Orioles pitchers and catchers will hold their first official workout of spring training today at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla. By next Monday, the full complement of nearly 70 players should be in camp. The first spring game is on Feb. 22, when the Orioles play in North Port at the Atlanta Braves’ new spring home.
By the way, Orioles minor league pitchers and catchers report to the Buck O’Neil Baseball Complex at Twins Lakes Park on March 4, and position players report March 8. There is an early camp for some minor league players. Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez told us Sunday he would be taking part in that early camp.
During Saturday’s Birdland Caravan, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias spoke of manager Brandon Hyde and his staff. With the team rebuilding, the entire organization remains more focused on building the base of young talent and developing young players than on the big league team’s won-loss record. Hyde and his staff are not graded on the win percentage they can produce.
“First of all, I think they did a great job last year,” Elias said. “We had a positive energy and culture, in the clubhouse and on the field. The team played hard all year. It took its lumps on the field, but there was a positive energy every night.
“We’re going to continue to prioritize the development of individual players. We are going to continue to prioritize the establishment of a culture that we want to see. And the coaching staff knows that. We’ve been up front with them about it and that’s why they’re here.”
In terms of building the talent base, the Orioles recently had four players ranked in the MLBPipeline.com top 100 prospects with Adley Rutschman No. 4, Rodriguez No. 36, DL Hall No. 69 and Ryan Mountcastle No. 94. In the Baseball America top 100, Rutschman (No. 5), Rodriguez (No. 35) and Hall (No. 47) were ranked. The O’s put three in the Baseball America top 50 for the first time since 2009.
The Orioles now own a No. 9 Baseball America organizational ranking, up from No. 22. The club has had two of its young international players ranked by Baseball America among the top 100 international signings since July 2, 2019.
Elias notes these rankings and feels it’s a positive for the Orioles.
“It’s not everything, but certainly it’s a barometer,” he said. “There are now multiple, credible organizations that rank farm systems and have prospect lists. When you look across four or five of them it starts to paint a picture. It doesn’t mean they will be right or wrong about everything. But with our farm system going from a consensus bottom 10 last year, in 2018, and now at this time being a consensus sort of nine to 14, I think there is something there. The fact that all the different rankings reflect that. But we’ve got to continue to keep working. It’s not the end-all, be-all. At the end of the day it’s about individual players getting up and filling spots on the team. And coming up with 25 guys that can make the playoffs for you. But on the whole, I think farm-system rankings are something we have to keep our eye on and be realistic about as we are going through a rebuilding process.”
Trey’s take: During the Birdland Caravan, Trey Mancini provided this endorsement for Elias and Hyde. Both were pretty new to him this time last year.
“It’s amazing what they’ve built in a year,” he said. “You see how many international signings they’ve had this past year. All the infrastructure they’ve built down there. They’ve hired a lot of people. Really gotten the ball rolling from a technology standpoint. I talked to (Ryan) McKenna earlier about what some of the pitchers (at Bowie) had at their disposal, and it all sounded great. So, in a year, they’ve already really accomplished a lot. And there is a ton of talent on the minor league side. Especially, I know Delmarva and Bowie had playoff runs. There are a lot of kids I’m excited to see during spring training.”
Late last year Mancini told us he wants to take on more of a leadership role for the Orioles this year. He said the veterans helped him and now he’s ready to help any player on the roster. And leadership can manifest itself many ways, not just by being vocal.
“You don’t always have to be rah-rah,” he stated. “You can lead by example and do things the right way. That’s what I’ve learned from a lot of guys. They were the same person every day, whether they had a 20-game hitting streak going or they were 0-for-30. They were the same guy and you have to stay even keel. When things are not going well it can be tough to stay positive, but it helps so much if you have a good mindset and stay positive through those times. It helps eliminate a lot of the valleys you might experience.”
O’s third baseman Rio Ruiz talked about the leadership that Mancini can provide.
“I think Trey is the ideal leader,” Ruiz said. “Not only by example and, obviously, the numbers he’s put up throughout his career, but just what he does in that clubhouse. And how tight-knit that clubhouse is because of him. He’s going to be a big part of what this organization does in the future.”
Speaking of Rio: Ruiz comes to camp looking to win the third base job, or at least the lefty-hitter part of a platoon there. He was solid on defense in 2019 and ranked tied for sixth in the American League among third baseman in defensive runs saved among players with 400 or more plate appearances.
In 127 games he hit .232/.306/.376 with 13 doubles, two triples, 12 homers and 46 RBIs. He hit a two-run walk-off homer on Aug. 11 versus Houston, and it was the Orioles’ only walk-off win of the year.
But it is in the second half when Ruiz’s bat trended up. Not in average, but in power numbers. His first-half slugging and OPS were .328/635, and in the second half those numbers were .462/.766.
Ruiz averaged an extra-base hit every 22.1 plate appearances in the first half and one every 9.9 plate appearances after the All-Star game.
I asked the 25-year-old Ruiz why he showed more pop as last year went on.
“It might have been a combination of things,” he said. “Ultimately, I was just more aggressive. Whether it was early in the count or certain counts or situations, I was a little bit more aggressive. And kind of didn’t have any second thoughts. Went up there free-minded.
“It just kind of developed that way. I’ve always known I’ve had that in me. It was just a matter of time for me and I’ve always kept that confidence. I know I can be here and I belong here. Now I want to build off that second half.”