Handley catching on to life in major league camp

SARASOTA, Fla. – The Orioles could make their deepest roster cuts over the last days of spring training, but they’re also expected to do more chopping leading up to the deadline. The excess consists of 20 players, leaving plenty of work to do before boarding the charter flight to Boston.

Minor league catcher Maverick Handley finally got a locker in the main clubhouse after dressing across the hall in the auxiliary space, but he’s on the clock and he knows it. He didn’t report as a non-roster invite to win a job behind starter Adley Rutschman. That goal becomes more realistic in a year or so.

Mark Kolozsvary was reassigned yesterday, counted among the five latest cuts. Handley unpacked his bags after returning from Clearwater.  He’s still standing.  

Rutschman singled in his final at-bat Sunday afternoon, and Handley jogged out of the dugout to replace him at first base. They slapped hands - Handley backing up his friend, and formerly the No. 1 prospect in baseball.

The Orioles made Rutschman the first overall pick in the 2019 draft out of Oregon State. They chose Handley in the sixth round out of Stanford.

Drafted and blocked on the same day.

“I think everybody knows you always need two catchers,” Handley said this week. “It’s just too hard of a position. It’s really hard to be durable for 160 games back there, so you always need two, and if you can have three for depth, that’s great.

“I think if I play really well, there’s not a reason why I can’t make it, but also, as everybody says, in the minor leagues you’re playing and showcasing for 29 other teams. If I end up getting sent wherever I’m sent and do really well and someone’s like, ‘Hey, maybe we see a starting catcher in him,’ it’s going to increase my trade value, the Orioles are going to take advantage of that, pieces are going to move.

“You talk about a center fielder who gets stuck behind Ken Griffey Jr., what’s nice is, the catcher, you always need a second one. You don’t really need a second center fielder.”

The attitude and outlook are impressive, but so is the way Handley refuses to waste a single minute of his time in camp. He’s always observing, listening and learning. The exact reason why the Orioles want someone like him on the major league side, besides needing extra catchers to handle the large number of pitchers.

“Adley is a tremendous player, and it’s helped me improve my game, too,” said Handley, who's 4-for-17 in the Grapefruit League. “I tinker with him. Like, hey, he’s really good at dominating the top of the strike zone. How does he receive this pitch, that I can take into my game? He moves, he’s the No. 1 blocker in MLB. How does he move, how does he get his posture in, what is his mindset? Just little, tiny advantages that I can kind of add to my game.”

It wasn’t just Rutschman who caught the catcher’s eye.

The Orioles traded for veteran James McCann, an All-Star in 2019 with the White Sox who’s under team control for two more seasons. He slipped on the uniform and immediately slid into a leadership role.

“Both of them are very large human beings, so that’s where I start,” said Handley, who’s listed at 5-foot-10. “But they both have a very like calm presence about them. You can see the way they handle their business and the way they do their drill work and the way that they are behind the dish. It’s like this very calm, composed, like, ‘I know what I’m doing, I’m confident in what I’m doing, and I’m just going to do it.’

“James is an awesome dude. He has a lot of veteran leadership. He’s helped me out, he’s picked me up, and kind of taken care of me as a younger guy. It’s something I’ve really appreciated. And then Rutsch and I got drafted together, played against each other in school, so I’ve known him. It feels a little bit more like a friendship. And obviously he's extremely talented, he’s the No. 1 guy.

“It’s been cool to learn from those guys and see how they work and what they do really well and try to take little bits and pieces.”

McCann offers cues, as the players call them. And they can pertain to business on the field or inside the clubhouse. At home plate or on a road trip.

“Like little, tiny things,” Handley said. He’s like, ‘Hey, I think your posture here …’ Talking as a hitter, it’s a similar mindset of, ‘Yes, I’m a catcher but I’m also a hitter and this is what I see, this is what I want to tell you.’ Even helping out with the tips for the clubbies and taking care of the young guys. ‘Hey, we’re on the road, I’m starting today and you’re backing up, I’m going to take care of you today.’

“Little things like that that I haven’t really experienced that makes a big impact on somebody.”

Manager Brandon Hyde also appreciates how McCann is handling the young pitchers.

“He’s got great experiences from the past and is very open,” Hyde said. “He wants to see us be good and wants to see our pitching staff improve. He’s been wonderful in meetings and one-on-ones. It’s nice to have a veteran like him.”

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