Notes on the WBC, catchers, Givens and more

SARASOTA, Fla. - Outfielder Hyun Soo Kim also is an early arrival at spring training. He's been working out at the Ed Smith Stadium complex and the media saw him walk down the hallway this morning toward the weight room.

How's that for confirmation?

The Orioles added infielder Chris Johnson today on a minor league deal and they're expected to sign a few more players this week, though not necessarily with invitations to spring training. They could go directly to the minor league complex at Twin Lakes Park and be used later to fill out game rosters.

Second baseman Jonathan Schoop will leave camp Feb. 28 to join the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. Third baseman Manny Machado and catcher Welington Castillo leave March 5 to play for the Dominican Republic, and center fielder Adam Jones and reliever Mychal Givens leave March 6 to play for Team USA.

The Orioles would prefer to keep Castillo in camp as he gets acclimated to a new pitching staff, but they remain supportive of his decision.

"I know the culture they take great pride in it," said executive vice president Dan Duquette. "It's a nice honor for Welington, but it's not the best development for the Orioles, who have a new catcher in camp. And he needs to learn our pitchers and learn how to work with them. So that process is going to take a little more time to develop.

"We're going to have a crash course. A lot of the work is done in the bullpens. We're going to have to keep that in mind. Castillo knows that, he knows he has to learn the pitchers and gain the confidence of the pitchers and the staff.

"I like our catching. I like Castillo, I like (Caleb) Joseph's capability. I think he's going to bounce back and have a good year. I also like Chance Sisco. Looking forward to seeing how he does in camp."

Any chance that the Orioles could re-sign Matt Wieters? Of course, the question came up again.

"We made a choice when we went to sign Castillo," Duquette said. "We liked him. We liked his experience and we liked his capability. We liked the way he had checked all the boxes on the key catching components over the past couple of years, so we made a value choice to go sign him and we'll see how that works out for us.

"I'm a little surprised about the free agent market this offseason for a number of players. There seems to be more depth with the position players in the market and it's taken a while for a number of them to find a home for this season."

Manager Buck Showalter said he exchanged text messages with Wieters a few days ago. Meanwhile, Castillo is now using the spring locker that previously belonged to the four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove Award winner.

Showalter-Pensive-Dugout-Tampa-Sidebar.jpg"I haven't gotten that nostalgic about it yet," Showalter said. "I'm trying to have respect for Welington. They have a lot of guys to pick to be there to catch for the Dominican and they picked him, OK? That tells you a little bit about his stature and I have respect for what he brings, too. Matt would be the first to say that.

"He's a humble kid. He's a pleaser. Big shoes to fill, but I think he can do it. But I want to be fair to him. He's the guy who's wearing our uniform this year. We'll embrace him. This is a good group about making ... Everybody loved Matt, but they will also find things to like about Welington."

The Orioles should find out Wednesday whether a team claimed Francisco Pena off waivers. If it happens, they'll probably bring catcher Stuart Levy to the Ed Smith Stadium complex after inviting him to minicamp last month.

Austin Wynns sustained an ankle injury in the Dominican Winter League and may not be available until late March, though Showalter sounded a little more optimistic.

Pena could slip through waivers based on the timing, with teams already setting their camp rosters.

"I see the waiver wire every day that comes over and there are a lot of catchers who have been put on waivers the last two weeks, and they're all going through, which lends me to think that a lot of people have their catching situation, they think, under control," Showalter said. "Now, he may get claimed. He doesn't have a prior outright, so he'd be here Thursday if he cleared. So we'll see. I hope not for our sake and I hope so for his sake. Nothing would change here about the competition factor if he clears. Be in the same boat."

Showalter didn't consider it a gamble for Pena to be designated for assignment and expressed satisfaction in the organization's catching depth.

"We're fine," he said. "Obviously, we like Sisco and we like Audry (Perez) a lot. I think Wynn's coming quickly. I think he'll be ready to go sometime in March. And we've got some other guys we like a lot, Stuart Levy. I think if Pena gets claimed, we'll probably bring Levy over."

The infield depth improved with the recent additions of Johnson, Johnny Giavotella and Robert Andino.

"Getting there," Showalter said. "Chris and Robert and John Giavotella helped. A couple guys over there in our (minor league) camp we get to see a lot. I know one thing, those guys are going to get a lot of playing time here. I know the lineup in Lakeland."

Showalter was referencing the Feb. 24 exhibition opener against the Tigers. He isn't expected to start Castillo for the first time until the Feb. 26 home opener against the Pirates.

Duquette noted how the Orioles needed more veteran infield options, which led to Johnson's signing today.

"That's kind of filling out our roster depth," Duquette said. "We had a real need for veteran infielders to help us and that's coming along."

Johnson is the son of Triple-A Norfolk manager Ron Johnson.

"In a personal matter, I haven't really been around the baseball environment with my son ever," Ron Johnson said. "When he was playing high school, college, all this kind of stuff, I've always been working. From a personal manner, I think it's really cool. And my grandson is coming with him and he's only a year old, so I'm happy about that.

"As far as the baseball stuff, he's trying to get himself back on track and hopefully play well and do the things he needs to do to get back to the big leagues."

The organization was worried about Givens risking injury in the WBC, but those fears were reduced after pitching coach Roger McDowell reached out to Team USA pitching coach Jeff Jones.

"Roger talked with Jones about Mychal's usage," Showalter said. "He mapped out exactly what we want him to do and not do. He's not going to pitch an inning and go out and pitch another inning. It's one up and one inning with X-number of days off in between, so he's protected.

"We wanted to get that out there. Not that they wouldn't protect him, but it's good to get it on paper. It's something Roger and I sat down during the minicamp and wrote it up. He talked to Jeff and Jim (Leyland) to let them know here's what we'd really like to see happen."

Zach Britton's older brother, former minor league infielder Buck Britton, will serve as hitting coach at Single-A Delmarva.

New Orioles assistant hitting coach Howie Clark is in camp, though his hiring still hasn't been announced.

"I'm excited about it," Showalter said. "Another hire from within. A guy that's well-respected by everybody in the organization. They think he's a perfect fit for us. I've already gotten a couple of texts from coaches around the league that say what a great hire that is. He fits us well. I think he's going to do real well at that job. I know Scott (Coolbaugh) is excited about it.

"We liked the situation we had last year, but things change. I'm glad to have him and Alan (Mills) from our system. He's good. You'll like him. He's a hard worker, very knowledgeable. I think the players will really like him. He brings a perfect skill set for that job."

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