The Birdland Caravan made its final stop this afternoon in White Marsh, with two more days of touring ahead.
Shortstop Richie Martin knew where he’d be going today based on the schedule laid out by the Orioles, the bus slicing through heavy winds to reach its destinations, but where he starts the 2020 season is a much cloudier forecast.
The Orioles signed free agent shortstop José Iglesias to a one-year deal with an option for 2021 and basically have handed him the job. Martin can compete for a utility role and break camp with the team as a reserve or report to the minor league complex with an assignment to Triple-A Norfolk.
“I can’t make those decisions,” he said while meeting with the media at a packed Greene Turtle, the crowd showing up for more than the crab dip. “I’m not even thinking where I’m ... I’m going to go and play my game and do what I can and control what I can control and then we’ll see what happens from there.”
Martin played only shortstop as a Rule 5 pick, but made 21 starts at second base with Double-A Midland in 2018.
He’s fine moving to other positions if necessary. Manager Brandon Hyde makes out the lineup, not the 25-year-old infielder.
“Shortstop is my primary position,” he said, “but wherever Hyder needs me, I’m available.”
Martin has a tremendous amount of respect for Iglesias, a plus-defender whose contract guarantees $3 million and can reach $6 million.
“I mean, that guy’s amazing,” Martin said. “His glove is unbelievable. Some of his tricks that he does, glove flips to second, throws off-balance, I study that stuff and I watch guys like him. It’s going to be cool to have him in the same locker room and be able to watch him and compete against him.”
Cedric Mullins, the opening day center fielder who ended the year at Double-A Bowie, spent two weeks with hitting instructor Rick Strickland in St. Louis - the same guy who includes the Red Sox’s Andrew Benintendi as a pupil.
“I definitely got introduced to a lot of the technology that’s been brought into baseball nowadays, so just being able to come to terms with that kind of terminology and approach to a swing is very helpful,” Mullins said.
“The intent this offseason was just to kind of put the past in the past and keep pressing forward.”
Mullins wants it so far back in the rearview mirror that it’s a speck. No more reminders of the 6-for-64 start that got him sent down to Norfolk and the .205/.272/.306 slash line in 66 games with the Tides that moved him to Bowie.
“It was frustrating at the beginning,” he said. “I’ve been really good at just creating a clean slate going into spring training and a better player.
“It was rough. I think in terms of the entirety of my career, even when I was younger, never had that much failure, so it was humbling, being able to go back to square one and see what created success for the future.”
Mullins said his offseason work also was geared toward getting him stronger and more mobile in order to stay healthy.
“In terms of the swing, there were a few mechanical approaches, introducing a leg kick to my left side and just getting more comfortable with that,” he said. “That was probably the biggest adjustment.”
How intense were the sessions?
“I was getting blisters on my hands,” he said. “I was going twice a day, two hours. It was a grind.”
Mullins conceded that he put too much pressure on himself as the club’s center fielder, the replacement for Adam Jones, and didn’t handle it as smoothly as he does a fly ball in the gap.
“The game stays the same,” he said, “just with a bigger crowd, and I’ve got to remind myself that and just go out there and play my game.”
It’s a mindset that should serve him well in Sarasota, where his struggles at the plate began last spring.
“The biggest thing is that I’m not down on myself,” he said. “I’m staying optimistic and that what happened in the past isn’t going to hinder what I do in the present. So that’s really what I’m looking forward to doing when I get there.”
Adley Rutschman also will be in camp, but the first overall pick in the 2019 First-Year Player Draft won’t be heading to Baltimore for opening day on March 26. He’s an invite who’s going to make the most of the opportunity, however long it lasts, before reporting to Twin Lakes Park.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “Heading down tomorrow, so it’s going to be a good time. I’m excited and expect the unexpected.
“It’s a whole new staff this year, so I think there’s a lot of new stuff that’s going to be coming our way. But went down for a minicamp a couple of weeks ago and they introduced us to a lot of new stuff with regards to analytics and what-not, so I think it’s really good and going to be very beneficial.”
The caravan enabled Rutschman to mingle with fans and get to know a few of his teammates. But it also gave him more quality time with Hyde, major league field coordinator Tim Cossins and major league coach Fredi González as they made the rounds.
“It’s great to connect and to be able to be outside of a baseball setting for once,” he said. “I think you create a deeper appreciation for each other and it helps the friendship grow, as well.”
It doesn’t hurt to have a manager and multiple coaches with catching backgrounds.
“Absolutely,” Rutschman said. “Catchers are the best.”