One of the most intriguing players in Orioles major league camp this spring will be one of the youngest: catcher Michael Ohlman, who turned 23 in December.
If you’ve been an Orioles fan for some years now, it’s kind of stunning that Ohlman is just 23. Remember, this guy was drafted only two years after Matt Wieters. It seems like he's been in the system forever without advancing above Single-A.
Like a chunk of the club’s draftees from 2009, Ohlman was battling potential bust status, having signed for a well-above-slot $995,000 bonus as an 11th-round pick, but never showing more than glimpses of the promise the Orioles felt he had.
But just when the strapping, 6-foot-5 Ohlman looked like he was playing his way out of the organization, he had his breakout year at High-A Frederick last season, batting .313 with a .410 on-base percentage and 13 homers in 361 at-bats.
He was sent to the Arizona Fall League and hit four more homers, and the Orioles decided to put him on their 40-man roster. With that distinction comes some perks, like being part of last weekend’s FanFest along with the club's stars.
“It’s a great feeling, just to be here and see everything behind the scenes and show the fans that we appreciate them coming out to support us all the time,” Ohlman said at FanFest. “I still have a little bit to do. I’ve got to make it. I’m not there yet.”
He’ll probably start the season at Double-A Bowie, and is again being mentioned as a possible backup (or potential replacement) for Wieters. But he’s no longer the young catching gun in the organization after the Orioles selected three catchers in the first six rounds of last year’s draft -- Chance Sisco, Jonah Heim and Calvert Hall’s Alex Murphy.
Regardless, it’s certainly been an arduous and impressive climb back to prospect status for Ohlman. In 2010, his first full year in the organization, Baseball America listed Ohlman as the Orioles’ 15th-best prospect. He didn’t make the top 30 for the next three years, and he completely fell off Baseball America’s catching depth chart for the Orioles in 2013.
This spring, Baseball America listed him as the ninth-best overall prospect in an improving Orioles system. The turnaround, he said, was a combination of hard work and year-round baseball since the middle of 2012.
“This is really my first break from baseball,” Ohlman said of the last couple of months. “I played in Australia last winter, played a full season and Arizona this fall. I put a really good season together, and it is showing. The dust is clearing, and the stuff that goes on behind the scenes that not everybody gets to see is starting to show with some success.”
Now Ohlman will have an opportunity to show what he can do in spring training. He is one of six catchers on the invited roster — Wieters, Steve Clevenger and Johnny Monell are also on the 40-man roster, while Caleb Joseph and Brian Ward received nonroster invites — and Ohlman is the only one younger than 27.
He’s been in a major league spring training game once in his career. He played first base and didn’t get an at-bat. He’ll get some time in March this year, and can’t wait for it.
“You are around those guys and you see what it takes and how hard they work at what they do. Everything is starting to come full circle,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll show myself [well] and put a good picture in everyone’s head that I am ready.”