SARASOTA, FLA. — Spring training can be a slog full of milestones both real and imagined, but wrapping the first week of full-squad workouts for the Orioles with the Grapefruit League schedule set to begin Saturday, manager Brandon Hyde said his new club is "off to a great start."
Hyde and his new staff of coaches have spent most of their time trying to create a relaxed atmosphere at Orioles camp. More focused work but less time spent on the field, as well as small additions such as music, made it clear that this camp might be different from Orioles spring trainings past. And that hasn't gone unnoticed among the players.
"I think obviously, the potential of a very doom-and-gloom spring training was upon us," right-hander Alex Cobb said. "The positive outlook that they've been able to spin into this camp after going through everything we went through last year, all the changeover, is really impressive.
"I think that starts with Hyder and what he's been able to communicate to us, and even the older guys, like myself, who I know they don't want to use the word rebuild — but whenever you're going through something like that, you don't want to be a part of it. I've had a lot of fun being here these last couple weeks, and I didn't think that was going to be so prevalent early on in camp. I thought it was going to go through a little bit of a phase, maybe a little bit of a funk, or just kind of feeling bad for the spot that we're in in the team. It's been anything but that. They've done a great job of giving a positive outlook and a reason to want to be here and enjoy our time here."
Cobb's fears were not unfounded. This is still the same Orioles roster that was intact for most of last year's franchise-record 115-loss season, and there's just as much possibility that the quality major league pieces on the roster could be traded away for future assets this summer. The new front office under executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has put most of its energy into staffing and beginning the process of building the Orioles into a premier player development outfit, without much time or resources devoted to improving the major league roster.
An offseason of reading that, on the back of a year that saw the major league team completely bottom out, could have made for a difficult camp. Hyde had an idea that this approach would work, though.
"We've been successful with how we've gone about things in the places we've been, and I think that there's a great feel here right now," Hyde said. "That was our goal coming in. I don't think you ever really know entirely until you start meeting the players and getting their personality, but I knew at that FanFest that we had a bunch of guys that were really ready to go and wanted to turn the page on some things from the standpoint of not having a great year last year from a team standpoint.
"I know that guys really wanted to get out here, and the energy level that I felt on the phone, the energy level that I felt at FanFest, that kind of cemented the fact that we're going to be able to implement what we wanted to implement here."
Several veteran players have acknowledged the different atmosphere around the team, which might not have been appropriate for a team with playoff and even World Series aspirations the way the Orioles had earlier this decade. An all-business camp made sense for those teams, but this group's modest expectations and general inexperience — the player with the most major league service time, Alcides Escobar, is on a minor league contract, and the oldest reliever, Richard Bleier, spent last April carrying the rookie backpack to the bullpen — meant the pace could be more like this one.
That said, Hyde isn't going to be the one to be tempering those expectations himself.
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"I'm not going to say [rebuild] because I don't feel that way," Hyde said. "I feel like we're going to go out and compete and get the best 25 guys and try to win every single night. I'm not worried about that. I just want to get the culture right, I want to get a great feel with our guys in the clubhouse. Obviously, we've talked a lot about being great teammates, about competing on a nightly basis, creating a winning environment, creating a great environment as a workplace. All those type of things, I think we've done that, and now we're ready to go see another jersey and continue that in the next month."