Still trying to find a way to get minor leaguers on the field

Beyond the players that are in Bowie or Baltimore on the 60-man player pool, the Orioles would love to get some of their minor league players on the field in some way this year. The regular minor league season has been canceled, but the club is hoping there will still be a chance for players to work out and perhaps play intrasquad games.

During a Zoom interview with reporters this morning, Orioles director of player development Matt Blood was asked if such a plan is in place.

“Definitely discussion, nothing firm as of now,” said Blood. “It is something we definitely want to do and we’re hoping to get that opportunity. And, you know, just things are so hard to plan at this moment. But as many players as we’re allowed to have and for as long as we’re allowed to have, we want to take advantage of that opportunity. So there have been discussions, but nothing has been set in stone or any type of framework outside of just speculating.”

If Major League Baseball clears teams to get minor leaguers on the field, the Orioles would likely look to make that happen at their spring training home in Sarasota, Fla. But other options are possible.

The club has agreements with all six of its 2020 draft picks, led by the top selection, outfielder Heston Kjerstad of Arkansas. Normally, drafted players would report to Florida for an orientation before they are assigned to an affiliate. Obviously, things will be different during this unique season.

“We actually are starting tomorrow with a virtual new player orientation (for draft picks),” said Blood. “It will be twice a week. Different topics to introduce them to our organization, our culture, people, players, the history of the Orioles. Some fun things and some educational things. So, yeah, that starts tomorrow and we’ve got all the guys locked in. Should be fun to get to know them and get them caught up to speed. So whenever they do get on the ground with us in person, that learning curve is a little shorter and we’re able to get off and running.”

During today’s session, Blood was asked about a few specific players and if they would be added to the 60-man player pool. The O’s have 56 players in their two camps now, but lefty Ty Blach is going to come off the list after Tommy John surgery. So five spots to play with and names like pitcher Grayson Rodriguez and Kjerstad not currently on that list.

“We wish we could bring everybody, but when it comes down to the basic function of what this is, it is a major league operation,” he said. “We have to protect and serve the major league team and that is what is first and foremost being thought about when it comes to bringing players to this camp. With the rules that MLB has put in, we’re being pretty careful about those decisions. We have some time, so we’re not necessarily rushing to make those decisions. Once the major league season gets off and running and we know how the health is of players and how this whole thing is going to operate, more decisions will be made.”

Rodriguez-Throws-Shorebirds-Front-Sidebar.jpgBlood was asked specifically about Rodriguez and young infielder Gunnar Henderson.

“They are players that have a big future with us and guys that we want to work with,” Blood said. “I’d like to see them as soon as possible, but we have to serve the major league roster first. Until that is firmed up completely, we can’t make those decisions. That is ultimately also a Brandon Hyde and Mike Elias decision. Whatever they feel is best for the major league team is obviously what we’re going to go with.”

Blood was also asked about Ellicott City native Bruce Zimmermann, the 2013 Loyola High School grad. The left-hander was on the O’s spring roster when the first camp was halted and had thrown well in a few spring games.

“I would imagine that he would be a part of the camp at some point, (but) I can’t say for sure. It’s really hard for me to say because it’s not my wheelhouse, I guess you could say,” said Blood.

Blood was asked about 2019 top pick catcher Adley Rutschman. He has made the 60-man player pool, but will he turn up on the Orioles roster this summer?

“He is on the 60-man, so there is a chance,” said Blood. “That is really not my call. It’s probably a better question for Mike and Brandon. But we’re going to work with him hard every day and whenever he’s ready, he’s ready. It’s really hard for me to answer that question.”

Blood told us that players at a club’s alternate site are not allowed to play other clubs right now. So the group at Bowie, while they can play all the intrasquad games they want, currently cannot play other nearby teams.

While the Orioles are no different from any major league club in missing out on minor league games this summer, it does mean for many players the chance of no game reps. And for club officials, no chances to evaluate those players in game conditions.

“It is really hard to replicate live competition, live speed of the game, adrenaline,” Blood said. “Hitters not getting live at-bats and pitchers not getting live hitters to face with runners on base when it matters and stats are being kept. All of that is definitely not ideal. We’ve done everything that we can to help the players get better - both on the field and off the field. Physically, skill-wise, even mentally and culture-wise.

“But you just can’t replicate what a season is without a season. I do feel like we’ve made some progress in some areas that would have been more difficult to make if there had been a season, which is good. We’ve been productive and made the best of our situation. But we obviously wish we were playing baseball.”

The Orioles’ group at Bowie will be playing intrasquad games to keep players sharp in case they are needed in Baltimore later. Some pitchers will start on five-day rotations and build up innings to possibly get a shot later in the Baltimore rotation. This group is expected to include Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer, who were added to the 40-man roster in November.

“I would say they have a chance (to get to Baltimore),” said Blood. “Everyone on the 60 has a chance. The guys that are in Baltimore right now versus the guys that are in Bowie right now are probably a little closer, in terms of their chance. But I would say these guys are working toward that opportunity. I would say these guys are preparing as if they may get the call and that is the right way to go about it.”

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