Focusing on Orioles who can expect extra attention

Anyone can perform under the lights, but what about a microscope?

A few Orioles are destined to attract more attention than others in camp and during the season, whether due to prospect status, health, recent hiring or set of responsibilities. There’s no escaping it.

Rather than wait, let’s get it started now and avoid the rush.

Third base coach Tony Mansolino

The coaching staff has undergone more changes, with Mansolino the outside hire as the replacement for José Flores.

Being a third base coach is like being a football referee. You’ve done a good job if no one notices you.

Or is that an offensive lineman? Pretty sure the analogy applies to both of them.

Don’t throw a bunch of flags, don’t get called for holding.

Orioles fans routinely demand the firing of the third base coach. Name the last one who was immune to it. We might have to go back to Billy Hunter, but I wasn’t in the media. He also might have caught some heat.

Before you say “Cal Ripken Sr.,” he was subjected to criticism during his second stint - which came after his firing as manager - and the Orioles removed him from the role in October 1992. Holding Tim Hulett at third base on a potential sacrifice fly in the ninth inning of a 4-3 loss to the Blue Jays in a do-or-die series in Baltimore is cited in multiple articles as the final straw.

We’re talking about the architect of the “Oriole Way.” A legend in the organization.

Ripken turned down a job as the Orioles’ coordinator of minor league field operations, a post that would have been created for him.

Third base coaches are too aggressive or too passive. A runner is thrown out by a mile or held with two outs, the offense sputtering and a .150 average on deck.

It’s a really tough gig, and especially in the American League East with its quirky ballparks, as former manager Buck Showalter used to point out.

We’re going to learn about Mansolino on the fly. Whether or not he’s a human windmill. And how he handles the inevitable criticism that comes with the job.

First baseman/outfielder Trey Mancini

Sorry, Trey, but you won’t be freed up to talk only baseball for quite a while.

Being a cancer survivor is more important than anything else that’s going to happen to Mancini. And guess what? He’ll get to relive the experience, including the horror of learning his diagnosis and wondering if he would survive it, over and over again.

It won’t stop at the sharing of his experiences. That’s just the beginning.

How Mancini feels after his first workout, his second workout, his third workout. How Mancini feels heading into his first exhibition game. How he feels after his first exhibition game, his second exhibition game, his third exhibition game.

How he feels after his first regular season game, his second regular season game, his ...

This is going to be continuous and Mancini is going to handle it like a professional. He’s going to be available at his locker and polite - or available on Zoom calls and polite. He’ll understand why everyone wants to know whether he’ll be ready for opening day.

The only breaks will come if the media is denied its usual access again and those Zoom calls are spread out. There won’t be daily interactions.

Mancini’s good health should be celebrated. It’s also going to be scrutinized. He knows it and understands.

First baseman Chris Davis

Thumbnail image for Chris-Davis-Home-Run-Swing-Mothers-Day-White-Sidebar.jpgHappens every spring. How did Davis look in batting practice? Did he hit the roof of the covered batting cage beyond the Camden Yards replica field?

Should we read anything into it?

Videos of Davis’ BP sessions will be tweeted - again, if the media is allowed to watch. The tiniest adjustments in his stance will be examined. We’ll want to know if we’re getting the spring training or regular season version of Davis. His numbers were dramatically different, but so was his health.

Which leads us to the initial questions about his left knee, which twice forced him on the injured list over the summer.

Manager Brandon Hyde is going to give Davis plenty of at-bats. What Davis does with them in the sixth year of his $161 million deal will attract plenty of attention.

It’s going to intensify after the Orioles break camp and Hyde starts posting his lineups.

Reliever Hunter Harvey

Harvey won’t escape the health questions until he turns in a full season. He’s already an intriguing subject based on his blazing fastball, former prospect status and expectations that he’d transition from starter to ninth inning specialist.

The Orioles don’t have an incumbent at closer and it isn’t an essential role on a rebuilding club. However, someone has to protect those leads and Hyde ideally would settle on one reliever rather than go by committee.

Cole Sulser led the Orioles with five saves, but control issues forced Hyde to seek less-pressurized situations for him - a difficult task considering how many close games were played. Mychal Givens, Miguel Castro and Richard Bleier are gone.

Harvey makes sense if the Orioles are able to turn him loose and worry less about spacing out his appearances. Toss aside the restrictions. Toss him into more fires.

He turned 26 last month. He was a first-round pick in 2013.

I’d say it’s reasonable to expect Harvey to become an established major leaguer in 2021.

Pitcher John Means

Hyde won’t rush to name his opening day starter, but Means has to be the choice if he’s healthy.

Means couldn’t hold the assignment last year due to left arm fatigue. (See what I did there?) The disappointment spices up the storyline.

Lots will be written and reported about Means’ strong finish to the 2020 season. Those last four starts that produced a 1.52 ERA, 30 strikeouts and .146 average-against in 23 2/3 innings.

Elite stuff. Enhanced expectations for 2021.

The rotation should include at least two rookies in Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer. The Orioles need innings and outs from Means. His responsibilities are growing, especially if Alex Cobb turns into a trade chip at the deadline.

Pitchers Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells

Sceroler and Wells are lumped together by their Rule 5 status. That’s just how it has to be in camp. There’s no escaping it.

Ask Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker (2019), Richie Martin and Drew Jackson (2018), Nestor Cortes Jr., Pedro Araujo and José Mesa Jr. (2017), Anthony Santander and Aneury Tavárez (2016), Jason García and Logan Verrett (2014).

Or you could just take my word for it.

The usual interest accompanies Rule 5 players attempting to make the major league roster. Defying the odds. A team figuring out ways to stash and protect them.

Sceroler is the nephew of former Orioles pitcher Ben McDonald. Think that’s going to come up a few times in camp?

If one or both are placed on the opening day roster, how they handle the jump from the minors is going to be worth tracking. Every single step of the journey. Including the inevitable missteps.

But, hey, no pressure.

Catcher Adley Rutschman

This one should require no explanation.

I’ll do it anyway.

Rutschman is the No. 1 prospect in the organization and ranked among the best in baseball. He sneezes and it’s worth 10 paragraphs.

The Orioles intend to start him at Double-A Bowie, but it doesn’t matter. He’s the most interesting young man in their world.

Crowds will stream into Prince George’s Stadium if allowed inside. They’ll keep pushing for his promotion. Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias will keep explaining the developmental process and the need for patience. The media will keep reporting it. Fans will keep killing the messenger.

Rutschman can handle it. I’m not so sure about the media.

Every move made by Rutschman has been documented, going back to Oregon State. He didn’t sneak into the Orioles farm system. A round of batting practice warrants a press conference.

I’m confident that he can function under a microscope. It must feel like home to him.

blog comments powered by Disqus