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Orioles’ alternate site in Bowie trying to offer development, competitiveness despite thin roster

Even with Thursday’s additions after the Orioles set their 30-player Opening Day roster, the organization’s alternate training site in Bowie offers perhaps one of the best student-to-teacher ratios in the nation.

Given that the Orioles have yet to fully stock their 60-player pool and that a collection of players who might’ve been sent to Bowie are instead on the major league roster after a set of injuries, the alternate site will have a max of 18 players available when the Orioles open the 60-game regular season Friday against the Boston Red Sox. At most, eight of them will be position players, given that one of the three players on Baltimore’s taxi squad during road trips must be a catcher.

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Buck Britton, the manager of the Orioles’ Double-A affiliate in Bowie and one of the coaches working at the alternate site, said the organization has 13 staff members there.

“It’s nice to have that development where you can rely on one person or multiple people,” right-handed pitching prospect Dean Kremer said on a Zoom call Thursday. “They don’t have to worry about having a one-on-15 versus a one-on-two or one-on-three, so it’s definitely nice to get attention and have that quick feedback where they’re always watching you, not necessarily just in games but everywhere.”

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The coaches working to help the players in Bowie simulate a normal season include Triple-A Norfolk manager Gary Kendall; Triple-A and Double-A pitching coaches Kennie Steenstra and Justin Ramsey; Triple-A and Double-A fundamentals coaches Ramon Sambo and Butch Davis; and Tom Eller, Ryan Fuller and Anthony Villa, the respective hitting coaches at High-A Frederick, Low-A Delmarva and short-season Aberdeen, Britton said.

Despite that specialized attention, the downside is the alternate site doesn’t have enough players to field two full teams for intrasquad games that would allow the organization to replicate game action and keep players ready should they need to be promoted to Baltimore.

Of the nine healthy position players who are in the Orioles’ player pool but not their Opening Day roster, four are catchers, with top prospect Adley Rutschman in a group that also features Bryan Holaday, Taylor Davis and Austin Wynns. Ryan Mountcastle, Yusniel Díaz, Mason Williams, Dilson Herrera and Ramón Urías are the other position players available.

Kremer is among the pitching prospects at the camp along with left-handers DL and Keegan Akin and right-handers Michael Baumann and Isaac Mattson. Eric Hanhold, Branden Kline, Chandler Shepherd, Héctor Velázquez, Thomas Eshelman, Cesar Valdez and Rob Zastryzny will also get innings in Bowie.

With the coronavirus pandemic ongoing, Britton called safety “the No. 1 priority” at the alternate site. But creating a competitive atmosphere remains important as well. Britton said that task will be far more difficult for hitters, who might have trouble generating the adrenaline that comes with facing an opposing pitcher rather than one wearing the same team’s uniform.

“I think everybody is under the assumption that there’s going to be a ton of opportunity this year,” Britton said. “It’s inevitable that people are gonna get sick, they’re gonna contract the virus, they’re gonna come in contact with someone that’s had it, so our job down here is to, No. 1, stay healthy. I think that’s the biggest thing for us. And then as a staff figure out ways to keep guys engaged and keep them energized to come to the ballpark because it can turn into a grind, being on the taxi squad where intrasquads are the best thing we’ve got going for us and it can become monotonous.”

Players such as Kremer, Mountcastle, Akin and Díaz might have already made their major league debuts this year had the virus not cut spring training short and delayed the start of the season, a thought Kremer said “definitely sucks a little bit.” But their chance could still come.

Rutschman, however, is more likely to spend the year developing. He and Hall are the only players in the Orioles’ pool who have yet to play in the high minors, though the organization still has spots remaining in its pool and could add more prospects in the coming weeks.

Rutschman, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft, has already made a strong impression.

“I don’t think Adley would be a guy to come up this year, but if he did, I think he’s more than capable of handling himself,” Britton said. “This is a special player, but I think the most impressive thing is the human being that he is. I think it’s a rare combination. This guy is a leader the second he walks through the doors, and he’s not trying to be that guy. He just is. I’m not sure how they’re going to play this. My guess is that to rush him up this year for a 60-game season, I don’t know that that would be in the cards, but when it’s time for this guy to go, I think he’s got a chance to be a real special player.”

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