O’s Mike Elias on spring, prospects and more at Birdland Caravan

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. - The bus has been rolling throughout Maryland. The Orioles have been coming to their fans during two days of the Birdland Caravan that continues with more stops today in Westminster and Frederick.

Over two days, O’s players, coaches and staff have made their way to Aberdeen, Fallston, Timonium, White Marsh, York, Pa., Annapolis, Bowie, Ellicott City and Fort Meade.

I’ve watched fans cheering on the Orioles at the Green Turtle in White Marsh on Friday and yesterday at Calvert Brewing Company near Bowie. Several fans have told me they enjoy this format, which allows them to get up close and personal with the players.

For a group of reporters at yesterday’s last stop, there was a chance to interview Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias on the eve of spring training.

Mancini Fireman Birdland Caravan.jpgHe told us the club could still sign a pitcher to a major league contract, and that the club has continued to pursue pitchers on major and minor league deals. But he also said that, with pitchers and catchers reporting to Florida on Tuesday, it’s getting late. He would want a newly signed pitcher to have a full spring training to get ready - or something close to it.

“Yeah, I think you have to worry about it,” Elias said. “It just seems like recent history, those pitchers that have not had the benefit of a quote-unquote normal spring training, they get off to a slow start. It just seems to be the case. So it doesn’t mean the bell rings on Tuesday and we’re done. It just means we’ll be increasingly mindful of that as the spring gets deeper.”

Click here for an entry published last night in which Elias talked more about pitching and also the sign-stealing scandal that impacted his former team.

Here are some other topics Elias was asked about yesterday.

On where top prospect catcher Adley Rutschman might start the 2020 season: “I think how he looks in spring training, the conversations that we have with him, will dictate whether we start him at (Single-A) Frederick or send him back to (Single-A) Delmarva for a little bit. I think a guy with his pedigree and profile and age and just being a first-round pick that was a position player, typically those guys will start in High-A during their first full season. But we’re not going to set anything in stone. Everything is case-by-case. We’ll talk to him about it, we’ll talk to the coaches. We haven’t made any decisions about where he is going to start.”

On this spring camp featuring many of the club’s top 30 prospects: “I think what is great about this year’s spring training, if you look at our prospects list, so to speak, a lot of those guys are going to have a chance to make the team out of spring training. If they don’t make the team, they’re going to be in Triple-A, so they’re knocking on the door. Then, obviously, we have some of our younger guys coming. Adley Rutschman’s coming and we have a bunch of other players. I think we’re going to be seeing more and more of that. It’s a good indication that the future’s bright.”

Will some of those prospects get a long look in Florida?: “Certainly. I think there are going to be (players that are) minor league prospects at the moment that have a chance to either make the team out of camp or join the team in pretty short order into the season. Because of that, we would anticipate some of them hanging around camp longer.”

But does the club want young pitchers to see all the minor league stops before they pitch in Baltimore? Or is the team open to changing that plan for certain guys?: “I think, ideally, a young pitcher would spend a full season at Double-A and Triple-A. But some guys move really fast. It really is dictated by the player’s performance. Triple-A is not easy and there is always something to be learned there. It just depends on the case. But for us, the most important thing is we are prioritizing the development of those individual players right now over the immediate needs of the team.”

One of the young pitchers who did not get a spring invite was right-hander Michael Baumann, and Elias explained the reasons for that: “For me, for us, he’s one of our top prospects. His development is very important. He had a tremendous step forward last year, probably as much as any pitcher in our system. He really took well to the program that (director of pitching) Chris Holt and (then Bowie pitching coach) Kennie Steenstra put in place for him. And you know, he is someone we thought about inviting to camp. I still think he might get into some major league (spring) games. He’ll be at early camp, so he’ll be accessible to us.

“But at the end of the day, we’re going to have a huge camp - pushing 70 players. At some point we’ve got to draw a line. It was a tough call. But he spent only half the season in Double-A last year. And because of that we thought it might be best to wait and see in terms of bringing him over to major league camp.”

Elias on Saturday’s fan turnout: “This is wonderful. This is a really good opportunity for us to come out, get out of Baltimore, come out to some other parts of the market and really interact with some of our most passionate fans. I think this was a good way of us connecting one-on-one, very personally, shake hands with the fans that support us the best.

“It’s been great. Lot of support for what we’re doing in terms of going towards younger talent and building the team up for the future. I think these fans get it. The type of fans we have here today at Calvert Brewery are my favorite type. I think it’s what Baltimore is all about. They’re excited and looking forward to the future like we are.”

We know the Orioles’ Trey Mancini is a man of the people. He loved interacting with fans yesterday and said it was a nice sendoff of sorts for spring training.

“It’s been amazing. It’s a lot different from FanFest,” Mancini said. “We’re going out to different communities around Maryland. They covered a lot of northern Maryland yesterday and today we’re kind of going south. It’s been really cool. The fire station (Howard County Fire and Rescue) was amazing. We went to Annapolis and signed for fans there, and we made a stop at the Bowie police station, too. Been a nice full day for us.

“I think this is a cool idea and a different twist than the past few years. Reaching all these communities around the state, it’s great. And go see the fans in their hometowns. I think this gets a lot of people excited for the season. Fans have met us on a personal level and we’re humanized a bit. Rather than them just seeing us on TV or on the field.”

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