The reformatted 2021 spring training camp in Sarasota, Fla. has spread out some players to the Twin Lakes side in order for the Orioles to follow health and safety protocols. To avoid overcrowding at the Ed Smith Stadium complex.
This is a deviation from the usual minor league setup with the reduction in bodies.
Players at Twin Lakes can be summoned to the major league complex. The traffic moves in both directions, but proper spacing will remain the priority. Nothing that’s bumper-to-bumper.
Kyle Moore, who’s going to manage the Aberdeen IronBirds as they become a full-season affiliate with a Single-A classification, is running the Twin Lakes camp. He’s in daily contact with Tim Cossins, the Orioles’ major league field coordinator and catching instructor.
“He and I talk every day on the phone,” Moore said. “They were nice enough to let me get this experience and let me make the schedule kind of on my own, but I certainly send it out every day. Like every day at 2 o’clock, I’ll send tomorrow’s schedule and if anything would appear on it that they loved or hated or wanted it off or wanted to add, they certainly do that.
“It’s awesome for me to make it and basically they told me what all they want covered and make sure these guys are ready and prepared for their opportunity. I get to try to put that in between the lines somehow.”
The days begin with intake testing for the staff around 7 a.m., followed by the players starting at 8 a.m.
“It’s pretty similar here to what they’re doing at Ed Smith. It’s a very similar schedule,” said Moore, who would have managed Single-A Frederick in 2020 if the minor league season hadn’t been canceled.
“It’s an activation throwing program, individual defense, pitchers are throwing bullpens, they’re throwing lives, they’re doing a lot of PFPs. Basically just checking off all the boxes for every one of these players that we need to check off before Feb. 28 when we have that opener versus Pittsburgh.”
Moore described a skeleton crew staff, with instructors churning out a full day’s work, that includes Dave Schmidt and Josh Conway working with the pitchers and staying in constant contact with Orioles pitching coach/director of pitching Chris Holt.
“We kind of blend that all together,” Moore said.
Ryan Goll, Christian Frias, Adam Schuck and Josh Bunselmeyer are “all kind of tackling different things,” Moore said.
Goll and Schuck are tech coaches, with Goll assigned the position players and Schuck the pitchers. They’re tied closely to director of player development Matt Blood.
Bunselmeyer works with the hitters and Frias handles the infield. Moore instructs the catchers.
The players have access to strength and conditioning coaches.
Another example of the Orioles making the best of a difficult situation.
“Initially, I’m sure these guys weren’t super thrilled to have a locker over here instead of a locker at Ed Smith, but upon arrival and talking to all of them and seeing how big and beautiful this facility is, when you only have 15-16 players, it’s kind of nice, really,” Moore said.
“There’s less of a microscope on you and there’s an awesome facility for 15 guys to basically get whatever they want whenever they want it. We’ve got four fields, a huge cage and weight room and awesome clubhouse. Quite a bit different over here when you don’t have 200 minor leaguers and you’ve got just 15 guys that you can really hone in on.
“I think they appreciate that and are sort of starting to see that, hey, this is a good place to be.”
Catcher Adley Rutschman is on the reserve list because he’s going to start the season below Triple-A, which assures a later opening day. He’s tabbed to play for Double-A Bowie.
Rutschman is joined at Twin Lakes by catcher Maverick Handley, a sixth-round pick in 2019 out of Stanford University.
“They’ve been going over (to Ed Smith) a lot to help them with those live BPs they’ve been throwing, so whenever they need guys, those two certainly early in camp go over there a lot,” Moore said.
“They’re still based out of here and they both look awesome. Adley just looks amazing. Came back in beautiful shape, great shape. He’s a super-talented guy that works really hard, so it’s awesome to work with him. He’s a coach’s dream type player when you’ve got a guy who’s super talented and he also works hard. He’s been fun to have over here.”
The group of hurlers includes knuckleballer Mickey Jannis, who wasn’t in major league camp last spring but threw a few bullpen sessions late in games to show off his signature pitch.
“He’s been great,” Moore said. “It’s funny because Adley and Maverick Handley have both caught him and the first thing I do is I go, ‘Hey man, what have you got on that? Is that knuckleball any good?’ And I think the first bullpen, Maverick Handley missed a couple. One of them hit him right in the chest. So it’s a real knuckleball and it’s pretty good.
“I think it’s definitely intriguing and it’s certainly something different than your traditional, hey, let’s throw a high heater and a good breaking ball and all the traditional mix. And he’s really athletic. I run the PFPs over here most of the time. He fields his position well, he always throws the ball great to the bags, gets off the mound. So very interesting to me.
“It’s kind of a wild card and you wonder what that would look like in a major league AL East game, but I’d love to see it.”
“Those guys look really exciting,” he said. “All three came back in great shape. Adam Hall put on like 10 lbs. Gunnar Henderson is a big, athletic kid, and Westburg is very polished, which you really hope for when you see a sign like an SEC shortstop from a big school. He shows up and you’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s what I thought that was supposed to look like.’
“It’s really exciting to see them work together here. They’re in more of a developmental camp. Obviously, they’re young, they’re prospects, so it’s less of a, ‘Hey, let’s get ready for the season’ for them and more of a developmental camp, but those guys have been awesome.”
An organization can’t have too many shortstops, the athleticism enabling players to move to other positions.
“What they’ve told us is to play them everywhere and so that’s awesome when you hear that as a manager. You’re like, ‘Oh, man, that’s amazing,’” Moore said. “So none of them always has to play short. They can play third, they can play second. We’re even playing them in center field, playing them in the outfield, because when they get a chance to go over and play in a big league game they may put them in left or right or even center. You never know. So in our extra work sessions we’ve been making sure we’ve covered some outfield basics and a little bit of everything.
“Those guys are ready to play pretty much everywhere except for pitching and catching, so that’s exciting.”
Ryan Ripken, the 27-year-old son of Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., was invited to his first major league camp and works out at Twin Lakes.
“He’s our first baseman over here,” Moore said. “He’s one of the older guys over here and he’s showing up in more of a get ready to play phase and it looks like he’s in great shape.
“I’m super happy for Rip. I remember coaching against him when he was playing for the Nationals organization and just seeing him today at work and how he carries himself and the type of player he’s turned himself into, it’s a great story, it’s a great story. Like I said, I remember him from being real young and yesterday he hit a fastball like 102 mph off the bat in the left-center gap and I’m just like, ‘Man, that kid, he’s come a long way. He’s a pretty good player.’ So I’m happy for Rip for sure.”
Outfielder Heston Kjerstad hasn’t reported to camp, though his name is on the reserve list. Kjerstad, the second overall selection in the 2020 draft, is recovering from an episode of myocarditis and will be brought along slowly in spring training.
“They haven’t really told me a lot about it,” Moore said, “just that we are waiting for him and hopefully when we get that squared away he’ll get in here and we’ll get a look at him and try to get him whatever he needs.”