Speed and outfield defense will be important in new Oriole Park left field

While we expect Oriole Park at Camden Yards to yield fewer homers in 2022 with the deeper outfield fence coming in left and left-center, the new dimensions and angles of those outfield walls will create more ground to cover for the defenders.

Outfield defense in left and center just got more important for the Orioles.

The Orioles may now place more of a premium on that outfield defense than before. And an outfield of Austin Hays in left and Cedric Mullins in center with have more frequent opportunities to run balls down, and they’ll have to get to extra-base hits next season. Not that they couldn’t before, but their speed and glove work could help the team win games.

Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias alluded to this during his Zoom call on Friday. While we may see fewer homers at Camden Yards, now we may see more doubles and triples. How will that impact overall scoring at the ballpark? Over time and as they gain experience out there, how much of an advantage will O’s defenders have over opponents in playing caroms and chasing fly balls?

“We’re not seeking any type of advantage (on defense) but I do think this might encourage a more exciting, athletic style of play in this part of the park,” said Elias. “We will have some additional extra-base hits, possibly triples, balls rattling around. I think it will be very fun and interesting and it’s something baseball in general needs more of and I think it will ultimately improve the aesthetic style of play at Camden Yards from a number of angles.”

Oriole Park at Camden Yards empty anthem.jpgIn the last two full seasons of play, O’s pitchers gave up more home park home runs than any other staff. The O’s allowed 155 last year at Camden Yards, and the next closest team was the Chicago Cubs, who gave up 131 home runs at Wrigley Field. In 2019 the O’s gave up 175 at home, 30 more homers than Detroit, the team with the next highest home total.

O’s pitchers had the highest home ERA in 2021 at 5.99, with Arizona next but a full run per game better at 4.97. In 2019, Colorado had the worst home ERA at 6.20, with the Orioles next at 5.92.

The renderings released by the club Friday showed that the distance to the outfield wall will quickly increase from 333 feet down the left field line to 384, and will go as deep as 400 feet when the new fence meets the bullpen area. The wall’s height will increase from 7 feet, 4 inches to 13 feet. And the fence will move back 26 feet, 5 inches.

With the L shape near the bullpen, the park does indeed resemble PNC Park in Pittsburgh in the same general area. Now there will be balls that could hit off the wall that borders the bullpen and bounce back toward the left-field corner. Balls in the left-field corner could rattle around at unique angles. This could produce interesting extra-base hits and maybe bring many more defensive chances, throws and relays into play.

Elias told reporters these changes won’t lead to any adjustments he needs to make in what type of players he looks to sign, draft and acquire. He added the changes were not made with a young pitching staff in mind, either.

“I don’t think we are trying to do any favors to any pitchers,” he said. “We are trying to remove the degree of fly balls that are hit that in most other professional parks in America they come off the bat and everyone feels like that’s either going to be a double or be caught, and it turns into a home run. It creates an extreme product that is a little unnatural because of the unique nature of those outcomes. I think having a closer to neutral park is probably, by and large, the balance of style of play that fans and players enjoy.”

Some fans have wondered if the Orioles will try to reproduce any of this at their Sarasota spring training complex.

“We do have a replica field in Sarasota. We do not have immediate plans to alter that field this spring,” Elias said. “But it’s certainly something we’ll look at. There is a lot of wind in spring training and the materials of the fence are a lot different. So, there is only so much benefit from altering an outfield fence on a back field in spring training, but we’ll obviously look at that when we get time to do so,”

I asked Elias if any more changes are coming to Oriole Park to complement and/or add to those currently under way.

“There are a ton of high-level discussions going on, sort of way above and beyond the scope of this press event,” he said. “But the future of baseball here and of this park and the Orioles franchise is very, very exciting. It’s 30 years old, but it’s an absolute masterpiece. Not just one of the best parks in baseball today but in the history of Major League Baseball. But you’ve got to renovate and reinvest, and those things will be happening over the next several years and decades. So, we have a lot of exciting stuff to look forward to.”

These changes, which were approved by Major League Baseball, will be completed in time for opening day. Elias said about 1,000 seats will be lost. The capacity of the ballpark was listed at 45,971 in the O’s latest media guide.

More news coming today: The Orioles will announce their latest class of international amateur signings later today as the date arrives to start a new signing period. It will run today though Dec. 15, and teams can add players through that date.

The Orioles have a pool amount of $6,262,600 to sign these amateurs. That is the highest amount and the Orioles, and seven other teams have that pool total.

The club’s headline signing today is expected to be 16-year-old outfielder Braylin Tavera from Higuey, Dominican Republic. The right-handed hitter, who profiles as a speedy center fielder, also features some power potential and gets scouting grades of 50 or 55 across the board from MLBPipeline.com.

Tavera, per Baseball America, is expected to get a bonus of between $1.5 million and $2 million. He ranks No. 18 on Baseball America’s listing of the highest projected signing bonuses, and No. 22 on MLBPipeline.com’s listing of the top 50 international prospects.

Other players expected to get added - as reported by Baseball America, MLBPipeline.com or both - include 22-year-old Cuban infielder Cesar Prieto. He hit .403/.463/.579 in 74 games in the Cuban pro league last season.

The O’s are also expected to add 16-year-old Dominican shortstops Leandro Arias (No. 46 via MLBPipeline.com) and Edwin Amparo.

Tavera’s signing bonus, if it does land as Baseball America reports, will be the largest the O’s have ever extended to an international amateur. It would become the third seven-figure bonus handed out under the Elias front office. Last January they added catcher Samuel Basallo for $1.3 million and shortstop Maikol Hernández for $1.2 million.

Check back here today for a story on the signings and comments from Koby Perez, the Orioles’ senior director of international scouting.

blog comments powered by Disqus