SARASOTA, Fla. - The real work is about to begin.
Pitchers, catchers and position players choosing to report early will be arriving later today at the Ed Smith Stadium complex, where the temperature will climb back into the 80s. Physicals must be passed, and that includes the yearly eye exams.
(That last part was aimed at the “he needs glasses” crowd. Everyone gets their vision tested.)
The front office contingent headed to Florida without a veteran starting pitcher - executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias was on my 12:30 pm. flight yesterday - but there’s a good chance that the Orioles sign someone before opening day based on their usual practice of conducting roster business in February and March.
A major league deal remains a possibility. The Orioles have made offers leading up to spring training.
The rotation seems like the most likely area to target, though the waiver wire can provide other upgrades as teams draw closer to breaking camp. The Orioles will check on players who opt out of their minor league deals.
Manager Brandon Hyde is confident that having at least 66 players in camp won’t create evaluation or space issues. The more the merrier.
While trying to predict which 26 players head north for opening day, it’s important to remember the ones who are out of minor league options. The list includes infielders Hanser Alberto, Renato Núñez and Richard Ureña, catcher Pedro Severino, and pitchers Asher Wojciechowski, Shawn Armstrong and Miguel Castro.
All seven should appear on mock rosters. Alberto could be the starting second baseman. Núñez is the primary designated hitter. Ureña has a good shot at making the club in a utility role. Severino figures to get most of the starts behind the plate, no matter who’s backing up. Wojciechowski could be the No. 3 or 4 starter, and Armstrong and Castro seem pretty safe in the bullpen.
The data-gathering tools in camp will extend to the hitters. Those Edgertronic high-speed cameras for the pitchers are so 2019.
“We didn’t have the hitting equivalent of that last year, but with the hitting coaches we’ve hired - I suggest you go meet them. You’ll see what I mean,” Sig Mejdal, assistant general manager of analytics, told the media Sunday afternoon on the final day of the Birdland Caravan.
“These are experienced, internally motivated persons all in search of getting better and questioning whatever convention is out there and they’re trying to responsibly look at what will enable them to be better coaches and our players to be better hitters. At the same time, a lot of technology is sort of becoming ready for prime time. Bat sensors, body sensors, force plates. So we’re involved with that and hope to put it to good use this year.”
The Orioles keep adding personnel to their analytics department, a dramatic shift from their past philosophy.
“We’ve got about nine or 10 full-timers and 12 or 13 with the interns,” Mejdal said, “and these people are impressive.”
Hyde will need to decide on a leadoff hitter and the eight batters who follow after he has a clearer vision of his roster. It won’t be one set lineup, but Hyde would like to do less tinkering this summer.
One of my biggest curiosities is where Austin Hays will bat, assuming that he is, indeed, the everyday center fielder. He has the type of skills that enable him to lead off or slot more into the middle of the order.
Jonathan Villar is gone after leading off in 105 games last season. Alberto batted first in 46 games, but he slashed .238/.269/.340 against right-handed pitching and drew only 16 walks in 550 plate appearances for the season.
Not that the Orioles are married to the prototypical types. They’ve done some experimenting in the past, including Nick Markakis and Chris Davis.
Cedric Mullins has the speed and basestealing skills to do it, but he isn’t assured of making the club and doesn’t currently project as a starter. Mullins batted first in seven games before his demotion.
Joey Rickard led off twice last year before his exit from the organization. Stevie Wilkerson also did it twice, but he’ll be a bench player if he breaks camp with the team.
Another curiosity is which player comes off the 40-man roster if the Orioles need the space. It includes 21 pitchers, three catchers, nine infielders and seven outfielders.
Pat Valaika has made a return appearance and will try to serve in a utility role if he’s able to avoid another DFA.
The number of bubble guys and seat fillers have diminished.
Dwight Smith Jr.
Stewart is recovering from ankle surgery, but he could avoid the 60-day injured list depending on the progress made and whether he can begin working out in camp.