The opening today of the Orioles’ fall instructional league camp in Sarasota, Fla., brings 55 players to the complex for workouts and perhaps games versus other teams in the area. However, this year’s first-round draft pick, outfielder Heston Kjerstad, didn’t make the trip.
Kjerstad is unavailable due to an undisclosed “medical non-sports related reason,” according to executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias. The other five draft selections are in camp.
The reduction in activity for Kjerstad is extended after he didn’t make the 60-man player pool this summer and participate in workouts at the alternate site in Bowie.
“It’s not great,” Elias said. “I think the fact that he is an advanced high-level college hitter makes it a little less concerning that he ended up not getting much organized activity this year. Looks like that will be the case. So that makes it, I think, a little more tolerable just because we feel he’s a pretty polished hitter and will be able to pick up next spring where he left off. But for all these guys this has been a concerning year and certainly this would not have been our plan. But this has been a hard year to predict the future.”
The Orioles stayed in contact with each draft pick and set up workouts that were appropriate based on his location, the resources available and his position.
“So he’s been engaged in the organization,” Elias said, “but he’s just not going to be able to do this camp.”
The instructional league is going to run until the end of October. Short-season Single-A Aberdeen manager Kevin Bradshaw is the camp coordinator.
“Obviously, this takes on special meaning this year with the lack of a minor league season due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Elias said. “It’s going to be a very important player development, player evaluation, player planning event for our organization and we’ve devoted a lot of organizational resources toward having a successful camp in Sarasota.”
Players living in Venezuela are unable to attend due to international travel restrictions. The Dominican minor leaguers acquired as players to be named later in recent trades are excluded because they couldn’t obtain their work visas in time. The Orioles will explore ways to compensate for it over the winter.
There will be similarities this month to the secondary camp at Prince George’s Stadium, but some aspects are going to differ.
“The coaching techniques and particular curriculum that we’re using in some areas will carry forward from Bowie, but this is going to be a little bit larger number,” Elias said. “We’re going to have more fields at our disposal because it’s Ed Smith, and I think it will have more of a normal instructional league type of structure and feel, but with the enhanced safety and health protocols that we all saw at Bowie and Camden Yards, and hopefully we’ll be able to continue in this setting as well.
“I think it’s going to be a mix of everything. Some staff that didn’t get to participate at Bowie will be working this camp, and as you can see from the rosters, a lot of players who weren’t at Bowie. Some that were, but a lot that weren’t. And then there were guys like Kyle Bradish and Kevin Smith that we decided had pitched so much at the alternate site and got enough work in this summer that we shut them down and didn’t bring them in. So just kind of a mixture across the board of why certain guys are there and what they’re going to be doing.”
Definitive scouting reports won’t necessarily be crafted from these camp workouts.
“It’s true that we haven’t really seen these players this year in person. Just a little bit in spring training for some of these guys,” Elias said.
“I think the biggest value that we’re going to draw out of this other than a few weeks of development is getting plugged in with these guys and getting our hands on them for a little bit so we have a very clear plan for them for the rest of the winter when they go home and we have a good sense of where they left off and what they need to do and what they need to work on. And a lot of these guys are just flat-out new to the organization, so I think there will be a small degree of evaluation there.”
Infielder Mason McCoy, who made a nice impression in spring training with his defensive work, isn’t at the camp. He also didn’t make the 60-man player pool this summer.
“Without getting into specific situations with each of those guys, nobody is injured,” Elias said. “I’m not going to give every single heath situation across the organization, but Baumann is the only major arm injury that prompted an omission here, although I think he would have gotten enough innings in at Bowie that we would have left him off anyway. But the group, depending on what they’re able to do at home, where they live, the stage of the career that they’re in, we just had to make some one-off type of decisions and you’ll see a lot of the upper level arms aren’t involved. This is a list that skews younger I think on the whole.”
The camp is closed for the media and public for health and safety reasons. The Orioles are waiting to find out whether they’ll be allowed to play other teams.
Here is the full instructional league camp roster:
Right-handed pitchers: Carter Baumler, Randy Beriguete, Kyle Brnovich, Noah Denoyer, Connor Gillispie, Thomas Girard, Dan Hammer, Blaine Knight, Héctor López, Morgan McSweeney, Zach Peek, Ofelky Peralta, Shelton Perkins, Grayson Rodriguez, Houston Roth, Luis Sánchez, Kade Strowd, Brandon Young.
Left-handed pitchers: DL Hall, Zac Lowther, Easton Lucas, Zach Muckenhirn, Luis Ortiz, Drew Rom.
Catchers: Jordan Cannon, Brett Cumberland, Maverick Handley, Ricardo Rivera, Cody Roberts, Adley Rutschman.
Infielders: Rylan Bannon, José Cosma, Andrew Daschbach, Adam Hall, Gunnar Henderson, Darell Hernaiz, Roberto Martínez, Coby Mayo, Joey Ortiz, Erinson Placencia, James Rolle, Leonel Sánchez, Anthony Servideo, Dax Stubbs, Terrin Vavra, Toby Welk, Jordan Westburg.
Outfielders: Stiven Acevedo, Isaac Bellony, Luis González, Dylan Harris, Hudson Haskin, Johnny Rizer, Kyle Stowers, Zach Watson.
Elias explained the process of choosing international players.
“As I’ve said all along, I think one of our biggest anxieties with guys not getting action his year was with the teenage hitters, just because you’re losing out on all those reps of seeing professional pitching that you’ve barely seen, if at all, in your career, so we wanted to get some of our young Latin hitters here,” he said.
“You’ll see a lot of names from the 2018 signing period, a lot of players that were signed by (senior director of international scouting) Koby Perez that year that have not gotten much professional action yet, so we wanted to get those guys here.”
Other players could join the roster, though they’d have to go through the intake process, which might preclude the Orioles from extending invites.
“We’d like to get all of our players activity, but there are constraints and weren’t able to do that, but we feel that this group is a group in particular that will benefit from this experience,” Elias said. “There’s a lot of players from a lot of different backgrounds and demographics in our organization and each was chosen for particular reasons and we’re hopeful that these guys will get a lot out of this.
“All of our guys are working really hard at home and our staff has been keeping in touch with them and making sure that they have what they need and the guidance they need to keep getting their work in, but there’s no substitute for getting together with other members of your organization and getting hands-on instruction from the staff. We’re looking forward to this.”
Manager Brandon Hyde and some members of his staff could head down to Sarasota and check out the camp.
“He’s definitely expressed interest in it,” Elias said. “We haven’t worked out specifics. We may see other major league coaches go for a week or so. I know that everyone wants to. We’ve also got to be real mindful of things like space and testing and just our general resources toward that, so there’s a lot that’s TBD. We only got clearance to hold instructional league from Major League Baseball in the last couple weeks and there’s been a lot of planning and just really green lighting this thing, I’m impressed with the work of our baseball ops and building of staffs and putting this together. But like everything in the 2020 baseball season, it’s been a little bit on the fly, so there’s still some specifics we’re working on.”
Elias spoke again of the uncertainty of the 2021 minor league season - whether it will be held and if the Orioles are losing one of their affiliates in baseball’s contraction plans. The unsettled restructuring.
“It’s really impossible to emphasize how many balls are in the air regarding minor league baseball next year,” he said. “But the league and various baseball operations people from the 30 clubs are game-planning different scenarios and I think everyone all the way up to commissioner (Rob) Manfred are very motivated to have a more robust player development experience at our disposal no matter what happens. So we’re all hopeful and working toward that. But like anything this year, you’ve got to position yourself for various uncertainties and various scenarios and various outcomes.”