The atmosphere at the Ed Smith Stadium complex would seem a lot stranger if the Orioles hadn’t experienced the weirdness of a 2020 regular season.
The separation and staggered arrivals became the norm.
Getting back together has been celebrated - at the appropriate social distancing.
“It’s fun to get started again in spring training, Day One, pitchers and catchers,” manager Brandon Hyde said during yesterday’s Zoom conference call with the media. “We had a great day and looking forward to the rest of camp.”
“I think everybody coming in today and even yesterday with physicals, you can tell with the atmosphere everybody’s really, really happy and excited to get going,” reliever Shawn Armstrong said in his video call.
Pitchers gradually will be built back up, with Armstrong probably at a two-inning maximum per outing.
“They’ve done a very good job of individualizing conversations. Hyde’s done a great job of communicating with (Chris) Holt and (Darren) Holmes as far as the bullpen/starter roles,” Armstrong said.
“Everybody’s just kind of getting their feet wet right now. That first day where we quarantined for the past 72 hours, we’re back on the mound, nobody’s really trying to blow it out on Day One. We’re all trying to finish spring training healthy, the way we came in. That’s the No. 1 goal. So I think individually that’s everybody’s expectations is to remain healthy, communicate with the players, communicate with the training staff, communicate with the coaches.
“I can’t say enough about the coaches and training staff here. They do a phenomenal job as far as keeping guys on the field.”
Armstrong is 30 years old with parts of six major league seasons under his belt. He’s a veteran now in a bullpen that’s lost a lot of leadership during the rebuild.
“We’ve got a young group here, so we’re bouncing ideas off everyone,” Armstrong said. “We’re trying to be a leader on and off the field. Coming back and being an older guy and having the veteran presence here this year, obvious it’s a little different for me, but I’m also excited because I try to lead by example regardless of the situation or how much time I’ve had in the big leagues.
“I think I do a pretty good job of it, John Means does a really good job of it, and I think collectively our core group that was here last year, we’re going to rely on one another. We’re going to have competitions for (pitchers fielding practice), all that kind of stuff here to get that atmosphere going with the young guys.
“We have a lot of hungry young players that want to get to the big leagues and we have a lot of talent that’s in that room right now, so it’s going to be a very exciting spring training and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
* Top pitching prospects Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall were excluded from the spring training non-roster invite and camp reserve lists due to their pending assignments below Triple-A, which puts them on a delayed schedule with a later report date and opening day.
They’ll ride the second wave of arrivals to the Ed Smith Stadium complex.
Almost overlooked was the absence of former first-rounder Cody Sedlock, the No. 27 prospect in the system per MLBPipeline.com.
Sedlock, the 27th overall selection in 2016 out of the University of Illinois, wasn’t part of the 60-man player pool over the summer or invited to the fall instructional camp. The Orioles didn’t protect him in the Rule 5 draft, but he remains in the organization.
The former Big Ten Pitcher of the Year could be ticketed for Double-A Bowie’s staff after making nine appearances (six starts) with the Baysox in 2019 following his promotion from Single-A Frederick, where he was a Carolina League All-Star.
The Orioles eventually will learn how much Sedlock, 25, was able to accomplish at home and through workouts at WIN Performance in Highland Park, Ill., a state-of-the-art training facility that attracts major and minor leaguers. And whether he can maintain the positive results from heavier usage of his four-seam fastball.
* FanGraphs.com is giving the Orioles a 0.0 chance of making the playoffs this year.
I’m not a math major, but it sounds like the statistics-and-analysis site is burying them in the bottom of the pile.
“I think the last two years we have been projected to finish last and I don’t think we’ve done it yet,” Means said in yesterday’s Zoom call. “I think we’ve outplayed projections every year that I’ve been up here, and the plan is to outplay the projections again. And I think if we can consistently do that, I think we’re going to be pretty well off.
“I think we have a better chance than 0.0 for sure, but we’re just going to play. We try not to listen to the noise too much.”
Asked about the 0.0 projection, Hyde said, “It’s the least of my concerns. I’m not worried about an article. I’m worried about the guys in our room, I’m worried about getting better on a daily basis and we’re controlling what we can control.”
* Holt and Holmes, both men bringing new or expanded titles to spring training, gathered the staff before yesterday’s first workout.
Means came away impressed.
“Chris Holt, obviously he’s been here for a couple of years, so guys are very familiar with him, and Holmesy. I think it’s going to be a really good dynamic,” Means said.
“Holt knows both sides of the ball really well. He knows the analytics and he knows the pitching side, too, the execution part, and I think that’s key, especially in the times nowadays. It’s so analytically driven that sometimes you start to lose that feel for where it’s going, and I think he has a good feel for both and he’s able to build good relationships with guys and guys can go to him for anything. His door is wide open.”
* If I’m pressed to pick a dark horse candidate in spring training, I’m choosing left-hander Fernando Abad, the veteran reliever signed to a minor league deal.
A 26-man roster could decrease his chances, with the bullpen unable to house more than nine relievers. However, Abad appears to be a strong contender if the Orioles want a third southpaw - assuming that they’re committed to keeping Tanner Scott and Paul Fry - and would rather have Bruce Zimmermann starting in Triple-A than working in a swingman role if he fails to make the rotation.
Left-hander Wade LeBlanc also could transition to the bullpen if he isn’t a starter, but I’m sticking with Abad and prepared to deny it if I’m wrong.
* On this date in 2011, the Orioles signed future Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero and placed pitcher Alfredo Simon on the restricted list.
Guerrero received $5 million in 2011 and $3 million in deferred payments.
The Orioles initially offered Guerrero around $4.5 million. They reportedly were told that another team had $8 million on the table. The Orioles matched it.
Simon remained in a Dominican jail while awaiting the results of the ballistics test on the gun that he turned into law enforcement officials following a New Year’s Eve shooting that left one man dead and another injured. He was freed after two months and acquitted in November.
The victim’s family already had dropped a lawsuit against Simon, but the public prosecutor pursued the case.
I’ve received a lot of jarring phone calls during my years on the beat. Simon’s arrest certainly is near the top of the list, though Sidney Ponson’s arrest on Christmas Day 2004 for punching a judge on a beach in Aruba is a worthy contender.