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Orioles defense could lure free-agent pitchers

Free-agent pitchers have been reluctant to sign with the O's, but that might be changing, Dan Duquette says.

Despite their return to respectability, the Orioles haven’t had much success with signing free-agent pitchers over the years.

Their reluctance to offer long-term deals is well known, and Camden Yards is a hitters ballpark that can do damage to a pitcher’s career if he’s the wrong fit. But executive vice president Dan Duquette said Monday that he believes free agents are becoming more open to pitching in Baltimore.

“There’s not a lot of resistance in terms of the pitchers coming here when it comes to the ballpark and the city and the team and the community,” Duquette said Monday. “I think pitchers are open to that. There are some ballparks in the National League, in the National League East and National League West, it’s not as challenging for some of the teams and the ballparks that we play in.”

Duquette said free agents have recognized the value of pitching in front of a solid defense – the Orioles have put emphasis on defense under manager Buck Showalter – but some pitchers are going to naturally steer toward the NL.

“I think a lot of the pitchers look to the National League first,” Duquette said. “It’s a league where you get to face the pitcher. Some of the ballparks are pitcher friendly. You don’t have to face the DH. Having said that, I think the pitchers enjoy, they recognize the value of pitching to a good defense, which the Orioles have had over the last several years.”

Whether the Orioles land a starting pitcher in free agency -- or even strongly pursue one -- remains to be seen.

Bundy, Harvey expected in minicamp

Showalter said he expects top pitching prospects Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey to participate in next month’s minicamp in Sarasota, Fla.

“Good chance they’ll be there,” Showalter said. “Depending on where they are physically. We expect them to be ready to go. We’re just trying to finalize that list. They’re on the maybe list. None of them on the roster have to come. There are some things you’ve got to step through to get that.”

Bundy and Harvey were sidelined by injury this past season.

Showalter said he also expects veterans such as Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez, and possibly Zach Britton, to attend the minicamp, even though they’re not required.

Leaving Hardy alone

Showalter, who keeps in touch with his players in the offseason, said he has laid off shortstop J.J. Hardy, who is coming off a frustrating season filled with injury.

Hardy played the entire season with a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder, and his hitting suffered. He batted just .219 with a .253 on-base percentage and .311 slugging percentage in 114 games. Hardy has two years remaining on a three-year, $40 million extension he signed in 2014.

Showalter said he believes Hardy will rebound in 2016.

“I try to leave him alone,” Showalter said. “I [called] him once. He’s doing great. I’m excited about his offseason and what’s going to go on next year. I know he left Baltimore with a real passion about [the team] between the season’s end and the beginning of spring training.”

Internal assistant candidates

As the Orioles narrow their search for an assistant hitting coach, Showalter said the club has to be careful about making an internal hire that could disrupt continuity in the minor leagues.

“We’re gathering names and we’ll always look from within first, but we also don’t want to rob from Peter to pay Paul,” Showalter said. “We have some people who are very important to the organization whether it be a hitting coordinator, a Triple-A hitting coach, a Double-A hitting coach. We have some internal candidates we’d be fine with, but you’re also careful about hurting another area that they’ve been very instrumental in the development in our guys.

“They’re trying to keep a consistent player development group together. That’s big for the players down there, so they have some consistency with their instruction. In a perfect world, we want the same people,” Showalter added. “We’ve been very fortunate to have the same people. I know Brian [Graham] has talked about some additions. It’s interesting to see the people who have left and want to come back.”

Rule 5 draft expectations

The Orioles selected three pitchers in the Rule 5 draft over the past three years, including two in last year’s draft, but Duquette said the team could draft an outfielder this time around.

“Yeah, that’s a possibility,” Duquette said. “We’ve got some outfielders on the list. We’ve got some outfielders, some pitchers.”

The Orioles took a pair of right-handers -- Jason Garcia and Logan Verrett -- in last year’s draft. They were unable to carry Verrett and he was claimed by the Texas Rangers before being returned to the New York Mets.

Before the 2013 season, the Orioles selected left-hander T.J. McFarland in the Rule 5 draft.

If the Orioles do make a pick in Thursday’s draft, it would be difficult to carry a reliever this year since Bundy enters the season out of minor league options. Bundy must remain on the roster or be subject to waivers.

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