Orioles waiting to see how Politi rebounds, Mayo and Kjerstad bringing the power

SARASOTA, Fla. – The initial round of camp cuts in Clearwater this week weren’t complicated. The groupings were some young prospects who can get more work at Twin Lakes Park as they prepare for the season, and other players who had little or no shot at heading north and didn’t force the issue.

That was it.  

Three more cuts were made late last night following a 5-5 tie with the Twins. Right-handers Noah Denoyer and Seth Johnson were optioned and left-hander Cade Povich was reassigned to minor league camp.

The battles for final spots haven’t subsided.

The World Baseball Classic trimmed the original 71-man roster with Cedric Mullins joining Team USA, Anthony Santander and Darwinzon Hernández reporting to Team Venezuela and Dean Kremer leaving Thursday for Team Israel after throwing one last bullpen session with the Orioles and winning the ping pong tournament. John Means and Dillon Tate eventually will go on the injured list.

We don’t know about DL Hall. The Orioles could go in so many different directions with him. We only know that he won’t be in the Opening Day rotation but his back is fine.

The 15 subtractions, 13 of them involving non-roster invites, leave the official roster at 56.

The Orioles will be deliberate with reliever Andrew Politi. They really like his stuff, which is why they targeted him in the Rule 5 draft and got him with the 17th overall selection.

“He was our guy,” Orioles director of pro scouting Mike Snyder said that day.

He still appears capable of being a guy in their bullpen, but he’ll need to rebound from his first dose of spring adversity.

Politi has tossed three scoreless innings in three appearances with two hits allowed, no walks and five strikeouts before facing the Phillies Thursday afternoon. They hit a pair of two-run homers against him in the fourth and he couldn’t get the last out.

Manager Brandon Hyde spelled out some of the reasons why Politi impresses him following Sunday’s game at Tropicana Field.

"Good curveball,” he said. “I thought his command with his cutter was really good. I think it's a sneaky fastball. I really like his curveball, too." 

The Orioles are about to discover how he can spin a bad outing into something positive.

“I think that’s a little bit a part of it,” Hyde said yesterday. “They’re not going to have scoreless outings every time out. To be able to go through adversity and see how he bounces back I think is going to be important.

“Still showed a really good curveball (Thursday). We really like his breaking ball a lot. I think he just missed his spots a couple time and they got to him, but we love his stuff. I like the poise and the presence he has on the mound. He’s been throwing strikes for the most part and we’re going to look to see how he bounces back from that outing.”

* Coby Mayo takes the cover off the ball during his batting practice sessions, and his line drive in Fort Myers that slammed off the fence in left-center field was clocked at 111.5 mph.

Heston Kjerstad has left his own mark, barreling pitches to produce that same sound. A scout in the Arizona Fall League said the outfielder had more power than any other player he watched. Manager Brandon Hyde recently said Kjerstad has “as much raw power as anyone in camp.”

So, who has the most between the two prospects?

I posted the question to Double-A Bowie manager Kyle Moore.

“I think it’s Mayo because he’s a little younger than Heston, he’s got that fresh back where he can lean on it a little more,” Moore said, laughing. “But both of them are really young, both of them are exciting, and I can’t wait to watch both of them play, hopefully for as long as I possibly can this year.”

Asked whether he’s surprised by Kjerstad’s productive spring, manager Brandon Hyde said, “What’s been remarkable is how hard he hits the baseball. Really impressive. This guy’s going to grow into a really good hitter, potential huge power guy. He’s looking to do damage at the plate, and he puts swings on the baseball like he’s trying to do damage.”

Mayo appeared in 68 games last year with High-A Aberdeen and 34 with Bowie, and he’s expected to report back to the Baysox after the Orioles reassigned him on Thursday. Kjerstad played in a combined 65 games at two levels in his delayed first professional season, the last 43 with Aberdeen before reporting to the AFL’s Scottsdale Scorpions.

Because Kjerstad batted .233/.312/.362 in 186 plate appearances with the IronBirds, the Orioles could decide to put him back in the South Atlantic League for a little more seasoning. Or they could take into account his Most Valuable Player honors in the AFL and what he’s done in spring training and deem him ready for the Eastern League.

“I’m really hoping I get both of them in the beginning,” Moore said. “Just, players like that that I’ve been able to coach – (Colton) Cowser, (Connor) Norby, guys that have had a bunch of success in Double-A – it’s been so fun to coach those guys and I hope those two guys start with me because they’re kind of in that class of really high prospects, big, huge upsides, and I hope I get them both.”

Kjerstad was supposed to zoom through the system after the Orioles selected him second overall in 2020 out of the University of Arkansas. A mature college bat. The best left-handed hitter in the country, according to executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias.

No one could have known that he’d been shut down with myocarditis, but he’s come back with a vengeance.

“He had a great Fall League, so I think he’s ready to compete in Double-A,” Moore said. “It’s one of those levels that, with his age and what he’s gone through, which is a lot of adversity, if he goes to Double-A and really plays well, then he’s got to be pretty close. So, I hope he can do it. We’ve got to get him off to a hot start, and I’m looking forward to it.”

* I’m flying back to Maryland, leaving the team in Steve Melewski’s capable and thawed hands. I’ll brave the cold at home and come back Wednesday.

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