Five storylines to watch at Orioles minicamp this week

For the fourth straight year, the Orioles are holding a minicamp at the team's spring training complex in Sarasota, Fla., geared at getting an early look at some of the organization's top young pitchers.

Between 17 and 20 pitchers are expected to attend this week's minicamp, where they will work out, throw bullpen sessions, be evaluated by medical staff and meet with pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti.


The Orioles held the minicamp in Baltimore in its first two years, scheduling it for the week before FanFest, but last year's move to Sarasota allowed the team to get more accomplished without weather restrictions.

The biggest value of the minicamp is getting a head start on spring training.


"I think it's been huge," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "We've done it the last three years. First off, ownership has been nice enough to let us fund it. It's not free. It's kind of who we are. It's about our own guys.

"To be able to go down there and get all that stuff out of the way before camp starts, it's huge. You're trying to eliminate any surprises. It allows you to make better decisions and evaluate your guys better. You know who's healthy, who can help you and who can't. Some things you can and can't do."

As minicamp opens Monday at the Ed Smith Stadium complex, here are five storylines to watch.

Machado's right knee

Orioles third baseman Manny Machado had surgery Aug. 27 on his right knee in order to help ensure that he would be ready by Opening Day, a goal that wasn't reached last year after he had surgery on his other knee in October 2013.

The team needs to get a better idea about how far Machado is in his recovery, so he is scheduled to attend the minicamp Wednesday to have his knee evaluated.

Machado initially was supposed to be at last year's minicamp, but a scheduling conflict prevented it.

So the first time the Orioles were able to evaluate Machado's injury was during spring training. The hope was that Machado would still be able to return by Opening Day last year, but he missed the first month of the regular season.

That's why the Orioles want to see Machado this year. If there's any chance that the 22-year-old might not be ready, the team has to have a backup plan.

And it's easier to begin making that plan a month before spring training begins.

Bundy's right arm

In June, right-hander Dylan Bundy will be two years removed from Tommy John ligament reconstruction surgery on his right elbow. He has received a lot of trade interest so far this offseason, but the Orioles have shunned any thought of dealing him.


Bundy, 22, resumed pitching in games last June, but the organization remained careful, insisting that a better gauge of his recovery from the surgery would come this year.

Although his numbers were ordinary at High-A Frederick last year (1-2, 4.78 ERA in six starts, just one that lasted more than 4 2/3 innings), the Orioles remain optimistic about his outlook this season.

Bundy, who remains the club's top pitching prospect, is far enough removed from the surgery that he doesn't have to worry about his health.

Now, it's about getting back to the level at which he pitched before the surgery, regaining his velocity and the form that made him one of the most polished pitching prospects the Orioles have seen.

First look at Rule 5 picks

Right-handed pitchers Jason Garcia and Logan Verrett, the club's two acquisitions in the Rule 5 draft last month, will put on Orioles uniforms for the first time this week.

Garcia, who gained the Orioles' attention after striking out 14 of the organization's 18 hitters while pitching for the Boston Red Sox's instructional league team this past fall, appears to be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery in 2013. His fastball hit the high 90s during the instructional league.

Still, he hasn't pitched above Low-A — keeping him there might have been a tactical move by Boston to keep him under the radar — so expecting him to stick on a major league roster all year could be a stretch.

Verrett has shown the ability to win at every minor league level in the New York Mets organization, including an 11-5 record with a 4.33 ERA at Triple-A Las Vegas last season.

A career starter, it will be interesting to see how Verrett is used in spring training. It appears more logical that he would compete for a bullpen spot since the rotation is crowded, and it would be easier to hold him on the 25-man roster as a relief pitcher.

It's rare for teams to be able to carry one — let alone two — Rule 5 picks for an entire season, but both will have their first chance to show the organization what they have this week.

Impact of veteran leadership

The Orioles learned Friday that right-handers Chris Tillman and Tommy Hunter will report to Sarasota this week to begin their preparation for spring training. Showalter has to be downright giddy about this.

Tillman and Hunter weren't expected to be down so early — Showalter expected Tillman to be part of a group of pitchers expected to meet with Wallace and Chiti in California later this month — but having them in Sarasota during minicamp can only be a good thing.

It sends a strong message to the young pitchers about the importance of getting down to business early. And both Tillman and Hunter also have shown the ability to mentor young players.

Right-hander Kevin Gausman gave Tillman a lot of credit for helping his adjustment to the major leagues, and Hunter's light-hearted personality makes any clubhouse loose.

Closer look at catching depth

Like it or not, the Orioles have to prepare for life without Matt Wieters.

Wieters, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery that prematurely ended his 2014 season, is set to become a free agent at the end of the 2015 season. And even though the Orioles want to keep him, they realize he might command more on the free-agent market than they're willing to pay.

In recent years, the Orioles have made it a clear focus to draft catchers. While there figures to be a gap between Wieters' possible departure and the organization's group of young catchers being ready, this week will offer a glimpse of the future.

Wieters isn't scheduled to be at the minicamp as he continues his rehabilitation in Atlanta, but minor league catchers Michael Ohlman, Alex Murphy and Jonah Heim will be there.

Ohlman, 24, hit just .236/.310/.318 at Double-A Bowie last year in his first season after being placed on the 40-man roster.

Murphy, 20, had a .271/.322/.376 line with three home runs, 13 doubles and 26 RBIs in 2014. He played 58 games (54 for short-season Single-A Aberdeen, four for Low-A Delmarva) before his season ended with surgery on his nonthrowing shoulder.

Showalter is big on Heim, who has played in just 73 professional games but looks the part at 6 feet 3, 190 pounds.

Those three young catchers, along with major leaguers Steve Clevenger and Caleb Joseph, Triple-A Norfolk catcher Brian Ward and reigning South Atlantic League batting champion Chance Sisco, give the organization a nice inventory at the position in case Wieters leaves after the upcoming season.



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