While revealing at FanFest that finding more pitching is the top offseason roster priority for the Orioles, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias didn’t deny that the outfield, infield and catching position also could be addressed before opening day.
The Orioles remain in an infield frenzy as they increase the competition for starting and utility jobs. They selected Richie Martin with the first pick in the Rule 5 draft and traded for Drew Jackson, who also must remain on the active roster or be offered back. They’ve claimed Rio Ruiz, Hanser Alberto and Jack Reinheimer off waivers, signed Zach Vincej, Chris Bostick and Sean Miller to minor league deals, and re-signed Jace Peterson after non-tendering him.
The Orioles have been checking on free agent shortstops. They passed on Freddy Galvis after doing their homework on him at the Winter Meetings, the price figuring to move beyond their comfort zone. He signed a one-year deal with the Blue Jays yesterday that guaranteed $5 million.
Elias will continue to explore trades while preferring to hold any free agent contract to one year. The Orioles are deeper in the outfield than at other positions, and while they also are seeking a veteran acquisition, they can hold a nice camp competition in right field.
(This is assuming again that Cedric Mullins in the starter in center, which hasn’t been declared.)
DJ Stewart, a first-round pick in 2015 out of Florida State University, made his major league debut on Sept. 12 and slashed .250/.340/.550 with three doubles and three home runs in 47 plate appearances. He’s showing up in Sarasota to vie for a spot on the 25-man roster, no matter what the front office does.
“I’m going to go in there, work my tail off like I do every single year and looking forward to the opportunity,” he said at FanFest. “We’ve got a bunch of good guys, but I want to be there. Everyone wants to be there, but I’m looking forward to the opportunity to show everything I can do and hopefully be there starting the season.”
How serious is Stewart? He cut short his honeymoon in Grenada to refocus on baseball.
“I’ve obviously been traveling a lot,” he said. “Got married, honeymoon. But working out very hard. The honeymoon, we were supposed to be there for seven days. We actually only stayed for six because I was ready to get back and get into my workouts.”
Stewart appears to have an edge over Austin Hays, who began last season on the disabled list with a shoulder injury and ended it early to undergo ankle surgery. But Hays, a third-round pick in 2016 out of Jacksonville University, doesn’t expect to be limited after reporting to camp and should be rewarded for the workout program that he’s adopted.
“I learned that you can’t make the club if you’re not on the field, so that’s been my main focus this year is just to get healthy and go in mentally healthy and physical healthy,” said Hays, the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2017. “Everybody’s going to get opportunities. It’s a good time to be in Baltimore for a young player. I feel happy with where I am right now and I think I’ve done a good job getting healthy.
“There was a lot of emphasis on rolling out, stretching. There was a lot more running this offseason because they’re kicking my butt in PT. But just a lot of range of motion stuff. I had to work on things for my shoulder and stuff, too, because I dealt with those injuries.
“Just honestly I felt like from head to toe I was doing every single thing possible. Anything that I missed last year I incorporated it into my training this year.”
Hays received a surprise promotion to the majors in September 2017 after batting a combined .329/.365/.593 with 32 doubles, 32 home runs and 95 RBIs at Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, but he never really got the chance to compete for a starting job the following spring. A shoulder injury kept him out of workouts and the lineup and the Orioles signed veteran Colby Rasmus to a one-year deal.
“I think physically, with all of my tools and everything, I was in a very, very close place,” Hays said. “I don’t think there was much more to try to get physically and I think that was part of my problem. I tried to get bigger, bigger, bigger, stronger and I think I pushed it a little too hard and my body broke down and fell apart last year. So I’m just going back to the basics this year. Just feel good, be able to move, be healthy. I think right now I’m in a very good mental place.”
The process of getting to know new manager Brandon Hyde began with a phone call and continued at the minicamp and FanFest.
“He’s just saying all the same things. Everybody’s going to get their opportunities,” Hays said. “So just have fun, play your game, do what you do.”
And give Hyde ample time to figure it out.
“I’m familiar from video. How much does that really play into it?” Hyde said.
“I know their stats, I know where guys played last year. I’ve watched guys on video and I’ve seen some play in the past, but I was in the National League Central and we didn’t play (the Orioles in) interleague last year, so I don’t know the players that well. So that’s what the next two months is going to be, getting to know them as well as we can and making really good decisions with Mike and understanding that this is a development deal and we’re going to put guys in positions to have success.
“I feel good about that, but I think right now if you asked me to pick 25, I’d be lying to you if I said that I had it nailed down. I think that’s what the next two months are for.”