Orioles beat writers Eduardo Encina and Jon Meoli on the Orioles offseason mini-camp for young pitchers and some position players at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Even though the Orioles added a left-handed bat in outfielder Seth Smith last week, manager Buck Showalter said Monday that he would still like to have another left-handed hitter balance out the lineup if the team decides to add another outfield piece.
"[Just] because of the way the at-bats would work out," Showalter said at the team's annual minicamp. "You are talking about 400 or 500 at-bats as opposed to 100 or 200. [But] if you look at our division and the number of left-handed starters that are in it now, you got to stay on top of that."
Showalter mentioned the left-handed-heavy rotation of the Boston Red Sox, who this offseason added left-hander Chris Sale to a rotation that already included lefties David Price, Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez.
The Orioles hit just .234 against left-handed pitching last season, 29th overall in baseball, and were 23-23 in games against left-handed starting pitchers.
Showalter said Smith will add a needed component to the Orioles' batting order, bringing a career .344 on-base percentage, including .355 OBP against right-handed pitching. Last season Smith hit .326/.415/.616 with runners on scoring position and reached base in seven of 13 plate appearances with the bases loaded, driving in 17 runs in those situations.
"Good baseball player, very trustworthy," Showalter said of Smith. "He's kind of evolved. Watching him over the years, he's evolved into a pro hitter. He brings two things to the field that it would be nice to have in our batting order, the low strikeouts and the high walks — you see a guy's on-base percentage 100-plus points higher than his batting average.
"Every time you face him, feels like he's hitting about .320. He was a tough out for us. … Smith has always hit good pitching late in the game. He was always a good at-bat on somebody. … He doesn't go out of the zone much."
Despite talk that the Orioles want to add another outfielder, they already have nine on the organization's 40-man roster: Dariel Alarez, Adam Jones, Hyun-Soo Kim, Joey Rickard, Adam Walker, Christian Walker and Smith, as well as Rule 5 draft picks Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander. Showalter said there should be plenty of spring training innings to go around, especially with a longer stretch because of March's World Baseball Classic.
"You look at the schedule, there's going to be plenty of playing time and opportunities for these guys," Showalter said. "We start intrasquad [games] probably on [Feb] 22. And we're here until we play that [exhibition] game in [Triple-A] Norfolk on [March 31]."
The Orioles have traded starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo to the Seattle Mariners for veteran outfielder Seth Smith. (Baltimore Sun video)
Walker committed to outfield switch:Christian Walker is getting a head start on spring training, renting a home this offseason in Sarasota and working out at the Ed Smith Stadium complex so he can continue his transition to a new position.
With Chris Davis entrenched at first base after signing a seven-year, $161 million contract last offseason, Walker moved to left field in mid-March.
"It was a process, for sure," Walker said. "Anytime you're trying to learn a new position at a high level, Triple-A has a lot of good players. It's just a process. It's a matter of reps. You're going to make some mistakes. You're going to learn some things, but you've got to take it all with a grain of salt and take it in stride, and just understand it's all a part of it."
Walker, the Orioles' fourth-round pick in 2012, moved up through the organization quickly, earning a September call-up in 2014, but he's spent the past two seasons at Triple-A Norfolk. He entered spring training last season as a first baseman, but made his first start in left field on March 15. This year, he will have an entire spring training to get reps in the outfield.
"I think that first week or so of workouts before the games start, a lot of reps [are] taken during that time, and a lot of important reps," Walker said. "… Not that I felt rushed with it last year, but I think it was the last week of spring training when we decided to make the change. So yeah, I'm looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to a full spring and taking on left field."
Walker, who posted a .978 fielding percentage in 90 games in left field, said playing on the other side of the field was an adjustment he had to make, especially in terms of reading balls off the bat.
"It's not like I was switching to right field, where I'm kind of used to where the balls move," Walker said. "The other side of the field. Not catching fly balls, just reading the balls off the bat, the balls over my head or the balls that are hooked and they're moving towards the gap and moving towards the line, getting a feel for how the ball comes off the bat and what the ball's going to do. Much more goes into it than just catching a fly ball."
Showalter described Walker as "serviceable" in left field so far. "[The reports have] been OK for a guy whose first year playing it all the time," he said.
Wright in attendance: Orioles right-hander Mike Wright was among the 20 players participating in this week's minicamp. Wright said he wanted to attend so that he could meet new pitching coach Roger McDowell to "start off on a good relationship and see where he wants us to go."
"He called me this offseason, he had mentioned it, but I wasn't sure if he was going to invite me or not," Wright said before Monday's first workout. "I'm glad he did. I'm excited to meet him and see where he foresees this season going."
Wright, who earned an Opening Day rotation spot last year but ended the season on the shuttle to Triple-A Norfolk, called last season a "roller coaster" but said "there was a lot of positive and a lot of stuff to work on."
Wright posted a 5.79 ERA in 74 2/3 innings, including a 6.22 ERA in 12 starts. But with the team's trade of right-hander Yovani Gallardo, Wright will be counted on this season to add rotation depth.
"Obviously, I want to stick up there instead of [being] spotty like I've been the past two years," Wright said. "And help the team win. … Like every year, I'm coming to do the best job I can and try to fit anywhere in the big leagues. Just like last year, I hope to be a starter, but like I said, I mainly want to help the team win this year."
Around the horn: Monday's first minicamp workout was a light one, with the roughly 20 participants doing light throwing before bullpen sessions begin Tuesday. Included on this year's minicamp roster are pitchers Logan Verrett, Joe Gunkel, Jesus Liranzo, Chris Lee, Jason Garcia, Jimmy Yacabonis, Garrett Cleavinger, Stefan Crichton, Mike Wright, Brian Gonzalez, Chris Lee, Branden Kline and John Means. Minor league catcher Stuart Levy, who will catch bullpens with major league bullpen catcher Jett Ruiz, will be catching bullpen sessions. … Orioles minor leaguer Ryan Mountcastle is also in Sarasota and is scheduled to begin a throwing program with minor league infield coordinator Dave Anderson. … There is a locker for Santander also here in Sarasota. … Rickard, who was initially supposed to attend the minicamp to have his thumb evaluated, is instead working out with Brady Anderson in California. Showalter said Anderson reported that Rickard's thumb is feeling better. Rickard missed most of the second half of the season after injuring his thumb while crashing into the outfield fence at Yankee Stadium. … Catcher Chance Sisco and right-hander Cody Sedlock, two of the club's top prospects, are also working out with Anderson in California. … New minor league pitching coordinator John Wasdin is at this week's minicamp. Wasdin was formerly the Double-A pitching coach in the Oakland A's organization.