The Orioles currently have 13 staff members working with a group of players at Prince George’s Stadium, the alternate site for the club’s 60-man player pool. Soon the player numbers will grow at Bowie, as the O’s today cut down to their 30-man opening day roster.
The challenge for coaches at Bowie will be to keep that group energized during a hot summer where they currently are not allowed to face outside competition or players from other teams. Daily intrasquad games will help, but after a while, Orioles against Orioles can get old.
Double-A Bowie manager Buck Britton is among the coaches at Bowie, along with Triple-A Norfolk manager Gary Kendall. They are joined by Triple-A pitching coach Kennie Streenstra and Double-A pitching coach Justin Ramsey. Other staff at Bowie includes coaches Butch Davis, Ramon Sambo, Tom Eller, Ryan Fuller and Anthony Villa.
“First off, Bowie, I think they did one heck of a job getting the facility ready to host something like this,” said Britton, who managed the Baysox to the 2019 Eastern League Championship Series. “There is a lot that goes into it. We have the same type of things they do at Camden Yards, as far as the intake trailers for the medical stuff. Safety has been the No. 1 priority.
“Outside of that, I think that is going to be the biggest challenge for a lot of these guys that get sent down: How do they stay motivated? Everybody is under the assumption there is going to be a ton of opportunity this year. It’s inevitable that people are going to get sick. They’re going to contract the virus. They’re going to come into contact with someone that had it. So our job here is, No. 1 to stay healthy. Think that is the biggest thing for us. And then, as a staff, figure out ways to keep guys engaged. Keep them energized to come to the ballpark. It can turn into a grind. Intrasquads are the best thing we’ve got going for us. I think that is our biggest challenge.”
After today’s announcement of the 30-man roster, these healthy players should now be at or heading to the Bowie camp.
It should be noted that three players will be named to the O’s taxi squad, which must include one catcher (probably Holaday) for the upcoming five-game road trip.
“There are a lot of baseball-minded people here and they brought in a lot of guys that know how to use the technology,” said Britton. “So we’re just going to attack it as it is more or less an instructional league. Try to hammer on guys’ weaknesses while trying to maintain what they are good at. And do the best we can to simulate game style and put guys in pressure situations as much as we can. As the summer develops, more ideas and more ways to push the players through it are going to arise. But right now, we have to grind through it early and see how it unfolds.”
Kremer was asked today about the competitiveness of the Bowie camp. There are no boxscores posted for an intrasquad game.
“Granted, it’s intrasquads and you are working on what you want to work on and there are no real consequences to throwing bad or well,” said Kremer, who went 9-6 with a 3.72 ERA on the farm last season. “You just need to be able to take it serious and really get out of it what you want to. It’s hard to replace that competitive nature when you have a guy you don’t know in the box or an umpire back there. It’s got to come from within yourself, rather than from outside factors like crowds and stuff like that.
“I think they’ve done a pretty good job. They split us up into two clubhouses. There is plenty of space between everybody. There is an air conditioned tent on the concourse for a weight room. It’s been great.”
After playing so many intrasquads, no doubt playing someone else would be welcome for all players that will be at alternate sites this season.
“So far, that is all we’ve been told we can do,” Britton said. “Unless they come up with something as the season goes on where we can play a team that might be close by, it’s going to be us and only us. So we’re going to get to know each other well. We’ve brought in a good group of staff that brings a lot of energy and has a lot of fun together. I think that is going to be important for the players to feed off our energy every day.”
The Bowie group includes Akin and Kremer, two pitchers who were added to the 40-man roster in November and who might make their major league debuts this summer.
“Those are two guys that we expect to get a chance this year at some point,” said Britton. “They’re young guys and both of those guys are just excited for that first opportunity. So those are two of the guys that will be driven to get their work in everyday. Come to the park to try and figure out a way to get better. We don’t have to worry about those guys with their focus.”
The Bowie group includes Rutschman, but last year’s No. 1 overall draft pick seems unlikely to crack the O’s roster this year.
“I am by no means a GM, but I don’t think Adley would be a guy to come up this year, but if he did, he’s more than capable of handling himself,” Britton said. “This is a special player, but I think the most impressive thing is the human being that he is. I think it’s a rare combination. This guy is a leader the second he walks through the door. He’s not trying to be that guy, he just is. So I’m not sure how they are going to play this. My guess is to rush him up this year in a 60-game season, I don’t know if that is in the cards. But when it’s time for this guy to go, I think he has a chance to be a real special player.”
Britton today also addressed another large group of players: all of the minor leaguers not on 60-player pools. As of today, nothing is set up yet to get that group on the field. Clubs are hoping that changes.
“I know collectively and among the staff, that is who we feel for the most,” he said. “Those guys losing out on a year to chase your dream. To have a full year - I won’t say thrown away, since we hope guys are doing everything they can to better themselves - but to lose those game reps. Everyone knows in the game of baseball, your window is so short. So to lose out an opportunity (is tough).
“Maybe for a guy that popped on the radar last year that doesn’t have a chance to show it’s not just a one-year deal. Or that underdog that pops onto the radar that no one is thinking of. It’s a challenge and the nature of the game at some point. You move on and your buddies don’t. But I know they’ll be keeping in contact with each other and we’ll try to focus the guys here and keep them as positive and energetic as we can and keep them sharp.”