Cueing some curiosities in 2021

The Baltimore baseball media often was promised during manager Buck Showalter’s tenure that its curiosity soon would be satisfied.

Mostly, yes. Sometimes, no.

I’m curious whether spring training is going to start on the dates set for each club. Of course, every team is being told to get ready for it. The same message was sent in October.

What’s the alternative?

Better to keep that mindset and adjust later if necessary, rather than assume a delay and then be surprised when camp opens on time. You prep for normal and brace for abnormal.

(As past girlfriends always were advised.)

No one in the industry can state with certainty that spring training will run in its entirety and the regular season will consist of 162 games. Unless the pandemic comes with sources. And of course, the union side is going to dig in its heels and insist that everything is fine now and prorated salaries are in the past - while the ownership side is less willing to make the same declarations and the vaccine is as new as the gifts you found under your tree.

Unless you’re a victim of re-gifting, which is a separate issue. Just don’t be too judgmental. We’ve all done it.

Beyond the status of spring training, the regular season and the minor leagues, I’m curious whether the Orioles are going to hold onto both Tanner Scott and Paul Fry after signing Fernando Abad to a minor league deal.

There’s no rule prohibiting a certain number of left-handed relievers in camp or on the active roster. And Abad isn’t exactly a sure thing after turning 35 last month and failing to pitch in the majors in two of the past three seasons. And executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias didn’t come across as Trader Jack during an offseason Zoom session with the media, seeming more inclined to work the free agent market.

Thumbnail image for Scott-Tanner-Delivers-at-White-Sox-Gray-Sidebar.jpgHowever, I sit here today wondering, as a few people in the industry are doing, if Elias will check on possible suitors for Scott or Fry, who are coming off their finest seasons. Albeit, under truncated circumstances.

Scott runs on a high-octane fastball and a slider that’s become a real weapon for him. The walks can be troublesome, but he allowed only three earned runs in 20 2/3 innings, struck out 23 batters and held opponents to a .164 average. He surrendered only one homer in his 25 appearances.

Fry posted a 2.45 ERA in 22 innings, though accompanied by a 1.409 WHIP, and averaged 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

Team control is an appealing quality. Neither pitcher has reached arbitration eligibility. Scott was slated to earn $568,500 last season, Fry $571,000.

Left-hander Bruce Zimmermann could be used in a swing-type role if he isn’t in the rotation, obviously capable of providing length in relief.

I’m also curious about left-hander Alexander Wells, but as a pitching prospect rather than a bullpen option on opening day.

Wells is going to be a starter at Triple-A Norfolk. He’s on a 40-man roster, hopping off the bubble. And he’s finally going to get back to the United States after spending the summer throwing in Australia with his twin brother Lachlan.

A pedestrian fastball brings more attention to Wells than if he threw in the high 90s. The radar gun obsession makes him a curiosity, to say the least. But spin rate, control, deception, a plus changeup and developing 12-to-6 curveball keep working for him, and his resume includes the organization’s minor league Pitcher of the Year award in 2017 and All-Star Futures Game selection in 2018.

No one is projecting Wells as a No. 1 starter, but middle-to-back-end is seen as a possibility. Elias said Wells, who turns 24 in February, is “knocking on the door.”

“This is a guy that flies a little bit under the radar in our system, but his minor league success has been crazy so far. He’s dominated,” Elias said on Nov. 20. “He has elite command and he’s got a pretty good curveball and a nice cutter/slider that he’s been working on. I think that the reason we were determined to protect him this time around is we view him as a potential starting pitcher. That’s a valuable asset. And once again, this is a guy that’s knocking on the door right now, so if called upon this year he could potentially come up and help the team. But ultimately we just didn’t want to risk losing him.

“Again, this is a strange year to make these decisions because he didn’t pitch in the United States all year and a team would be selecting him knowing that they’d have to keep him on the major league team all year, but we weren’t confident enough thinking that would be a deterrent, and we want to keep developing Alex and we want him to sink or swim as a big leaguer here with the Orioles.”

Reliever Isaac Mattson was closest to the majors among the four pitchers obtained from the Angels in the Dylan Bundy trade, but he didn’t make it out of the alternate camp. He’s averaged 10.9 strikeouts and 0.5 home runs per nine innings in three minor league seasons. And he’s on the 40-man roster.

“It’s a 94-96 mph fastball with a lot of hop, and he’s got his slider and a changeup that he can use to lefties,” Elias said. “He’s the type of relief pitcher that can go more than three outs if needed, which is nice, and now we’ve got a close-to-major-league-ready, optionable relief pitcher on the 40-man roster. I think we may very well see him get some action in Camden Yards this year.”

Sounds like Mattson will be in Norfolk’s bullpen in April, if there’s a minor league season and it isn’t delayed, and he could debut in 2021.

Infielder Tyler Nevin is more than just the son of former major leaguer and current Yankees third base coach Phil Nevin. He’s the No. 22 prospect in the organization per after the Mychal Givens deadline trade with the Rockies. And he’s likely to be the starting first baseman at Norfolk, though he also can play third base and the outfield corners.

Nevin was the 38th overall pick in the 2015 First-Year Player Draft and has hit .286/.362/.441 with 88 doubles, seven triples, 36 home runs and 193 RBIs in five minor league seasons, none above Double-A, and 1,546 plate appearances. Baseball America ranked him 13th among Colorado’s prospects and had him 14th.

“Tyler Nevin’s been a very attractive and very productive hitter since he signed in 2015,” Elias said after the trade. “Really good up through the fall league last year and had a very solid Double-A at age 22. Digging into his numbers and some of the batted-ball data a little bit more from Double- A last year, we actually think he had some bad luck and could have been an even better season. He controls the strike zone really well, he’s got a real pretty swing.”

Note: Reliever Branden Kline, a second-round draft pick in 2012 who grew up in Frederick, announced his retirement yesterday on his Instagram account.

Kline was a minor league free agent who appeared in 37 games with the Orioles over the past two seasons. He allowed one run and two hits with seven strikeouts in five innings last summer.

Kline’s career was impacted by Tommy John surgery and a follow-up procedure, but he lived his dream of pitching in the majors. And he’ll be remembered as one of the nicest guys to wear the uniform. A class act who is ready to move on to the next phase of his life, including valuable time with his family.

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