Eduardo A. Encina reports on the second day of Orioles minicamp in Sarasota, Fla. (Eduardo A. Encina, Baltimore Sun video)
SARASOTA, FLA. — You don't need to talk to right-hander Branden Kline very long before you come away impressed. The Orioles minor league pitcher is polished. He speaks with confidence and carries an air of professionalism.
Include right-hander Mychal Givens among those who have taken notice. From across an empty Orioles clubhouse after the team's minicamp workout Tuesday at the Ed Smith Stadium complex, Givens listened in on a group interview with Kline as he described the ups and downs of his recovery from Tommy John elbow reconstruction. After the interview broke up, Givens teased Kline from across the room – the two were minor league teammates on three teams in the Orioles organization – telling him how great his answers were.
Now, Kline is finally healthy again after undergoing Tommy John surgery in October 2015, penciled in to open this season in the Double-A Bowie starting rotation. Before his injury, Kline was in the discussion when talking about the organization's top young minor league arms, and he hopes to re-establish himself as such in his return to the mound.
Kline, 25, also represents the most likely Maryland native to reach the Orioles. Drafted by the Orioles in the second round of the 2012 draft out of Virginia, Kline graduated from Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick.
Maryland is by no means a baseball hotbed, but when a talented local prospect comes along, the Orioles always pay attention, and more than likely, longtime scout Dean Albany has a history with that player.
"I've got a little special place for [Maryland natives] as far as the Orioles are concerned because you know they grew up -- with very few exceptions -- with the Orioles being front and center for them," manager Buck Showalter said Tuesday. "I think what you take from it is how much it would mean to them, growing up in that environment.
"It would be pretty cool for him," Showalter said of Kline. "I would take that in. We spend a lot of time [working with] Dean making sure we don't miss on anyone. We don't want to miss on anyone in the country, we especially don't want to miss anybody in our area. Dean has watched him since he was in high school, so he's got a pretty good record with him."
For the most part, the Orioles' farm system is bereft of in-state talent. There's Kline and Calvert Hall product Alex Murphy, who was taken in the sixth round of the 2013 draft. Murphy just completed his best pro season at Low-A Delmarva, hitting .252/.335/.423 with 28 doubles, 16 homers and 63 RBIs while splitting time between catcher and first base.
Otherwise, there's not another player in the system from Maryland who could be considered a prospect. Outfielder L.J. Hoes, who grew up in Prince George's County, was drafted by the Orioles, won the organization's minor league Player of the Year award in 2012, and after playing with the Houston Astros, returned to the Orioles organization last year. But after playing at Triple-A Norfolk in 2016, Hoes is a free agent.
Last season, the Orioles drafted Archbishop Spalding right-hander Tyler Blohm in the 17th round, but as was expected, he decided to attend the University of Maryland rather than turn pro.
The Orioles traded arguably their top local talent in Old Mill product Josh Hader, who was dealt to Houston with Hoes at the 2013 deadline for right-hander Bud Norris. Hader was considered a steal after being drafted in the 19th round.
Hader is now one of the top prospects in the Milwaukee Brewers system. He was traded to Milwaukee from Houston in a 2015 deadline deal that sent outfielder Carlos Gomez to the Astros. The left-hander is Milwaukee's second-best prospect according to Baseball America and No. 3 according to MLB.com.
As for Kline, he said he doesn't feel any extra pressure because he's a local kid.
"There's no reason to add extra pressure," Kline said. "It's a game. You play a game for a living. That's kind of how I've always looked at it. It's just a privilege being able to be from Maryland. Got drafted by the Orioles and had such a great opportunity of maybe one day getting to Baltimore. It's just every day showing up and putting all the work that I can in and when I get out on the field just kind of letting everything take care of itself."
One minor league pitcher Showalter took notice of during Tuesday's bullpen sessions was left-hander John Means.
Means is hard to miss, a big 6-foot-3 pitcher who the Orioles drafted in the 11th round in 2014 out of West Virginia.
He was dominant at High-A Frederick to open last season, going 5-0 with a 1.80 ERA before earning a promotion to Bowie after just nine starts. Making that jump took some adjustment, and Means posted a 4-8 record with a 4.69 ERA in 18 starts at Double-A.
After watching Means throw his bullpen session Tuesday, Showalter said he was "intrigued."
"People like him," Showalter said. "He's got a good feel for pitching."