New season, new players and new coaches has Orioles manager Buck Showalter excited and optimistic as the team begins Spring Training.

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles won't hold their first workout for pitchers and catchers until Friday at the Ed Smith Stadium complex, but the atmosphere during Thursday's workout on report day resembled a day with the entire squad in attendance.

Among the Orioles’ position players who reported early and worked out Thursday were center fielder Adam Jones and first baseman Chris Davis. Jones caught fly balls in center field and took batting practice, while Davis participated in some fielding drills and also practiced in the outfield, coming off the field joking that the was going to be a super-utility player this season.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter said the early turnout was the highest he has seen in his career.

“It’s the most I’ve ever had in 30-something years this early,” Showalter said. “The facility is one [reason]. It’s a great facility … This place buzzes the whole offseason. … I think they like being here. It’s a good environment. They know they’re not going to come in here, and it’s going to be some dictatorial boot camp. It’s going to be somewhat casual.

“If they don’t stay out there two hours, nobody’s going to question it. That’s intentional. I do think there’s some competition here. Also, guys look around at the weather they’ve been in, I’m sure some of them say, ‘I’m going down.’ “

Pitchers and catchers will work out at noon Friday. While some players could be delayed by the winter storm on the East Coast, nonroster right-hander Fabio Castillo, who was having trouble traveling from the Dominican Republic because of a weather-related delay, was the only likely late arrival.

Closer competition to play out

As expected, Showalter shied away Thursday from naming right-hander Tommy Hunter as the leading candidate to replace Jim Johnson as Orioles closer.

“Obviously, Tommy’s a strong candidate,” Showalter said. “I’m not going to handicap this every day,” he said. “I don’t mind doing this every day. I don’t think it’s productive for the players.”

Hunter likely will be asked throughout the spring about replacing Johnson, who was traded to the Oakland Athletics in December following back-to-back 50-save seasons.

“It's up in the air right now for everyone, so we'll see what happens,” Hunter said. “Buck likes those challenges during spring. What are they, competitions? Challenges? Those competitions come out and play. We'll see what happens.”

Showalter said he won't necessarily work Hunter any differently this spring, as if he was remaining in a setup role.

“We got [Johnson] some multiple innings and some back-to-backs,” Showalter said. “It’s very similar to the setup thing. I’ll be able to camouflage it for a long time if I want to.”

And Hunter said he didn’t prepare any differently this offseason for the possibility of a new role.

“I actually felt pretty good last year,” Hunter said. “I had a pretty good fastball last year, and I'm pretty much going to do that same thing. I'm not going to change anything. I'm not going to be somebody I'm not.

“Being a closer, it's a little different just having to bounce back so quick. It's a mindset and hopefully somebody catches on quick.”

Other closer possibilities include setup man Darren O’Day and new addition Ryan Webb, but like Hunter, neither has been a full-time closer.

Chen progressing in rehab

Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who is rehabbing from offseason surgery to remove bone spurs from his right knee, said he’s progressing well.

“My knee feels pretty good now,” Chen said through an interpreter after doing some agility drills with Orioles medical coordinator Dave Walker. “When I do [pitchers' fielding practice] and running, I didn’t feel anything, so I feel like it’s going well.”