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Why the Orioles prioritized hitting prospects over young pitchers on spring training roster | ANALYSIS

As the Orioles’ alternate-site roster developed over the course of the shortened 2020 season, there was a clear sense that their top young pitchers were having their developments prioritized with the opportunities they received.

Still, the team remained concerned that not seeing live pitching in games was going to have a particular impact on their youngest hitters. Only a handful were involved at the alternate site in Bowie.

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Their spring training roster that was announced Friday showed how the focus seems to be shifting to the young bats and supplementing their development in the coming months.

“These are formative years, formative at-bats for these position players,” executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said. “We’re a little bit more worried about that dynamic. We just want to get some of these guys here to see live pitching or track pitches, be around our coaches, and all that stuff. "

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In terms of prospects, the Orioles are using some of their spots for players who don’t count as major league depth on their best and most well-regarded young hitters who aren’t on the 40-man roster.

That list, led by Adley Rutschman and featuring Heston Kjerstad, Gunnar Henderson, Jordan Westburg, Terrin Vavra and Adam Hall, means that the Orioles will have all their top hitting prospects at camp to help launch them into whatever the minor league season looks like.

They’ll join Ryan Mountcastle, Yusniel Diaz, Ryan McKenna and Jahmai Jones — who are already on the major league roster — to form what makes the richest group of young hitting talent the Orioles have had at a camp in years. Other camp reserves who have benefited from the Orioles’ new development plans, including Mason McCoy, Brett Cumberland, Maverick Handley and Ryan Ripken, will only supplement that group.

With a 60-man limit at the alternate site last year, the Orioles devoted their spots in Bowie to the likes of Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall, Michael Baumann, Kyle Bradish and other top pitchers to get some high-level development opportunities.

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Baumann and left-handers Alexander Wells and Zac Lowther will be at camp in their first year on the 40-man roster, and Elias noted that Bradish and Kevin Smith could be added at some point. But the younger wave of pitching prospects, led by Rodriguez and Hall, will start their seasons later.

Elias said the pitchers were largely held back because of how late the minor league season will start.

“We don’t know exactly how that’s going to shake out and that minor league season is going to start later than the major league and Triple-A alternate site action, so we’re being a little mindful of the calendar timelines for getting their arms ramped up and how long they’re going to have to pitch over the course of the year, and what we’re trying to do sort of innings and workload wise for those guys,” Elias said.

Elias noted that the expectation was that after spring training ended, there would be another alternate site to bridge things, while spring training for the rest of the minor leaguers at Double-A and below wouldn’t start until April in anticipation of the season beginning in May.

“I think the anticipation right now is that things will start with, or very likely start, with an alternate site setup,” Elias said. “And as soon as Triple-A baseball in the form or fashion that we like to see it is ready to go, it will shift gears to that. We’re preparing for that, especially in conjunction with the fact that the minor league … spring training won’t start until April.

“I think what we’re going to have is we’re going to have like a month of major league baseball and then some Triple-A type players who may be in a bit of an alternate site type of setup, and then the real games against other organizations might be later than that. That’s how we’re [planning], just in case.”

There’s been some speculation that the minor league season could extend through September, so there’s no use ramping up pitchers for nearly three months before a five-month season. Instead, the Orioles are trying to get as many of their young hitters repetitions in their new hitting program as they can.

The new hitting coordinators found that having Rutschman and Henderson at the fall instructional camp with the experience from the summer alternate site allowed them to better lead and advocate for the hitting program. Now, many more can join them.

SPRING TRAINING

Key dates for the Orioles’ preseason preparations in Sarasota, Florida:

Tuesday: Pitchers and catchers report

Feb. 23: Position players report

Feb. 27: First exhibition game vs. Atlanta Braves

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