There was a flurry of activity at the Orioles' spring training complex this past week as the club held a January minicamp for the third straight season.
The camp took place for the first time down at the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota, Fla., after being in Baltimore the past two years during the week leading up to FanFest. But since FanFest is so late this year – it is Feb 1, just 12 days before pitchers and catchers report to spring training – Orioles manager Buck Showalter decided to hold it in Florida.
And it really was the perfect scenario. With the exception of one rainy day, the weather was nice. The camp's participants could work with plenty of space on the back fields. The only complaint Showalter heard was that they lost too many balls taking batting practice on the Camden Yards field on Wednesday, so on the final day, they switched to another field where hitters like Nolan Reimold and Delmon Young took swings into an unforgiving wind that yielded much fewer lost balls.
Over the course of the camp, the Orioles added to their spring training roster – signing Young and right-hander Alfredo Aceves to minor league deals with invitations to major league spring training. They also brought in Jack Cust for a three-day tryout, but the 35-year-old can likely only hope for an invitation to the early minor league camp. Former Tampa Bay Rays catcher Shawn Riggans also came Wednesday looking for a job and joked that he would even park cars come spring training. But Riggans was also realistic that he was a long shot.
They also agreed to terms with outfielder Tyler Colvin, pending a physical. The team still hasn't announced that one yet. After all these additions, lockers in the main clubhouse in Sarasota are running out.
I got a head start on some of the early spring storylines. Kevin Gausman put on 12 pounds in the offseason, but he still looks lean, which is good. Henry Urrutia put on 18 pounds and he looks jacked, which is also good.
Seeing Dylan Bundy throw from 60 feet as the latest step in his rehab had to be good news for Orioles fans. As he usually does, reliever Tommy Hunter kept the mood light by cracking jokes.
From a observation perspective, it's always good to see some of these guys in a relaxed environment, especially before the daily regimen of spring training occurs.
And there were definitely some participants who raised their stock this week, so here's my take on the big winners coming out of minicamp.
The 26-year-old Urrutia was the only non-catcher position player not coming off injury on the 40-man roster to attend the camp. That's a mouthful, but it means a lot. After making his professional and major league debuts last season, he knows he will be battling for a roster spot in camp this spring. From the guy I first saw last spring training, Urrutia looks entirely different. After playing at 183 pounds last season, he weighed 201 on Thursday. His shoulders are broader, he has more definition in his arms, and he said strengthening his legs has helped him drive the ball better. Since coming back from an impressive Arizona Fall League, he's made Sarasota his home and he's been working out four days a week. That drive seems to have impressed Showalter, who praised how dedicated Urrutia has been on improving his defense. The Cuban defector also seems to have made the necessary adjustments to life in the United States, picking up the culture and learning English well.
There was a lot of anticipation on Thursday for Reimold's first live batting practice session since last July's second neck surgery, and Reimold admitted he was anxious to take his first swings. But it was a successful test run, as Reimold said he felt much more loose and comfortable in the batter's box than he did when he returned from surgery last season. Showalter noticed that even the way Reimold turns his head now is different than it was last year. Obviously, he still has a long way to go until he gets to the point in which he truly feels comfortable, but so far so good. This is as good a start as the Orioles and Reimold could have anticipated. And for Reimold, maybe now there's finally a little bit of relief.
The Orioles brought Rodriguez to his first major league camp last year at age 20, so he could take in the atmosphere and learn from it. Even though he was one of the first players to be shipped down to minor league camp then, he can now take that knowledge into this year with a much better sense of belonging. Rodriguez threw nearly 160 innings this past year between the regular season and the Arizona Fall League. When Bundy and Gausman are in the same camp, it can be easy to forget about Rodriguez, who is the organization's third-best pitching prospect behind that duo, but he's just as big a part of the Orioles' future, as has been proven this offseason in the fact that he was on many teams' wish lists in possible trades. But the Orioles kept him. Showalter went out of the way to say he has noticed that Rodriguez has a more business-like approach now.
This week, Showalter did nothing to hide how intrigued he is with Bridwell, even though the 22-year-old hasn't pitched past low-Class-A Delmarva. But Showalter has spent significant time this offseason studying Bridwell – and Showalter said looking tape on him is mindboggling because he can put together a string of outings in which he's untouchable but also go through stretches when he struggles tremendously. In inviting him to this week's camp, Showalter wanted to give Bridwell his own eye test. He came away impressed. After watching Bridwell throwing a bullpen session and then talking about Bridwell's 6-foot-5 height, Showalter quickly quipped, "That's what it looks like." Bridwell isn't currently among the club's top 10 prospects, but it can't hurt for any minor leaguer that the major league manager is thinking about him.
Dave Wallace and Dom Chiti
Pitchers emerged from their meetings with Wallace and Chiti -- the club's new pitching coach and bullpen coach, respectively -- impressed. Essentially, one of the main purposes of the camp was so the new coaches could meet with players. But it was more than a meet-and-great. Gausman said he was duped when they asked him what they could do to help make him better, a question he said he's never been asked. While watching bullpen sessions, Wallace could be seen jotting down notes in a notepad, so he definitely pays attention to detail. Both arrive in Baltimore with a reputation of helping to develop young pitching, and you're beginning to see why. They take the challenge seriously, but value the relationship part of it. Now, they will take the show on the road and do the same thing with a group of Orioles pitchers in Southern California that includes Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Brian Matusz and Zach Britton.