The doors to the Baltimore Convention Center open this morning at 10 a.m. for season ticket holders attending the annual FanFest event and 11 a.m. for everyone else. Gauging the crowd’s mood will be interesting, given the slow offseason and unexpected absences of star players Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop.
Along with the anticipated questions about Machado’s status on the team - traded or not traded, shortstop or third baseman - executive vice president Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter will have to address the three-time All-Star’s decision to skip the event.
Schoop’s failure to attend also will be a hot topic, which doesn’t jibe with the spirit of FanFest. The Orioles are doing their best to make it up to people who held autograph vouchers, offering refunds but also allowing everyone to get signatures at their allotted stations. It’s an uncomfortable situation, to say the least.
Tim Beckham will be asked again about the possibility of shifting from shortstop to third base or a utility role. His footwork will be put to the ultimate test as he maneuvers around the subject.
Third base coach Bobby Dickerson worked with Beckham after last year’s trade and will do so again in Mississippi before spring training.
“He’s an energetic guy and he brings a lot of energy every day, so it’s fun going out to the ballpark and working with him,” Dickerson said Thursday night on 105.7 The Fan. “He’s open-minded, he’s up for anything. If someone’s told him one thing, he never drops on a coach, ‘Hey, I heard ... my daddy told me this.’ Those types of things. He’s really open-minded and he’s a talented player.
“Once we figure out what we’re going to do as far as the team situation, whether or not he’s going to third, second, short, whatever we end up doing, I know he’s going to be prepared for it and he’s going to do the best he can.”
Dickerson should know in Sarasota exactly where Beckham fits on the roster. Showalter could reveal his plans later today.
“I’ve been in touch with him and we’ve talked,” Dickerson said. “He’s supposed to come and see me in Mississippi before camp starts and we’re just going to do some drills, infield-type stuff that’s not really position specific. Just to slow him down a little bit and continue what we started last year when he came over.
“I know that he’s a talented player. If we can clean up a few things, we’re going to have a really good infielder.”
Bench coach John Russell will stay busy at FanFest with questions pertaining to Chance Sisco’s readiness behind the plate, and in spring training with daily drills designed to improve the rookie’s skills.
“We’re going to have to hit the ground running,” Russell said. “I’m going to have to rely on Caleb a lot, in some of the things Caleb went through when he was younger and had to kind of learn on the fly. Unfortunately, when you have a young group that we have, Caleb’s going to have to step up a little bit.
“You talk about force-feeding a little bit and trying to get them over the hump a little quicker, but behind the plate is really tough. It’s really tough to get guys to really excel - not the physical part of it, but the mental side of it and working with the staff. Calling a game and being able to make adjustments on the fly. So it’s going to be interesting how we’ll be able to handle that this spring.
“It’s a unique spring for us because it’s a little bit shorter time span, so we’re going to have to do some things, probably spend a little bit more time in the video room with them and get them more acclimated to our pitching staff and game situations a little bit quicker and have Caleb there as well as myself trying to get these guys to understand what they’re going to try to accomplish from the first pitch on. And it’s more than just catching the ball or throwing a guy out or blocking a ball in the dirt, which obviously, we’re going to have to work on that. But these guys are going to have to learn how to get pitchers, especially a younger staff that we have - some of them - through a game and through situations.
“They’re going to have to realize that it’s kind of up to them to help, and the quicker we can do that the better progress we’ll see.”
As far as the physical aspects, Russell continues to work with Sisco on his throwing in an attempt to bring him closer to the levels of Joseph and Wynns.
“Chance did a nice job when he came up last year,” Russell said. “He has progressed pretty nicely over the last few years. We didn’t sign him as a catcher, so he hasn’t caught a lot in his life. I know he’s had some trouble throwing in the past and we take a lot of pride in that here. We take a lot of pride in throwing fast runners out and Bobby’s done a great job with our infielders about tags and picking balls in the dirt and tags. So, we’ve got some things that we need to do with Chance to get him to throw a little better. I was pleased with the way he picked up the game a little bit last year and we’ll see where we go.
“He’s young. Sitting on the bench a lot, I don’t know how that’s going to help him in his development. But we feel like Austin Wynns, he had two solid years in a row. He’s that kind of blue collar catcher. He’s going to take a lot of pride in what he does behind the plate, and if he hits, he hits. And I think Chance is starting to realize that, as well. So, I think it’s going to be a good mix for those two.”
Hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh has been working with Chris Davis in Dallas, their sessions designed to get his average back up from the low .200s, better combat the shifts and regain his aggression earlier in counts.
“I just think that Chris has gotten in his own way a little bit the last two years,” Coolbaugh said. “I don’t know if it’s been more of a mental thing than a physical thing, but he’s been in a good mindset. He’s been working hard this winter to come back strong in the spring and get ready. I think now that the delivery of the twins has been off his mind now, he can kind of relax and get ready for spring. But it’s been good to see him working hard and being diligent in his work to prepare for spring training.”
Davis is hoping to make more consistent contact and reduce the strikeouts, which Showalter has noted is a pretty obvious goal.
“It’s not something we all of a sudden decided, ‘Hey, let’s cut down a little bit on the strikeouts,’ ” Showalter said. “We watch him. There’s 200 of them. I’ve got it. It’s not like all of a sudden this spring we’re going to focus on that. We’ve been doing that. Our guys have been doing that and talking about it. There’s just got to be better execution of it.
“If a guy’s hitting 50-60 home runs, people don’t talk about the 190 strikeouts. When you’re hitting 25, 30, or whatever, they do. You control it and Chris knows that. I’m expecting him to be better.”
The same goes for the aggressive approach that Davis wants to carry to the plate.
“All that stuff, there’s a lot of talk and this and that and whatever, but what’s the old expression? Don’t talk about it, show me,” Showalter said.
“It’s going to happen between the lines. We can talk about the same things we talk about all the time, things that go on behind the scenes. It’s not like all of a sudden we go, ‘Hey, we should talk about walking more, more contact.’ It’s every day. It’s an everyday grind. You’re trying to be perfect in a game you can’t be perfect in.”
Reliever Donnie Hart will be at FanFest today, but not closer Zach Britton, who’s recovering from surgery on his right Achilles tendon. An injury that stunned and depressed his teammates.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Hart. “The guy worked his tail off during the season coming back from the oblique and forearm, and to hear that he was out there training and working his tail off to make sure that he was ready as soon as spring training got here and the first day of the season ... To hear that, that’s a totally different animal right there, what happened to him, compared to his last two injuries.
“I felt bad for him because I know how hard that guy works and what his job means to him. It’s unfortunate. It really is. You can’t describe it, really.”
“Devastating,” said outfielder Joey Rickard.
“If anyone is going to come back stronger, it’s going to be him. He’s got the mentality. He’s been through some injuries and he’s a tough guy, so he’ll come back stronger.”
I wrote yesterday that Hart is lowering his arm slot to regain his sink and deception.
“When I got home in the offseason I think I took two days without looking at video of anything and I was right back at it,” he said. “That was one of the things that I had to look at and I’ve worked on this offseason. I’ve got video from ‘16, where my arm slot is, and I’ve got video of my bullpens this offseason so far and facing hitters and where it’s at now and we’re kind of back on that track.
“I think one of the biggest things was the ball was going east-west instead of north-south.”