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Orioles plan to use Bowie as alternate site to replace start of Triple-A season; Heston Kjerstad (myocarditis) to report there

Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said Wednesday that the team plans to use Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie as its alternate training site in April to replace the first month of the Triple-A season. However, the home of the Orioles’ Double-A Baysox will be more dedicated to Triple-A players and major league depth than younger prospects the way it was last summer.

Elias said Heston Kjerstad, who is recovering from myocarditis and hasn’t taken part in any baseball activities since the Orioles selected him second overall last June, will report there once that site opens instead of going to major league camp in Florida.

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But otherwise, that site will be for depth players and prospects who would have been at Triple-A, Elias said.

“If we continue to feel hopeful about minor league spring training going off in Florida the way we all want it to, and sort of the trajectory of the Triple-A alternate site and the minor league Opening Day and the minor league camps here in Florida, then I do think we’re going to see a much more Triple-A themed roster in Bowie for this April. And then a lot more of our younger prospects will remain in Florida or report to Florida if they’re not already there.”

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MLB’s original plan was to have the Triple-A season start in April, and for the rest of an organization’s minor leaguers to report to spring training at that time to prepare for a season that’s meant to start in early May. However, to better fit the league’s health and safety protocols, the Triple-A schedule for April was scrapped in favor of training sites similar to the ones used last summer.

“We’re also hopeful that it’s something that’s going to need to be in play in the early part of the season in April, and then we’re able to transition into normal minor league competition that we’ve all been sorely missing for a while,” Elias said. “I think the Orioles, in particular, are very eager to get back to minor league play.”

It’s still too early to determine who will be there, how many players will be accommodated and whether they’ll be able to take advantage of being allowed to play against other team’s training site squads within driving distance, such as Washington and Philadelphia.

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It stands to reason, though, that many of the upper-minors players will be at the Bowie site — those who are in Sarasota as camp reserves, nonroster invitees and those on the 40-man roster who don’t make the majors.

For prospects, that means pitchers Mike Baumann, Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells, plus outfielders Yusniel Diaz and Ryan McKenna. There also could be former major leaguers who are off the roster such as Thomas Eshelman, Cody Carroll and Evan Phillips.

But once camp breaks and the team heads north for Opening Day in Boston on April 1, younger prospects who are in the major league camp mix, such as Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg, will likely stay there to prepare for the minor league season with their future teammates. It’s at that time that the rest of the team’s prospect base will join them.

Kjerstad will be the only exception. Elias said him being in Bowie was a “special case,” presumably to keep him closer to Baltimore and in more of a controlled setting as he begins to work his way back from that heart condition that’s now kept him away from the game for a year.

But Elias said Kjerstad’s health continues to improve.

“Everything has continued to trend very well with him and look very good,” Elias said. “It’s going to be something where he’s going to need a little bit more time after this layoff to go through a rehab protocol, to return to game shape, but we’re very hopeful that he will be able to do that this season and I know that we’re all eager to see him in action. I know he’s eager to join the activities finally after what he’s been through.”

Elias said the Bowie camp last year was successful from both a targeted player development standpoint and from the perspective of preparing players for the big leagues. Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart each performed better in the majors after their time there, while outfielder Ryan Mountcastle and pitchers Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin and Bruce Zimmermann each debuted on the back of their experience there.

That doesn’t mean the Orioles aren’t ready for games to begin at Norfolk, Bowie, Aberdeen and Delmarva, though.

“I think it’s a start,” Elias said. “We’ve got to start getting back to normal in terms of just the development, the instruction that was missed last year. … Overall, for the whole population of players it’s a big negative impact for us to not have minor league baseball across the levels because I think that certain players need failure, different types of failure. They need game experience. They need to face unpredictable different competition on different nights. They need to get used to the professional game. Whatever it may be, we’ve all been accustomed to what minor league baseball provides in terms of preparing these guys for the big leagues.”

Elias said the Orioles will “just be happy that it’s getting off the ground,” when it finally begins, though a year into the coronavirus pandemic they know not to get too attached to any one plan.

“2021 won’t be the same as 2019, but it’s going to be better than 2020,” he said.

Around the horn

>> Elias said the Orioles aren’t close to any more free-agent additions but are monitoring other camps for players who might become available.

>> Neither Elias nor manager Brandon Hyde had any update on Chris Davis’ back injury, though Elias did say “the clock is ticking” on Davis being able to be ready for Opening Day. “Hard to say yet how long a back injury can linger,” Elias said. “In my experience, it’s a very unpredictable thing.”

>> Third baseman Rio Ruiz isn’t feeling well and remains out of the lineup, Hyde said.

>> While Félix Hernández starts Thursday for the Orioles, right-hander Matt Harvey pitched a three-inning simulated game Wednesday alongside Eshelman.

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