The Orioles' annual January minicamp, which will be held this week for the fourth straight year at the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota, Fla., essentially gives the club's major league staff a head start on spring training.
It has been focused primarily on getting an early look at the organization's young pitchers, and it often offers Orioles manager Buck Showalter his first glimpse of which young arms could play a role for the major league team in the upcoming season and down the line.
Over the years, many of the team's up-and-coming pitchers — from top prospects such as Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey, to emerging projects such as Mychal Givens — took advantage of the minicamp to get some early work and face time with the major league staff before officially reporting to spring training.
Though veterans aren't required to attend, several do come to the complex to get their offseason workouts in. In the past, pitchers Chris Tillman and Zach Britton — both of whom own homes in Sarasota — have been around during the minicamp. But members of the players association aren't required to attend.
While previous years have centered around the pitchers attending, this year's camp will perhaps be more important for incoming Orioles pitching coach Roger McDowell and incoming bullpen coach Alan Mills, who will be adjusting to their new roles.
McDowell was hired in November after spending the previous 11 seasons as the Atlanta Braves pitching coach, so he will be seeing the organization's arms in person for the first time. Mills, however, brings an acute knowledge of the Orioles' minor league pitchers after serving as a pitching coach in the organization for the past five years, including the past two with Double-A Bowie.
So the combination of McDowell's experience working with young pitchers and Mills' knowledge of the Orioles organization should be a good fit for this week, especially given that this year's crop of attendees doesn't have the star power of years past.
The organization's top young pitchers, particularly Bundy and Gausman, are now at the major league level. Harvey is recovering from Tommy John elbow reconstruction and is expected to continue his throwing program at home in North Carolina.
The Orioles invested heavily in pitching in last year's draft, taking Cody Sedlock, Keegan Akin and Matthias Dietz in the first two rounds, and those arms represent the next wave of highly touted pitchers.
In between is a group of largely unheralded pitchers who will attend this week's minicamp, and have the eyes and ears of major league staff at their disposal for the first time.
That includes right-handers Jesus Liranzo and Joe Gunkel, who were both added to the organization's 40-man roster to protect them from being taken in December's Rule 5 draft. Gunkel, 25, pitched 161 innings last season with Triple-A Norfolk and Bowie, going a combined 8-14 with a 4.02 ERA. Liranzo, a 21-year-old reliever, made a midseason jump from Low-A Delmarva to Double-A Bowie last season, finishing with a combined 1.87 ERA and 66 strikeouts over 53 relief innings.
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Other confirmed attendees include left-handed reliever Garrett Cleavinger (3.07 ERA and 102 strikeouts over 76 1/3 innings between Delmarva and High-A Frederick), and right-handed relievers Jimmy Yacabonis (2.64 ERA in 64 2/3 innings at Frederick and Bowie) and Stefan Crichton (3.73 ERA in 72 1/3 innings at Bowie).
Left-hander Chris Lee, who was limited to eight games (seven starts) at Bowie last season because of lat muscle soreness in his throwing shoulder, will also attend. Lee was in big league camp with the Orioles last season and showed signs of promise, but was slowed by an injury that didn't seem serious at first but kept him out most of the season.
All in all, more conversations will be had than bullpens thrown this week. In the past, a major part of the minicamp was sit-down conversations involving each attendee with coaches about their previous seasons, the offseason and goals for the upcoming season. That communication was a big part of the approach of former pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti, and that is expected to continue under McDowell and Mills.
Givens, coming off his first full big league season, is expected to be at the minicamp to begin his dialogue with McDowell. Givens previously worked with Mills at Bowie.
The minicamp is focused on pitchers, but also offers the Orioles an opportunity to update themselves on players returning from injury.