BEL AIR, Md. – The 2023 Birdland Caravan is underway. Tonight, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde answered fan questions and took part in some other fun activities with fans at Bel Air High School in Harford County.
Tomorrow, Birdland Caravan continues as O's players, coaches and staff meet and greet fans from around the state and region. It continues through Sunday.
A fan at Bel Air tonight asked Elias how the team will handle its strong prospect group now that the club has the playoffs in mind.
“We are in a mode now where we are really, really focused on winning and trying to increase our chances to get into the playoffs as much as possible," Elias said. "And it is going to start coming more at the expense of the player development side in the minor leagues. We just traded a prospect (Darrell Hernaiz) that we really liked for (A’s pitcher) Cole Irvin. So we’re starting to make those tradeoffs a lot more.”
The Orioles won 83 games last year, the most by any non-playoff American League club.
“I hope we make the playoffs. That’s our goal,” Elias said to big applause. “We’ve put ourselves in a position to do that. It’s going to be a dogfight in our division, four other really strong-looking teams and organizations.”
Elias was asked about the O’s farm system being ranked No. 1 and getting so many players on top 100 prospects lists.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “Our scouts, our coaches, our front office has done such a good job turning this farm system around. We’ve just got a spectacular group of guys. Brandon and I have been involved in some of the bigger and more successful rebuilds in baseball over the last 15 years and this farm system, this prospect list, is as strong as anything I’ve ever seen or been a part of.”
One fan asked about all the talented shortstops on the farm.
“I think we’ve got three great middle infield prospects right now at Triple-A," stated Elias. "Connor Norby, who is primarily a second baseman, Jordan Westburg, who can play really all the spots, and Joey Ortiz, who is like a defensive-wizard kind of shortstop. It’s a great problem to have, to have too many shortstops or too many middle infielders. You can move them all over the diamond, they can play other positions and other teams are always looking, wanting them. That is how we got Cole Irvin, trading from the depth.
“It will sort itself out over the course of the year. … It’s the least of our worries, having too many shortstops and it’s one of the things that is healthiest about our organization right now.”
Hyde said he was excited about some of the vets the O’s have added and looked forward to taking last year’s success a step further.
“We took a massive step last year,” he said. “A lot of that was what we did on the mound, but also the young talent we got to see coming in the second half of the year. It’s pretty much the same roster with adding more talent and a lot of prospects are getting close to the big leagues that are going to help.
“It will be 40-plus guys (over the year) that will impact our club. Just from a roster standpoint, we are so much more talented and more athletic than we have been. I know we are not going to sneak up on anyone anymore. The teams in our division know how talented we are.”
Elias was asked if the club could still add a player or another starting pitcher.
“Yeah, we’re still working on stuff," he said. "I can’t predict, there are not a ton of free agents left. Especially premier ones. But it’s very possible that we sign another major league free agent before we head to camp. We also might have moves during camp. In terms of the starting rotation, the thing we feel best about with this group is the numbers, the depth. … We’re going to have nine, 10, 11 starters on our 40-man roster when we go into spring training. I feel that’s a good number to pick from and we’ll keep monitoring opportunities the next few weeks.”
One fan asked Elias if the Orioles would pursue pitcher Trevor Bauer, whose suspension is now over and who was recently released by the Dodgers.
"You know, I am not able to answer that," he said. "It is against major league rules to talk about whether or not we are interested in any free agent and he's no different. I can't answer."
Hyde was asked if Grayson Rodriguez could emerge as his Opening Day starter.
"Well, we'll wait and see," he said. "It's nice for this year we have a lot of guys to choose from. ... So we'll let Grayson pitch in spring training and we're going to make a decision on what we are going to do with him when camp breaks. But we are super excited about him long-term and his future and we think the world of him and his ability."
Some of the kids at the event stole the show at times.
One youngster asked Hyde to rank ballpark hot dogs. Another made his case to make the team as a catcher, "but I don't know how to be one, but I would have a good arm," he said. That generated some of the biggest applause of the night.
Click here for a pic via my Twitter of Hyde, Elias and O's broadcaster Brett Hollander on stage in Bel Air tonight.
Click here for more on the Caravan through the weekend.