innings in 2023 counting minor league rehab games, can he take on a full-season innings load this season?

“Yeah, I’m ready to go. I’ll be ready,” Means said.

The guy was really good in his four September starts, showing no inconsistency after his surgery from April of 2022. Did he expect it would go that well?

“I think I had confidence in what could happen,” said Means. “But I’d be lying if I didn’t want to see it happen too. You spend that much time off the field that you just sometimes question or are not really sure what will happen. But seeing the results was good for me mentally for sure.”

A native of Olathe, Kansas, who lives near Kansas City, Means is a rare Oriole not firmly behind the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.

“It should be a good game, I hope both teams have fun,” Means said as reporters laughed at his attempt to take the high road.

"It should be so good. The Ravens look so good. I can’t wait for it. I’m going to go home (to watch). Have my lucky spot on the couch.”

Mountcastle on chase for 100 more wins: O’s first baseman/DH Ryan Mountcastle was asked about the team’s chance to repeat an AL East title and chase 100 wins again.

“Very confident (we can do it again),” he said. “I mean, we’ve got a young team with even more experience. So, we’re all excited.”

He said he used his offseason time well.

“It’s been good. Feel stronger, faster. And did a bunch of baseball stuff. Feel good, healthy and ready to go. Last year was the first year I wasn’t on the field as much as I wanted to be. Yeah, just being healthy this year is huge so trying to train right now and trying to prevent that.”

The frustration over missing some time due to vertigo went away for Mountcastle late in the year. He showed stronger plate discipline skills and batted .327/.418/.481/.899 his last 45 games to finish with a .779 OPS over 115 games.

“I just feel like my pitch selection was really good then. Really honed in on it before games in the cage. Try to keep that going next year,” he said.

Few quick hits: Reliever Jacob Webb had an interesting answer when asked what he could improve on this year?

“Personally, I think, I would try to at least control my emotions a little bit better. Sometimes I get a little out of control with my emotions I would say when I’m out there. So, personally I would just like to be better emotionally. And (with) my pitches, work on things daily and execute,” stated Webb.

Young outfielder Colton Cowser will try to find his way to the Opening Day roster. He hit just .115 in 61 big league at-bats but had an OPS of 937 in 87 Triple-A games. He was ranked No. 34 in the recent new top 100 by Baseball America.

“I wouldn’t say frustrating (of his MLB time in ‘23). I would say that - just because you struggle doesn’t necessarily mean it was always frustrating. There were some certain struggles I couldn’t really control. I think it is all about the frame of mind that you’re in. And whether you take it as a learning experience or whether you kind of sulk in your sorrows. I choose to take it as a learning experience.”

And what about his Triple-A teammate Jackson Holliday, who could make the roster this year?

 “Jackson, he’s special man. He’s got a work ethic that I definitely didn’t have as a 20-year-old. He’s really talented. Just looking forward to watching him during spring and seeing how he progresses,” said Cowser.

O’s ‘pen lefty Danny Coulombe was asked about new pitching coach Drew French, who spent the last three years as Atlanta’s bullpen coach and new assistant pitching coach Mitch Plassmeyer, who moves up from the O’s minor league staff.

“I’ve talked to French on the phone a few times, he seems awesome,” said Coulombe. “Everybody I’ve talked to just sings his praises. Really excited to get to work with him. I’ve never met Mitch; I’ve heard he’s awesome too. So excited to get to meet him and talk more. Just really excited for this year, I think it’s going to mesh well.”  

The risk of making trades: As the Orioles continue to ponder making a trade for a front-end rotation pitcher, they try to balance risk and reward. The risk that a player or players you trade hit it big elsewhere versus the reward you might get in the player or players you acquire.

Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias was asked about that balancing act.

“It’s a really good reminder (the risk element) and it is something we have a lot of methods and a lot of people here in the Warehouse that work on measuring the risks and rewards of these possible moves and we do it in the smartest way that we can. Using a lot of sophisticated methods, other teams do it too. You can look back and teams make aggressive trades, and it can really set the franchise back if the guy shows up and he gets hurt. Or if you trade guys and miss out on their long careers. There have been examples with the Orioles where that’s happened.

“So, we’re aggressive. We’re in a win mode. We want to make the team better and we’re looking for these things. But it would be very irresponsible for me to not measure the cost of anything that we’re doing, and we’ve got a lot of really talented young players with really bright futures, and we’re excited about them too.

“When you are talking about trading, you have to give something up. Again, we’re working on it. We’re probably being as aggressive as any team out there. There just haven’t been a lot of sell trades on the pitching side of things this winter," he said. 

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