Sampling of questions as Orioles' first spring training workout approaches

Ed Smith Stadium

SARASOTA, Fla. – Temperatures at the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota are expected to reach the 70s again today. Sunscreen is readily available in the baseball operations building and the athletic trainers’ carts during workouts, and also in the dugout once exhibition games begin.

Can’t block out the excitement that comes with the first official day of pitchers and catchers spreading out on the back fields and in the bullpen area.

Optimism also is running high for a club that posted the best record in the American League last year. It’s time to defend the division title.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias will meet the press later this morning, which presents another opportunity for a health check.

Not Elias’, since we’re assuming that he’s fine.

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Orioles acquire Burdick from Marlins (MASN spring training broadcast schedule)

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SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles used the day that they could begin moving players to the 60-day injured list by deepening an outfield that wasn’t lacking in players.

Peyton Burdick was acquired from the Marlins this afternoon for cash considerations. The 40-man roster remains full after closer Félix Bautista, recovering from Tommy John surgery, was placed on the 60-day IL.

Burdick, who turns 27 in a few weeks, is a former third-round draft pick in 2019 out of Wright State University who’s batted .200/.281/.368 over parts of two seasons with the Marlins totaling 46 games. He has six doubles, five home runs, 13 RBIs and 53 strikeouts in 139 plate appearances.

Burdick appeared in 14 games last season and went 6-for-33 with two doubles and a homer. He’s a career .235/.353/.457 hitter in 396 minor league games who can play anywhere in the outfield.

The raw power, graded plus-plus by scouts, produced 24 home runs last summer in 114 games with Triple-A Jacksonville.

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New contract for O'Hearn

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SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles have signed all 17 of their arbitration-eligible players for the 2024 season.

Only two of them went to hearings.

First baseman Ryan O’Hearn agreed to terms earlier today on a $3.5 million contract that includes a $7.5 million club option for 2025. He was the last remaining unsigned player.

The sides found middle ground after O’Hearn’s agency filed at $3.8 million and the Orioles countered at $3.2 million.

O’Hearn didn’t break camp with the Orioles last spring but had his contract selected in April and batted .289/.322/.480 with 22 doubles, a triple, 14 home runs and 60 RBIs in 112 games. He made 59 starts and 70 appearances at first base, with Ryan Mountcastle twice going on the injured list.

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Taking Orioles rotation for another spin and playing the numbers game

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The next story posted here will have a Sarasota dateline.

Get used to it.

Orioles pitchers and catchers report today, with the first workout unfolding on Thursday, coinciding with the beginning of media access. Players will take their physicals and hit the fields. The sounds of baseball will puncture the silence.

Bring on the suspense.

The start button will be pressed for the march toward another division title and much deeper dive into the playoffs. To be one-and-done again will be unacceptable. To simply contend will be setting goals way too low.

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A few more Orioles spring training storylines

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While most eyes will rest upon Jackson Holliday, other prospects, and major pitching additions Corbin Burnes and Craig Kimbrel at spring training, there are plenty of storylines to go around during those six weeks. Lots to fill notepads and space on laptop screens. Lots to keep fingers busy.

Checking under the radar ideas can put a reporter over the top.

Top Orioles prospect rankings are light on pitching, but Cade Povich and Chayce McDermott tend to be listed back-to-back within the first dozen or so, and they’re counted among the camp invites. McDermott was the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year.  

Both pitchers are eyeing 2024 for their major league debuts. They won’t break camp with the team, but their arrivals could come later.

“I mean, it’s a goal I have for sure,” Povich said at the Birdland Caravan. “Obviously, things have to fall into place. Just kind of trust the work I’ve done this offseason and hope whatever comes, comes.”

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Burnes' impact on Orioles bullpen and other camp competitions

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I’ve written about the end of a traditional spring training storyline, the blame falling upon the broad shoulders of James McCann. Only an injury can spark a debate over the identity of the backup catcher.

It’s happening again with the Opening Day starter.

The Orioles didn’t trade for Corbin Burnes to put him behind someone else in the rotation. The announcement is a formality. Manager Brandon Hyde will be asked about it multiple times in camp, probably in a joking manner. Or for planning purposes, allowing beat writers to launch their stories.

Kyle Gibson wasn’t the immediate choice last winter, but he morphed into the favorite in Sarasota based on his experience, impressive results and the lack of an obvious alternative. If not him, whom?

John Means was handed the ball in back-to-back seasons, after losing the assignment to Tommy Milone in 2020 – yes, Tommy Milone – due to a “tired arm.”

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Because You Asked - The Scargiver

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Being aware of the mounting number of airline safety issues, I’m afraid to bring a heavy mailbag to Sarasota and risk having the landing gear fail or a few bolts bust off the wings.

Let’s lighten the load here in our last pre-spring training sequel to the beloved original in 2008.

You ask, I answer, you wonder if I’ve finally relented and began doing some editing, and I wonder if you started drinking early.

I adore your style, length (shut up), clarity and brevity. To change it would be like tossing soup on the Mona Lisa.

Also, a reminder that my mailbag refuses to be pushed around or disrespected, and yours does a bully’s homework.

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Bar raised for Orioles as they approach spring training

Dean Kremer throw orange spring away

Whatever speech that Orioles manager Brandon Hyde chooses for his team prior to the first full-squad workout at spring training, he won’t be armed with the same motivational tools that he wielded in the past.

Nobody believed in the Orioles during those 100-loss seasons. They had no reason.

Seemed like everyone was expecting a regression after 83 wins in 2022. They had no faith.

Matching or exceeding the 101 victories last summer that led to a division title and top seeding in the American League playoffs is a tall order. Players don’t seem concerned about trying to reach it.

A few of them dropped 102 into the conversations at the Birdland Caravan, before the Corbin Burnes trade, but more in a joking manner than stated or necessary goals.

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A recap and review of recent Orioles activity

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Five more days.

Orioles pitchers and catchers must report to the Ed Smith Stadium complex by Wednesday, a deadline that doesn’t create a frantic race to the finish line. The complex already has activity. Early arrivals are the norm.

But that’s when it must happen, followed the next morning by the first workout and farmer's tan.

Perhaps the Orioles will quiet the roster churn. They’ve stayed busy, with No. 1 starter Corbin Burnes the major move but the utility competition increasing with Wednesday night’s trade for Nick Maton and Thursday afternoon’s waiver claim of Liván Soto.

Every announcement can lead to a question. Let’s begin with Maton.

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A few thoughts on Burnes trade

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We entered the month of February exactly two weeks away from the Orioles’ first workout for pitchers and catchers. The most recent transaction was their minor league deal with first baseman-turned-pitcher Ronald Guzmán, two days after the minor league deal with outfielder Daniel Johnson. The last major league move was the trade for corner infielder Tyler Nevin on Jan. 22 that left the 40-man roster with 39 players.

Closer Craig Kimbrel was the undisputed champion of impact additions with his signing at the Winter Meetings to a contract that guarantees $13 million and includes a club option for 2025.

Time remained, but teams holding aces weren’t folding to the pressure to trade them.

And then, it happened.

The Orioles defied the predictions and acquired a starter who fit at the top of the rotation. Not a middle-to-back-end arm. A former Cy Young Award winner, a three-time All-Star and one of the best pitchers in baseball.

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How Coulombe and Webb intend to improve, Mullins itching to have healthy season

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Danny Coulombe and Jacob Webb, two Orioles relievers who project to make the Opening Day roster but with different odds, have slightly dissimilar approaches in the offseason to attacking their perceived weaknesses.

Both pitchers are doing less mechanical tweaking and more mental adjusting, but with goals that don’t exactly match up.

Coulombe appears to be a lock to break camp with the team as one of three or four left-handers in the bullpen. Cionel Pérez, DL Hall and Cole Irvin also are front and center in the discussion, with Bruce Zimmermann and Nick Vespi trying to crash the southpaw party.

An opening still exists in the rotation, which obviously could impact the bullpen’s composition. But it won’t touch Coulombe, who posted a 2.81 ERA and 1.110 WHIP in 61 appearances after the Orioles acquired him from the Twins toward the end of spring training.

“I was really happy with it,” he said at the Birdland Caravan. “I’m a perfectionist, so there’s things I know I can get better at, but I was really happy with the way it went. I really enjoyed the role and I’m excited to get it rolling again.”

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Ortiz and Mayo ignore trade talk, Mountcastle and McCann happy with health (Coulombe update)

Joey Ortiz

Joey Ortiz possesses the skills to knock down a bad-hop grounder and block out trade noise.

The number of gifted young Orioles infielders has left Ortiz with trade chip status bestowed upon him. Not from people inside the organization as much as outside observers who are trying to solve the riddle of how to create space.

MLB Pipeline ranks Ortiz as the sport’s No. 63 prospect and Baseball America places him seventh in the team’s top 30. Coby Mayo is third on the club and 30th in baseball.

The Orioles aren’t in any hurry to move him, either.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias is trying to find a trade partner and bring in a starting pitcher, but he’s under no pressure to move his best young talent. If some of it returns to Triple-A Norfolk, a chance to play in the majors could arrive later in the year.

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Sanders offers strong endorsement of Kjerstad's outfield defense, Wells and Irvin unsure of roles

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On the day that Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias selected Heston Kjerstad in the 2020 draft, he talked about the second-overall pick playing right field at Camden Yards. As if the position was just waiting for him.

The diagnosis of myocarditis and a hamstring injury prolonged the wait, but Kjerstad made his major league debut on Sept. 14 and was put on the American League Division Series roster. His power could make jaws drop. But would his defense keep him in the field?

Fly balls dropping wouldn’t work in any ballpark.

The Orioles are geared toward getting Kjerstad more comfortable in the corners. He made 37 starts at first base in the minors last year, but they don’t see his future in the infield. In an emergency, perhaps, but they want to develop him where they pictured him.

I’ve talked to scouts from outside the organization who believe that Kjerstad can be, at the least, an average defender with room to grow. Capable of getting better jumps, taking better routes and covering more ground.

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Tate "ready to go for camp" and return to Orioles bullpen

Dillon Tate throws black

The smile probably said the most about Dillon Tate’s right arm.

Tate is encouraged by his health as he waits for other pitchers to report to spring training on Feb. 14. He’s gotten a head start down in Sarasota, taking a break this weekend to attend the Birdland Caravan.

The last pitch thrown by Tate with the Orioles was 15 months ago. He was sidelined by a forearm/flexor strain sustained in November, went on an injury rehab assignment and suffered a stress reaction in his right elbow/forearm area that executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said was unrelated to the previous injury.

Meeting with reporters this morning at Bowlero in Timonium, Tate said he’s “ready to go for camp.” He was working out at the Driveline Baseball facility in Washington, and Brandon Mann, the senior pitching coordinator, posted an Instagram video last month of Tate registering 99.8 mph with a Plyo ball.

“Just excited to be back out there,” Tate said. “In camp a little bit earlier right now, just trying to get acclimated with everything, and I’ll be ready to go by the first workout.”

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Cowser on 2023 in majors: "I choose to take it as a learning experience"

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Aaron Hicks injured his left hamstring on July 24 in Philadelphia while racing in for a fly ball from Johan Rojas in the third inning. Colton Cowser replaced him in center field.

Cowser batted in the ninth inning and lined a tie-breaking double to left field off Phillies closer Craig Kimbrel that scored rookie Gunnar Henderson.

Henderson will be in the Orioles’ Opening Day lineup in March. Kimbrel will sit in the bullpen as the new closer. Cowser could be in the lineup, on the bench or at minor league camp.

“We’re going to have a really competitive spring,” Cowser said at the Birdland Caravan. “I know that we have a lot of really good outfielders on this team and a lot of guys who can play multiple positions, but I’m looking forward to competing and having a good time out at spring.”

Cowser needed more of those fantastic Philly finishes. He collected two more hits in 22 at-bats. The RBI was his fourth and last.

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Mansolino on "incredibly exciting" young Orioles infield talent and competition

Gunnar Henderson

Tony Mansolino holds the same curiosity. Being closer to the subject doesn’t offer an ounce of clarity.

The Orioles’ third base coach doubles as its infield instructor. He works with a talented young group that’s certain to expand with more prospect arrivals in 2024.

He can do the math.

An overflow is upon us.

Gunnar Henderson was voted Rookie of the Year in the American League. Jordan Westburg, another high-round draft pick, moved between second and third base. Defensive wiz Joey Ortiz made his major league debut and routinely is chosen as the best-fielding shortstop in the organization. Top overall prospect Jackson Holliday could break camp with the team or join it shortly after the season begins. Coby Mayo is threatening to bash down the door.

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Elias: "The offseason is still going, there’s a lot left on the board and a lot of discussions still happening"

Mike Elias OPACY suit

The sluggish nature of the free agent and trade markets haven’t stalled the Orioles pursuit of starting pitching.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said again today at the Birdland Caravan that he’s working the phones and trying to get a deal done.

“This is a team that is in really good shape,” Elias said. “We won 101 games last year, won the division and 90-95 percent of the team is back. So, this is a team that we’re looking to upgrade and supplement and not reimagine. But the offseason is still going, there’s a lot left on the board and a lot of discussions still happening.

“It’s been kind of a later, slower offseason than normal and we’re working pretty furiously, but since we spoke at the Winter Meetings, just haven’t lined up on particular opportunities, but there’s still time for that.”

The Orioles reportedly remain engaged with Mike Lorenzen, who drew their interest at last year’s trade deadline. Elias has been locked into talks with the White Sox about Dylan Cease and the Marlins about multiple starters, but the asking price in prospects is too high. They aren’t pursuing right-hander Domingo Germán in free agency despite reports.

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The questions begin at Birdland Caravan

Mike Elias

The three-day Birdland Caravan begins this morning with the “Justin, Scott and Spiegel Show” from 5:30-10 a.m. at Banditos Taco & Tequila in Columbia.

Like I’ve always said, it’s never too early for a margarita. I’m having it etched on my tombstone.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde will be available to media later in the day at the warehouse, along with seven coaches and six players. Further proof that grilling can be done in the middle of winter.

Elias won’t need to repeat last year’s statement that the rebuild was behind the Orioles. The 101 wins and division title provided all the evidence.

The No. 1 media request will be an update on the search for a starting pitcher. Whether Elias remains confident that he can land one via trade or free agency. Whether a pitcher for the top of the rotation is a realistic pursuit. Whether the asking price in trades is astronomical and prohibitive.

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Offering more Orioles predictions for the 2024 season

Cionel Perez

I’ve made some Orioles predictions over the past few weeks, in case you missed or forgot them. I don’t blame you.

To review:

The Orioles will acquire a starting pitcher but he won’t be on the mound for Opening Day, the rotation consists of the newcomer, Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, John Means and Dean Kremer, Colton Cowser begins the season in Triple-A, Gunnar Henderson will lead the team in home runs, Henderson won’t win a Gold Glove, Henderson will reach double digits in triples, Adley Rutschman won't go 5-for-5 with a home run on Opening Day, Coby Mayo will create a huge buzz in camp, Cedric Mullins will be healthier and better, the Orioles will experience some regression but they’re making the playoffs, they won’t get swept in the first round, they will exceed the 87.5 wins set as odds by BetOnline, they will go to an arbitration hearing with at least one unsigned player, the Orioles and Jacob Webb will find a midpoint and avoid a hearing, the Orioles will get swept during the regular season, Henderson will repeat as Most Valuable Oriole, Craig Kimbrel will exceed his 23-saves total from last year, DL Hall will record at least one save, Dillon Tate will make a dramatic comeback.

Let’s keep going.

Cionel Pérez will have better splits because they were bananas last season.

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Orioles sign Daniel Johnson to minor league deal

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The Orioles focused on outfield depth this afternoon by signing Daniel Johnson to a minor league contract.

Johnson, 28, spent last summer in the Padres system and batted a combined .271/.348/.469 with 28 doubles, four triples, 19 home runs and 73 RBIs in 126 games between Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A El Paso. He posted a .296 average and .967 OPS in 28 games in the Pacific Coast League.

The Nationals drafted Johnson in the fifth round in 2016 out of New Mexico State University. They traded him to Cleveland two years later in the Yan Gomes deal, and the Mets purchased his contract in 2022.

The adventure continued for Johnson, who was released two months later and signed by the Nationals. The Padres signed him as a free agent in February 2023.

The extent of Johnson’s major league exposure is 35 games with Cleveland in 2020-21, when he went 18-for-89 with four home runs and five RBIs. He’s a career .269/.335/.449 hitter with 144 doubles, 29 triples, 89 homers, 339 RBIs and 108 stolen bases in seven minor league seasons and 679 games.

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