More on the benefits of the alternate camp

For a young pitching prospect like the Orioles’ Grayson Rodriguez, the Bowie alternate camp this season provided a solid development experience. No, he was not pitching in games as he would have been this season at Single-A Frederick, but he was facing hitters of a higher caliber than he would have in the Carolina League. The same applied to lefty DL Hall, who likely would have pitched at Double-A Bowie during the 2020 season.

At the alternate site, they faced the O’s No. 1 prospect in catcher Adley Rutschman. At various times they also faced DJ Stewart, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Yusniel Diaz, Dilson Herrera, Ryan McKenna and Austin Wynns. Later in camp they were likely to face Gunnar Henderson, Tyler Nevin, Terrin Vavra and Rylan Bannon.

But all those position players were not at Bowie at the same time. So there were times when for days or maybe even weeks they would they face the same small group of hitters. That presented a challenge for a young pitcher.

“One hundred percent,” said Justin Ramsey, one of the pitching coaches at the alternate camp this summer. “At times we literally had six hitters. Three would be in the field and three would be at the plate. For instance, you talk about Grayson Rodriguez. A 20-year-old kid who is facing Double-A, Triple-A and big leaguers on loop. Over and over again. They’re going to get you. It’s tough.”

So yeah, Rodriguez faced a steady diet of hitters that were at the Double-A level or above, for the most part. And for the hitters, they were facing some of the same pitchers often. It was not like having a three-game series, but maybe like a 30-game series. That could have gotten old for the players as they tried to get better. But it never did, said Ramsey.

“Credit to the players,” he said. “Think of like a Gunnar Henderson who came to us and was overmatched his first few weeks and maybe his first month. He should be. He was in the (Gulf Coast League) last year. By far the youngest guy that was at our alternate site and with the least amount of experience. And he was facing big league arms, guys that were ready to go up, and some of our best arms. But after that month, he didn’t quit, he battled and he got better. He became a tough out. Didn’t matter if you were a big league arm or not.

“You talk about getting the most out of this and the development you are going to get out of an alternate site. I can’t stress enough how much these guys got out of this. It was fantastic.”

DL-Hall-Throws-Shorebirds-Orange-Sidebar.jpgSo a very different experience for a young pitcher. Rather than face a different team and different challenges every five days, they got better amid the sameness. Same facility and same players on the field day after day. No road trips. No games that counted.

But the Orioles made the best of the situation and found a way to produce good player development without the normal season schedule. It was productive.

“It really was,” Ramsey said. “It would have been nice if we could play other teams or fill full intrasquads, so you have nine on nine. But it all comes down to the atmosphere and energy of our players, and the coaches provided some of that. They showed up ready and that really kept things moving.

“It was impressive to watch the guys work. Whether it was the guys coming down, the guys trying to make their way up or guys that were there truly to work. Everyone was interacting, everyone was talking and helping. And the energy was consistent throughout.

“To me, that was really impressive when you consider you’re playing simulated games and, at best, you have six position players out there at a time. Maybe a coach is standing in there. A lot of times you’re using the technology or your eyes to say, ‘Hey, that’s an out, hey, that was probably a double.’ Hats off to the players for keeping that going, and you could see the results in the guys that went up also. It was fun to watch.”

I have published several stories over the last two weeks with the pitching coaches that worked at the alternate site this summer. Kennie Steenstra and Ramsey provided insights on that camp and several of the pitchers that were there. Check out the previous stories that are here and here and here.

The pitching award winners: He went 8-1 with a 1.63 ERA and 0.87 WHIP for the Cleveland Indians. And last night right-hander Shane Bieber was named the 10th unanimous winner of the American League Cy Young Award.

Three pitchers were unanimous selections twice - Johan Santana with the Twins in 2004 and 2006, Pedro Martinez with the Red Sox in 1999 and 2000 and Roger Clemens with the Red Sox in 1986 and the Blue Jays in 1998. The other unanimous AL winners were the Tigers’ Denny McLain in 1968, the Yankees’ Ron Guidry in 1978 and the Tigers’ Justin Verlander in 2011. National League elections have had 14 unanimous choices.

I was fortunate this year to be an AL Cy Young voter, and I voted for these pitchers in this order: Bieber, Minnesota’s Kenta Maeda, Dallas Keuchel of the Chicago White Sox, the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole and Lucas Giolito of the White Sox.

Right-hander Trevor Bauer of Cincinnati got 27 of 30 first-place votes to take the NL award. He is the first Reds pitcher to get this honor after going 5-4 with a 1.73 ERA in 11 starts.

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