New Orioles catcher Welington Castillo was a surprise inclusion on the Dominican Republic roster announced Wednesday for next month's World Baseball Classic, giving the O's five major league players who will leave during spring training for the tournament. That also creates an interesting situation for the team's pitching staff.
Castillo, who signed a one-year deal worth $6 million with a player option in 2018 in December, must now grow comfortable with the club's starting pitchers and relievers on a shortened timetable.
Pitchers and catchers report to spring training early next week, with the first workout on Feb. 14, and position players are not far behind them. But around the first week of March, the team's five major leaguers — Castillo, third baseman Manny Machado (Dominican Republic), center fielder Adam Jones (United States), reliever Mychal Givens (United States), and second baseman Jonathan Schoop (Netherlands) — will leave for their respective national teams.
The Dominican Republic team plays the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota on March 7, and that could be the last time the WBC participants from that country are seen in Sarasota until the tournament ends as late as March 23. The Dominican team is the defending champion, with the United States an early favorite as well.
While the other four players' participation had previously been announced by the team, Castillo's seemingly came out of nowhere. He met many of his teammates for the first time at a club event the evening before last month's FanFest, but came down with an illness the following day and did not attend the event itself.
Many of the pitchers said they heard good reports from teammates and enjoyed their first interaction with Castillo that weekend, but they looked forward to getting to work with him during spring training and developing a rapport.
During a conference call to announce his signing in December, Castillo said that was an early priority for him, as well.
"My No. 1 job is being on the same page with the pitchers and try to do my best behind the plate," Castillo said. "That's my No. 1 job. I know I can hit a little bit, but we have a lot of guys in this lineup -- that's what they do, so my focus is going to be play really good defense and try to manage the pitching staff and win games."
Several Orioles minor leaguers, including one highly touted young pitcher, will be leaving for the tournament as well. Left-hander Alexander Wells, 19, is on the Australian roster, and will pitch on the biggest stage of his career after spending last year pitching to a 2.15 ERA at Short-Season Class-A Aberdeen.
Schoop, a native of the Dutch island of Curacao, will play with his older brother, Sharlon, another Orioles farmhand, in the tournament as well. Sharlon Schoop spent most of last season at Double-A Bowie and recently re-signed with the organization on a minor league contract.
Infielder Gui Yuan Xu, 21, is also listed on the roster for China. Xu played for the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Orioles last season after becoming the first player from any of MLB's three development academies in China to sign with a major league organization.