SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles don’t have a game scheduled today. The complex is closed. The media also is discouraged from wandering over to Twin Lakes Park.
This, my friends, is the one off-day of spring training.
Too bad the forecast calls for an 80 percent chance of thunderstorms. We haven’t had rain all spring and it arrives today.
Back in my Fort Lauderdale days, I’d pick up friend and colleague David Ginsburg at his hotel by 9 a.m. and head down to South Beach under what always managed to be a gorgeous blue sky - and inside the occasional convertible. We parked on the same side street, rented a couple of chairs and set up directly across from Wet Willie’s, debating whether the next slushy drink should include a rum floater.
I won’t see the beaches in Sarasota, which I hear are gorgeous. It just never happens. But I plan on forcing myself to relax and have fun. Stranger things have happened.
Manager Buck Showalter backed off his players yesterday by allowing them to report later and they’re off today, with many of them planning a golf outing that figures to get the competitive juices flowing. The schedule will intensify later this week, with starters remaining in games longer in preparation for the April 6 opener at Tropicana Field.
Let’s start this entry with a little trivia. Name the Oriole who routinely is the first to arrive at the complex, getting in an early morning workout. Teammates marvel at his dedication and joke that they’ve tried unsuccessfully to beat him there. Answer to follow.
* Showalter has stated numerous times that the rotations in Triple-A Norfolk and Double-A Bowie could include a combined 10 homegrown starters. The exception might be T.J. McFarland, a former Rule 5 pick from the Indians organization. He began last season with the Tides and could be squeezed out of the Orioles bullpen again in April.
* David Lough is a plus defender in the outfield, but he’s batting .185 this spring. Jimmy Paredes isn’t a plus defender at any position, though he’s improved at third base and he’s been unsteady in left field, but he’s batting .433 with 10 RBIs. Are they vying for one roster spot? They’re both out of options.
* Online better site Bovada lists the odds of Adam Jones being named American League Most Valuable Player at 22/1. Mike Trout is the favorite at 1/1. Chris Davis is 16/1 to hit the most home runs in the majors, with Giancarlo Stanton the favorite at 7/1. Jones is 50/1.
* Former Orioles manager Davey Johnson visited Nationals camp recently and was asked about Jeffrey Maier’s glove going up for auction. Maier, of course, was the kid who reached over the wall to deflect Derek Jeter’s fly ball into the stands for a disputed home run in Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series. Umpire Richie Garcia blew the call and signed autographs the next day.
“You need breaks and that was a big one for the Yankees. And I don’t know how I could see it from about 300 feet and Richie was right next to it, looking up, and couldn’t see that. That got me thrown out,” Johnson said.
Did Johnson consider bidding on the glove?
“No, I don’t want have anything to do with that glove, before or now,” he said. “It cost me money, so why would I pay for it?”
* Twins catcher Josmil Pinto sustained a concussion after twice being hit by Jones’ backswing in the first two innings of Saturday’s game in Fort Myers. Pinto, who was removed for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the second, was set up closer to the plate than recommended. Live and learn.
* The Mets really do want left-hander Brian Matusz, but they’re not picking up all $3.2 million of his contract. The Orioles would have to eat some salary.
* Chris Parmelee, the former Twin signed to a minor league deal, is much better defensively at first base than I realized. He’s been impressive. But is there room for him at Norfolk? Christian Walker will get most of the starts and the outfield is going to be crowded. Dariel Alvarez could be the regular right fielder, with Julio Borbon in center and Henry Urrutia and Nolan Reimold in left - assuming Reimold doesn’t break camp with the team.
* Another player who could be impacted by the crowded outfield is Matt Tuiasosopo. I wonder if he will remain in the organization once minor league rosters are set.
* Borbon didn’t draw much attention last season while batting .288/.342/.356 in 124 games at Norfolk, but Showalter really likes his glove in center and is glad the Orioles re-signed him to a minor league deal. He’s the type of player they want in the system, especially with the Tides being so challenged defensively last season.
* The Orioles placed a lot of emphasis on improving the defense at Norfolk, and they really like Rey Navarro’s glove at second base. Ozzie Martinez is a plus defender at shortstop, but he may end up on Bowie’s roster. Keep in mind Everth Cabrera, Ryan Flaherty and Jonathan Schoop have options and one of them is expected to be sent down before opening day.
* Paul Janish is so good at shortstop, he’s gotten J.J. Hardy’s attention. That’s the supreme compliment. Janish will be the starting shortstop at Norfolk, but Showalter keeps saying that he could impact the Orioles later in the summer.
* Zach Britton’s stuff has been downright nasty this spring. He’s dominating hitters with a 96-97 mph fastball that drops like an anvil as it reaches the plate. Batters are missing by wide margins.
Britton has been so efficient that he usually goes to the bullpen after his appearances to raise his pitch count. Showalter joked that he’d like for Britton to give up a hit just so the left-hander has to stay on the mound.
* Jonah Heim has appeared in one spring game, but he’s really grabbed the Orioles’ attention. Actually, he did it during last year’s minicamp and nothing has changed. Showalter brings up his name frequently and pitching coach Dave Wallace praised him last week while visiting Twin Lakes Park. Wallace went over to watch Kevin Gausman and Wei-Yin Chen, but Heim might have left the strongest impression.
* The Orioles like Austin Wynn’s work behind the plate, but he backed up Chance Sisco last season at Single-A Delmarva and didn’t get much notice. Sisco won the South Atlantic League batting title with a .340 average and is one of the top prospects in the system. But Wynn caught Gausman’s start for Single-A Delmarva on Friday, and not by accident. The Orioles wanted them paired up. Give the kid some love.
* Players raved about Alvarez’s arm before the Orioles reassigned him to minor league camp. It’s legit. They heard the stories and Alvarez backed them up, including the day in Clearwater where his throw from the right field fence to second base arrived on the fly and almost took out an umpire who anticipated at least one bounce.
“They always put a player comp. ‘This is a 7 arm, this is Andre Dawson. This is an 8 arm, Jimmy Piersall,’ ” Showalter said. “We were talking on the way home, if that throw’s not an 8 arm, what is? What is? What’s the next grade? Pretty impressive.
“The umpire was going out for the catch or no catch off the wall and (Alvarez) almost hit him throwing it back in, because it’s usually one-hop range. That was pretty impressive. He can throw. He doesn’t miss up much, which is good to see. All the drills we’ve done, I haven’t seen him miss up at all. He’s a good one.”
* Trivia answer: Delmon Young routinely is the first guy to arrive at the complex each morning. He’s already worked up a sweat in the batting cage before the sun’s come up.
Young appeared in 83 games last season, but he could be much busier in 2015.
“I wouldn’t say completely he’s going to have the exact same role he had last year,” Showalter said. “I think there’s some potential opportunity for that to expand. It’ll be up to Delmon a little bit, but I wouldn’t pigeonhole him to the exact same way we were with him last year. But we know at the very worst that’s there for us.”
Young drew 10 walks in 255 plate appearances last season, but he’s received four free passes this spring. (The official Grapefruit League stats say three, but I counted four. Maybe I’m including the intrasquad game.)
“We’ve got all these things that go on down here,” Showalter said. “It’s hard to believe how selective Dariel has been compared to what I was told. So let’s see what happens when the people start yelling a little bit more. But it’s been good to see. I’d rather they be doing that.”