SARASOTA, Fla. - Within the one hour of clubhouse access granted to the media this morning, Orioles pitchers and catchers already had reported in abundance and more were walking through the doors.
The roll call included Alex Cobb, John Means and Asher Wojciechowski, who figure to comprise three-fifths of the rotation on opening day. Also present were Rule 5 picks Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker, who sat at their lockers in a far corner of the clubhouse and chatted for most of the hour.
Also spotted were Richard Bleier and Paul Fry, who became fathers in the offseason, as well as Hunter Harvey, David Hess, Miguel Castro, Chandler Shepherd, Evan Phillips, Ty Blach, Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer, Shawn Armstrong, Brady Rodgers, Hunter Cervenka, Rob Zastryzny and Eric Hanhold.
Cody Carroll was captured on video by the Orioles as he walked into the facility.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias remains on the search for at least one veteran starting pitcher.
“We’re working on it,” he said. “I can’t really handicap it right now. There are free agents out there that are good pitchers and either would be upgrades for us or guys that can come in and compete for depth purposes, so we’re working on it and we’ll just see.”
Could the Orioles sign more than one starter?
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” Elias replied. “We’ve got a large camp right now, but if there are two guys we think can help us, we won’t draw the line right now.”
A camp with 66 players and including 35 pitchers already is able to provide lots of options.
“Yeah, it’s a pretty big number right now and I think there’s - Mike can touch on it - but there’s probably a chance maybe that there are other moves happening,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “We’re just going through our pitchers right now inside and doing some meetings, and the amount of really good arms we have in camp is impressive. We want those guys to take some valuable experiences they had last year and build off them and roll it into this year.”
The Orioles are in the process of determining which pitchers will work as starters or relievers in camp.
“Those are discussions we’re having, what guys we’re stretching out, what guys we’re going to see as more shorter bullpen guys,” Hyde said. “But those are conversations that are going to happen throughout camp.”
Harvey’s role won’t change. He’s no longer a consideration for the rotation and could be anointed the closer if someone wants to start attaching labels.
Bailey and Rucker are competing for starting jobs, with bullpen assignments a possibility later.
“Both of those guys have started in the past,” Hyde said. “Bailey has just started, so we look at him as a definite starter candidate. Rucker was a starter up until last year when they moved him into the bullpen to see what his stuff looked like out of the ‘pen. But he does have a starter history, also. So we’re going to stretch out both of those guys and give them a long look.”
Stewart is four months removed from ankle surgery and said today that he’s feeling good, though he isn’t expected to be ready for opening day.
“He’s progressing well,” Hyde said. “He’s going to be slow-played a little bit in camp because he’s still recovering, but he’s going through his progressions well and the rehab, they feel real positive about how his rehab’s gone. I think he’s going to be behind a little bit going in, but we’ll see how it goes throughout the next six weeks.”
Hyde also said he doesn’t expect anyone to report late due to health or visa issues.
Elias noted improvement in the level of talent in camp compared to last spring training, his first with the Orioles.
“I think a lot of the talent that was in the organization when we came in at this time last year, we’ve got a better feel for it,” Elias said. “A lot of those guys took steps forward, had a good year in the minor leagues and so that’s on the rise. Rutschman’s here in camp. But going over the 40-man roster and looking at the players that are here, we’ve got hopes for all of them and they’re all talented and they have things to like about them, so we definitely feel like it’s coming together. This is part of a longer process. It’s been moving in the right direction.”
Prospects can increase their stock down in Florida, but not based only on their statistics. The numbers, as usual, won’t tell the entire story.
“Whether somebody goes 3-for-10 or 4-for-10 in camp doesn’t register for us too much,” Elias said. “It’s more about the way a kid goes about his work, how he conducts himself, his approach with his teammates and his coaches that seems to make lasting impressions, in my experience. But it’s always good to see guys do nicely. But I wouldn’t put much into the performance of somebody who’s coming up from the lower, mid-minors.”
The Orioles claimed last spring that they were running a camp of opportunities and nothing much has changed beyond some of the names. And it covers both the veterans and some of the first-timers.
“We have players here that have never played in the big leagues that will have a chance to break camp, for sure, and especially the guys that are on the 40-man roster,” Elias said. “You know, they have an inside edge with that. We’re going to be keeping an eye on those guys and the competition absolutely extends to the rookies.”
“There’s a lot of jobs to be won,” Hyde said. “Just talking to players the last couple of days, they’re very realistic in understanding that there’s great opportunity here still and they’re going to get a long look.
“Whether we start a guy in Triple-A or not, it’s going to be a case-by-case basis.”
The timeline to complete the rebuild process still isn’t a matter of public record - if one actually exists.
The organization’s willingness to start a player’s service clock early has nothing to do with it.
“We’re not worrying about that. We’re worried about the development of the individual players,” Elias said.
“We know where we’re at this year. We’re realistic about our chances in the American League East this year. I think everyone is. But we are mindful of making sure a player gets enough development time and meeting his development goals, whether that’s at Triple-A or even if we’re talking about a guy down in A ball. But also we don’t want guys to stagnate and spend too much time at one level and get sloppy or get discouraged. So all those things come into play.
“But right now we’re in the mode of making decisions for our prospects that are oriented toward their development goals first rather than the goals of the Orioles roster.”
Update: Valaika hit the waiver wire again, but he’s staying in the Orioles organization.
The club announced that Valaika cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk. His spot on the 40-man roster goes to infielder Ramón Urías, 25, who has been claimed off waivers after slashing .262/.347/.426 the past two seasons at Triple-A Memphis.
The Cardinals designated Urias for assignment on Thursday.
Urías played in Mexico for five years before signing with the Cardinals prior to the 2018 season. He’s going to be tossed into the utility competition in camp based on his experience at all four infield positions and in left field.
The camp roster has swelled to 67 players.
The Orioles claimed Valaika off waivers from the Rockies on Oct. 30, lost him to the Diamondbacks and claimed him again on Jan. 30.
Also, catcher Martin Cervenka was in camp this morning.