When baseball shut down on March 12, it shut down throughout both the majors and the minor leagues. Orioles minor leaguers at the Buck O’Neil Baseball Complex at Twin Lakes Park in Sarasota had not even played any spring training games against other organizations to that point. Most did not know which affiliate they would be sent to in April.
When the shutdown came, 24-year-old right-hander Michael Baumann, born and raised in Minnesota, headed to Jacksonville, Fla., where he played college baseball. Time to keep his right arm and body ready for whatever would come later in the summer.
“I stayed in Jacksonville,” he said. “I was lucky enough that there were some other local baseball players around. One of my buddies had a backyard setup with a batting cage, so I was able to throw live to hitters and throw about six days a week. One of my other friends had a garage gym I could use. There were a lot of people willing to help and that made it a lot easier.”
Baumann was built up to be able to go about three or four innings when camps were shut down, and he maintained that pitch count throughout the quarantine time.
Now he reports each day to Prince George’s Stadium, home of the Double-A Bowie Baysox. He was added to the Orioles’ 60-man player pool and sent to the alternate site at Bowie July 10.
The extensive protocols throughout Major League Baseball and seen at Camden Yards extend to teams’ alternate sites as well. Health is the first concern.
“It’s been great,” Baumann said of the Bowie camp. “A lot of guys coming over to the site and it seems like everyone has been staying in great shape. So, you know, we’ve just been here a few days, but it’s been very well organized and we’re getting in a pretty good routine.
“It’s definitely good knowing they are putting our health first and making sure they do this the right way. It’s the same, as far as I can see, in Baltimore as it is in Bowie. We haven’t seen anything like this before with all this testing and the protocols. It was different at first but now everyone is getting into a routine and it’s becoming second nature. Been great so far with our medical staff and how the testing is going.”
And because minor league facilities cannot match what we see at an MLB stadium, spreading out might be a challenge. But Baumann said that has not been an issue at Bowie so far.
“Not yet, at least,” he said. “The pitchers are in the visitor clubhouse with the position players in the home clubhouse. We go through the trailers and get tested and walk across the field to the clubhouse. The weight room is spread out, which is nice, and it’s set up so we can distance from each other. Having the clubhouses separate and we have, like, three lockers between us right now. That’s a nice setup. I definitely feel safer here than I would be elsewhere. We’ve got a nice little bubble going on at Bowie.”
The pitchers at Bowie include Baumann, DL Hall, Keegan Akin, Eric Hanhold, Branden Kline, Chandler Shepherd, Hector Velázquez, Isaac Mattson and Dean Kremer. Position players include Adley Rutschman, Taylor Davis, Ramón Urías and Yusniel Diaz.
Baumann is coming off a big 2019 season and he was the club’s Co-Pitcher of the Year on the farm in 2019, sharing the Jim Palmer award with Single-A Delmarva’s Grayson Rodriguez. We talked via a Zoom video call yesterday and you can watch the entire interview at the end of this entry.
Baumann went 7-6 with a 2.98 ERA between Single-A Frederick and Bowie last summer. Over 124 innings he allowed just 85 hits and four homers with a .194 batting average against and a 1.05 WHIP. He recorded a 3.27 walk rate and a strikeout rate of 10.31.
At Frederick he posted a 3.83 ERA, but he was 6-2 with a 2.31 ERA and 0.94 WHIP at Bowie. He moved up a level and got even better. It was a dominant performance at Double-A that included the third nine-inning no-hitter in Bowie history, on July 16 against Harrisburg. He needed just 95 pitches and never more than 16 in any inning.
But you can always work to get better, and Baumann did just that with a few tweaks over the winter.
“A big thing is just make my delivery more consistent, and also fine-tuning some of my secondary pitches,” he said. “The offseason is a big time to address weaknesses physically, so I made some adjustments there with my training program. I was able to come into spring feeling pretty strong, and hopefully those adjustments carry over to the field.
“I am just excited to be in this situation right now and trying to get better each day. This game owes you nothing. You have to keep working.”
The Orioles drafted Baumann in round three in 2017. But three years before that he got drafted by the Minnesota Twins, his hometown team, in round 34. He attended Mahtomedi High School, which is near Minneapolis and St. Paul. He didn’t sign with the Twins though, instead heading south to college.
“I grew up in the great north, the tundra. We didn’t get to play baseball year-round. So coming down to Florida, the Florida weather was a huge bonus. Playing baseball (in Minnesota) you get about six months out of the year. Then we’d put down the ball and glove and go play football in the fall, and a lot of guys played hockey, of course. It was a different world once I came down to Florida around guys playing year-round.”
Now at Bowie, he’ll be part of a group that will essentially try to simulate a second season beyond what the Orioles are doing on the big league level. Those players will stay ready and await a possible call to the bigs. For Baumann, who has yet to pitch at Triple-A, that would represent his MLB debut.
“We are getting to face some of the best hitters in the organization (in Bowie),” he said. “So, there is a lot of excitement here. For three or four months, the game was taken away from us just like that. So, everyone is happy to be here, especially some of the older guys who have some (big league) time. They are making sure they are ready for when that call comes.”