The Orioles’ fall instructional camp closed yesterday following a game against the Pirates. Precisely as planned, with no COVID-related issues to complicate or interrupt the proceedings.
The majority of the 55 players participated in alternating games versus the Rays and Pirates. The others were able to log innings and at-bats in intrasquad games at the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota, Fla.
Director of player development Matt Blood boarded a flight back to Baltimore yesterday afternoon. He set aside a few minutes to catch me up on the camp activities and offer a positive assessment.
“I thought it was a success,” Blood said as he headed to the Tampa airport. “We got through it without any positive tests, so that was No. 1 and that was great. And then we got a lot of really good work done on the field, both in the practice setting and we were able to get some games in, too.
“We saw players get better, even in the short time that we had them. So across the board we were really pleased with what we got out of it.”
Here’s more from Blood:
Me: “I’m putting you on the spot a little bit here, but is there anyone in particular who you look at and say, ‘This guy or these guys really benefited the most from being here?’”
Blood: “A lot of the new guys. It was a great opportunity for them to just get exposed to our style of practice and to develop relationships. I think (second-round pick) Hudson Haskin got a lot out of it, being a new guy and developing relationships with the coaches, and made some really good adjustments and improvements, even in the three weeks he was here. I’d say probably him and (fourth-rounder) Coby Mayo, just being so young and first exposure to baseball outside of high school, and I think he learned a lot and has a pretty good feel for what to do going forward. I’d say those two guys in particular really benefited from this camp.”
Me: “How were these games set up, as far as the formatting?”
Blood: “Early on it was intrasquad games and the number of innings was dictated by the number of pitchers and the innings that they were building up to. So some days you’d have four-inning intrasquad or five-inning intrasquad or seven-inning intrasquad. And then when we played the games (against other teams), they were all nine innings except for two times we had basically split squads and we played seven innings those days. But it was two games each day, so everybody was playing in those games. And there was some rolling of innings, and I’m not a big fan of rolling innings, but you’ve got to do it sometimes to protect your arms. It’s typically pitchers on a pitch count, trying to get them through a certain number of innings on a certain number of pitches.
“You’re trying to make it as close to real baseball as you can, but you’ve also got to be smart about protecting the pitchers.”
Me: “Did everyone on the camp roster end up playing in these games, or were some of the young international prospects, for example, held to workouts?
Blood: “I think everybody got into a game, definitely intrasquad, and when we had the split squads just about everybody got into a game. But there were a handful of young international players who probably weren’t quite ready for that, so they didn’t get many at-bats and they got more training in practice time.”
Me: “So now what happens? Are these guys individually on programs and are they shut down for a while before ramping up again?
Blood: “They were given a player plan coming into camp, and then we had exit interviews with all of them and gave them player plans leaving camp with very specific focuses and goals for this offseason. Their on-field plan and they’ve also got their strength-and-conditioning-type plan. They’ll probably get a little time off here, but then start to build it back up and try to take a lot of things that we worked on and learned here, try to take it into their training so that when they come back to spring training, it’s not a pause from now. It’s continuing to build upon what we were able to do here.”
Me: “I know the club couldn’t say much about Heston Kjerstad not being there beyond a non-sports medical reason, but is there an update on him as far as what you have set up for him, since he wasn’t able to participate in anything this summer or fall?
Blood: “It’s just unfortunate. The camp was so short and just kind of unfortunate that it didn’t work out for him to come down, but he’s a great kid. He’s actually finishing his degree right now. He’s going to be graduating from Arkansas, I believe this winter, so that was something he was really able to put his head toward and get done, which is great. We’re all for that. We’ve got a plan with him and the hopes are we’ll see him next year and put him right into the mix with the rest of these guys who have been exciting to watch.”
Me: “This is a two-parter. With Adley Rutschman being able to get so much done in the alternate camp and fall instructional camp, how did he look to you and is the decision now whether to start him at high Single-A, as intended previously, or to consider his work this year sufficient to bump him up a level?
Blood: “That’s a good question and I think you’ve got to look at both options. Assess how he comes into camp and how things go there. We’ve also got to know what a season’s even going to look like next year. That may have something to do with it, too. There’s a lot of factors at play. But he was great in Bowie and he was great here. I think that in regard to his development and experience, exposure to upper-level pitching and the games, I think we did as well as we could this year to provide him with as much development as possible. And he took advantage of it.”
Blood didn’t know whether the complex would close again or allow for some rehabbing players to work out.
I’m going to assume that no one will be given permission to show up unannounced at any time of the day or night, including rehabbing players like Richie Martin, Anthony Santander and Stevie Wilkerson. I’m just thinking logically here.
The Orioles shut down the complex on March 12 and didn’t reopen until the start of the fall camp. They’ll arrange for another thorough cleaning of the facility and take the necessary precautions in order to avoid jeopardizing the start of spring training.
That is, if it’s under their control.