The reconfiguration of spring camp and non-roster candidates

Pitchers and catchers are arriving today at the Ed Smith Stadium complex. We’ve made it this far.

Smaller-scale workouts begin on Wednesday and broaden Feb. 22 with more players spread out on the back fields and over at Twin Lakes Park.

There will be 73 players on the camp roster after Matt Harvey’s deal is announced, two shy of capacity, but they’re categorized as 40-man roster, non-roster invites and reserves. They won’t be huddled together and making a mockery of the implemented protocols.

Arrivals will be staggered, and not all of them as planned. There are a few pitchers experiencing issues with international travel.

The unusual setup also is necessary to more easily monitor the pitchers’ innings. The shutdown last spring, restart at summer training camp and truncated season made a mess of routines and pose potential health risks.

The Orioles are adjusting to new rules and a redesign of the minors that eliminates the standard two-camp arrangement between the Ed Smith and Twin Lakes complexes. Pitchers below Triple-A must be brought along in a different manner than the rest with their seasons delayed and running through September.

The camp reserve list contains 22 players, and executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said “a lot” of them have “a very good chance of making the team.”

I think there’s a batch that could join it over the course of the season. Relievers Cody Carroll, Evan Phillips and Eric Hanhold might crash the bullpen, which right now on paper seems pretty full without them.

Without knowing which starting candidate might switch to a relief role, the bullpen bunch could include Hunter Harvey, Shawn Armstrong, Dillon Tate, Paul Fry, Tanner Scott, César Valdez, Travis Lakins Sr. and Cole Sulser. One of the Rule 5 picks - Mac Sceroler or Tyler Wells - could be stashed in it. Non-roster right-hander Thomas Eshelman and left-hander Fernando Abad have a legitimate opportunity to head north with the team.

The math highlights which arms are long shots on a 26-man roster with a ceiling of 14 pitchers. The bench isn’t going to melt down to two reserves.

Thumbnail image for rogers-josh-delivers-orange-spring-sidebar.jpgLeft-hander Josh Rogers, recovered from a pair of elbow surgeries, could start or work in a swingman role. The roster always is evolving.

Knuckleballer Mickey Jannis really intrigues the Orioles. And they’re always willing to experiment.

“We’ve seen, like last year with César Valdez, those guys with unique stories who figure out how to be successful in the major leagues and we’re hopeful that he can be one of them,” Elias said. “So he’s got a real shot to compete for this club.”

Catcher Adley Rutschman could debut later in the summer. He’s not breaking camp with the team.

Seth Mejias-Brean and Mason McCoy have the best shots among the infielders of playing for the Orioles in 2021. Mejias-Brean had 33 plate appearances with the Padres in 2019. McCoy would have reached Triple-A last summer if the minor league season hadn’t been canceled.

Chris Shaw, outrighted on Feb. 1, appeared in 38 games with the Giants in 2018-19. So if the Orioles run short of corner outfield/first base types, he could show up at Camden Yards this summer.

Outfielder Heston Kjerstad will not make his major league debut in 2021 and his exposure to major league camp will be gradual.

The “non-sports medical issue” with Kjerstad turned out to be an episode of myocarditis. I’ve been hearing for months that it wasn’t COVID-19 - an assumption based on the “non-sports” part and the team keeping it private.

That always adds up to COVID-19 or exposure to it.

The industry rumor mill was churning out another explanation, which I won’t share because it proved to be false. But there definitely was more going on with Kjerstad, who is expected to speak with the media later and shed more light on the situation.

Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle that can cause an abnormal rhythm and be a side effect of COVID-19, but so far there’s no indication that Kjerstad tested positive for the virus.

The first exhibition game has been moved to Feb. 28 against the Pirates in Sarasota. Managers can agree to shorten them to five or seven innings, again to protect the pitchers and with fewer players available in these social distancing times.

Games after March 14 can be reduced from nine to seven innings.

Also from Feb. 28-March 13, managers can end an inning prior to the third out following a completed plate appearance and with the pitcher having thrown at least 20 pitches. It’s going to resemble an intrasquad game or scrimmage with its relaxed rules.

The excitement of spring training for some teams centers around renewed goals of contending, of winning a championship. Can’t get there without these early steps.

The Orioles have their own reasons.

“I think there’s a lot of talent on that list,” Elias said. “Look, this a young team. There’s no question about that. But we saw some really encouraging, strong debuts last year. Those guys are back. We’ve got more coming who haven’t debuted yet, but are kind of knocking on the door despite what happened last year with a lack of Triple-A. Now you’ll also see on that list a lot of our young prospects that we’ve gotten through the draft and recent trades. I know Brandon Hyde personally wants to have them there for their own development, but also so our staff can start learning them, as well.

“So this is an organization that’s getting more talented by the day, by the year and our farm system is in excellent shape and it’s only getting stronger. We enjoy bringing all these guys in in one place. It’s a very unique year and a very unique spring training and I think some of these guys are going to benefit from it. And honestly, there’s a lot more minor leaguers that I wish we could squeeze on here and we’ll be looking to do so when spots free up. Especially with these young position players, this is a really good experience for them.”

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