The Orioles released the names of the 50 players invited to their fall instructional league camp in Sarasota, Fla. An interesting mix that highlights the organization’s commitment to the amateur draft and international market - two of the most powerful fuels to get the rebuild moving in the right direction.
What did we learn from the names on the roster and accompanying information?
* Players recovering from injuries or surgeries are progressing to the point where they can be participants in camp.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias already informed the media last month that outfielder Heston Kjerstad would be involved in fall activities. Not the Arizona Fall League, since Kjerstad isn’t game ready.
Kjerstad hasn’t played since the Orioles selected him in the first round in 2020 out of the University of Arkansas. He was diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, and experienced a setback earlier this year that kept him out of spring training.
DL Hall was limited to 31 2/3 innings over seven starts due to a stress reaction in his left elbow, after he couldn’t pitch in 2020 with the minor league season canceled. The Orioles want Hall to pitch at Triple-A Norfolk next season and perhaps make his major league debut as the No. 3 prospect in the organization, per MLBPipeline.com.
Shortstop Anthony Servideo underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia. Shortstop Joey Ortiz had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Outfielder Hudson Haskin fractured his thumb in August. Carter Baumler, the only pitcher selected by the Orioles in 2020, hasn’t started his professional career since undergoing Tommy John surgery.
The lifting won’t be heavy in Sarasota, but they’re top 30 prospects who can benefit from the month-long camp.
Mayo slashed .319/.426/.555 with 14 doubles, a triple, nine home runs, 41 RBIs, 29 walks, 46 runs scored and 11 stolen bases between the Rookie-level Florida Complex League and low Single-A Delmarva. His power alone makes him special.
Westburg, the 30th overall pick in 2020, doesn’t get to rest after playing at three levels over the summer.
There’s more work to be done.
Westburg had a dominant 20-game stretch at Delmarva, batting .366/.484/.592 with five doubles, a triple, three home runs and 24 RBIs. He moved up to high Single-A Aberdeen and hit .286/.389/.469 with 16 doubles, two triples, eight home runs and 41 RBIs in 62 games. Thirty games at Double-A Bowie produced a .232/.323/.429 slash line with six doubles, two triples, four home runs and 14 RBIs.
One of the fastest movers in the system hasn’t slowed down.
* The 2021 draft class heavily influences the camp roster, with 17 players counted among the 50.
It makes sense with the limited games available after they signed their contracts, and the Orioles wanting to introduce them to other facets of professional life.
First-rounder Colton Cowser leads a group that also includes Connor Norby (second), Reed Trimble (competitive balance), John Rhodes (third), Donta’ Williams (fourth), Carlos Tavera (fifth), Collin Burns (sixth), Connor Pavolony (seventh), Creed Willems (eighth), Ryan Higgins (ninth), Billy Cook (10th), Dylan Heid (11th), Justin Armbruester (12th), Jacob Teter (13th), Keagan Gillies (15th), Peter Van Loon (16th) and Trendon Craig (20th).
* Some of the top international talent is listed, including Dominican catcher Samuel Basallo and Venezuelan shortstop Maikol Hernández, who received a combined $2.5 million in signing bonuses in January 2021.
Also in camp are Dominican shortstop Anderson De Los Santos ($350,000) from the 2021 class and Dominican outfielder Luis González, who received the largest bonus in 2019 at $475,000 and was one of the standouts at last year’s fall instructional camp.
Joining them are Dominican right-hander Ignacio Feliz, selected from the Padres in the Triple-A phase of last year’s Rule 5 draft; Dominican shortstop Isaac De León, who received $275,000 from the Marlins and was the player to be named later in the Richard Bleier trade; Dominican infielder Moisés Ramírez, part of the 2018 international signing class who received $225,000; infielder Noelberth Romero and outfielder Elio Prado, acquired from the Red Sox in the Andrew Cashner trade; Dominican outfielder Stiven Acevedo, who received $275,000 in 2019; and outfielder Mishael Deson, part of the Mychal Givens trade with the Rockies.
Félix Bautista, signed in August 2016 after the Marlins released him, throws a fastball that touches 100 mph and flashed it at three levels this summer. He made 40 relief appearances between Aberdeen, Bowie and Norfolk and posted a 1.54 ERA and 1.071 WHIP in 46 2/3 innings and struck out 77 batters, but he also walked 30. He surrendered only two home runs.
* The Angels helped to stock the roster.
Pinto, who turned 20 in January, registered a 2.30 ERA and 0.855 WHIP in 14 games between the FCL and Delmarva, and averaged 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
Pinto surrendered only three home runs in 66 2/3 innings.
* No games are going to be played against other teams. There’s a heavy emphasis on the word “instructional.”
As the Orioles explained in their news release, the camp “focuses on specific individual development to help accelerate a player’s progress through the minor league system.”
Much of the focus is on strength and movement exercises and drills. Players also will grow more acclimated with the organization’s development philosophies.
I’ve heard it described as “culture building.”
* The sessions are closed to the public and the media, which prevents getting eyes on the players and detailing how they look and what they’re exposed to in camp.
Of course, there’s less to see without games.
Hopefully, with Kjerstad no longer shut down and the organization encouraged by the progress he’s making, he’ll be available to talk about his health ordeal and stalling of his professional career since the Orioles made him the surprise second overall pick.
Living a normal and healthy life always has been the main priority. Baseball takes a back seat to it. But now that Kjerstad is back on the field, it seems like an appropriate time to speak with him for the first time since the draft.
Just don’t expect the Orioles to already know where Kjerstad is playing in 2022. There are a few more steps to take before arriving at that decision. Whether it’s the FCL or a higher affiliate.
* Orioles public relations noted that nearly 30 members of the player development and baseball operations staff will assist at the camp, including Bowie manager Buck Britton, recipient of the 2021 Cal Ripken, Sr. Player Development Award.
Baysox hitting coach Ryan Fuller, FCL hitting coach Anthony Villa, coordinator of Florida and Latin American pitching Dave Schmidt, minor league strength and conditioning coordinator Nick White, and mental skills coordinator Kathryn Rowe also are in Sarasota.