The Orioles are proceeding as though their pitchers and catchers will report to spring training on Feb. 16. As though there will be a full slate of workouts and exhibition games, followed by opening day on April 1 in Boston.
They can’t let the unpredictability of a pandemic influence their plans. Adjustments will be made if necessary.
In the meantime, it’s been deemed safe to hold a minicamp from Monday-Wednesday at the Ed Smith Stadium complex, with players and coaches following in-season COVID protocols.
The Orioles closed the complex on March 12 as the sport shut down, but were able to participate in the fall instructional league without incident. Testing and social distancing will remain in place, as we saw at Camden Yards.
Unlike past minicamps, the Orioles invited only five players - all of them outfielders: Yusniel Diaz, Ryan McKenna, Ryan Mountcastle, DJ Stewart and Stevie Wilkerson. First base coach and outfield instructor Anthony Sanders will be joined by minor league coaches Matt Packer and Anthony Villa.
Convenient travel played a big role in the invites. Wilkerson lives in Sarasota. Stewart is from Jacksonville, Diaz is in Miami and Mountcastle is in Orlando.
McKenna is living in Houston, which enables him to drive or take a two-hour flight.
This isn’t only about mileage. The camp is geared toward young, optionable outfielders, which obviously excludes Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander. Players who are relatively new to the position or could use more reps.
Wilkerson signed a minor league deal, but he’s viewed as a 40-man roster type of player. His goal in spring training is to actually become one again, earning a spot as a super-utility guy.
Outfielder Heston Kjerstad, the second overall pick in the 2020 First-Year Player Draft, is expected to be in Florida next month. He didn’t work out at the alternate camp site in Bowie or the fall instructional camp in Sarasota due to a non-sports medical issue.
From what I’ve heard, his health wasn’t a factor in his exclusion from the minicamp. None of the 2020 selections are invited.
Nothing seems imminent on the free agent front, but the Orioles remain committed to finding a shortstop and starting pitcher before spring training.
From what I’ve gleaned, they could sign an infielder to a major league contract and another to a minor league deal. They aren’t necessarily bound to only one addition.
So which shortstops are on the radar?
Names that I’ve heard through various sources in the industry include former Orioles infielder Jonathan Villar, who was traded to the Marlins on Dec. 2, 2019 for low-minors pitcher Easton Lucas. The Marlins dealt Villar to the Blue Jays on Aug. 31, 2020 for Griffin Conine, son of former Orioles outfielder/first baseman Jeff Conine.
Villar made 85 starts at second base in 2019 and 73 at shortstop. The Orioles seem inclined to use Yolmer Sánchez at second base in 2021, but Villar could replace José Iglesias.
The Orioles have spoken to Villar’s agent, so a reunion isn’t out of the question.
I’ve also heard that there’s varying levels of interest in Freddy Galvis, Ehire Adrianza and Daniel Robertson - players with different profiles. Three more names to keep in mind.
Galvis’ salary with the Blue Jays last summer was set at $5.5 million. The Orioles would need that price to drop. But he’s a former top Phillies prospect who, while able to move around the infield, is most accomplished at shortstop. He’s also accumulated high strikeout totals, but he brings some power.
Adrianza has spent four seasons with the Giants and four with the Twins, and he’s primarily a shortstop who’s also played the other three infield positions and the corner outfield. He’s a career .244/.310/.360 hitter who slashed .191/.287/.270 last summer in 101 plate appearances.
Robertson spent parts of three seasons with the Rays before appearing in 13 games with the Giants last summer. He owns a career .342 on-base percentage in 249 games, but has made more starts at second base (94) than shortstop (57). He’s also made 52 starts at third base and the Orioles like the versatility while still focusing on a replacement for Iglesias.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias has stated that he isn’t likely to offer any free agent a contract with multiple guaranteed years.
Major league offers are on the table for a few starting pitchers, but a slow-moving market has required a lot of patience. The Orioles could settle for enhancing their spring competition with a minor league signing.
I wrote in October that the door wasn’t closed on re-signing Kohl Stewart, a Type 1 diabetic who opted out of the 2020 season due to health concerns. Stewart declined his outright assignment and became a free agent, but the chances of a reunion still haven’t been eliminated.
Stewart apparently wants to play next season and is attracting interest from other teams. The Orioles could offer him a minor league deal.