SARASOTA, FLA. — Over the course of this week in Sarasota, where the Orioles have gathered young pitchers of different prospect status and pedigree to assess where they are ahead of spring training, the whole event has occurred through the prism of the major league staff and its needs.
At present, two major league rotation spots are spoken for, and several bullpen jobs are up for grabs, too. And a pair of pitchers who have been at minicamp for the past several years — David Hess and Chris Lee — can't help but notice their presence might mean something different this year.
"I think everybody's kind of aware of what's going on, and you are aware of the opportunities there," said Hess, who was added to the 40-man roster in November after posting a 3.85 ERA at Double-A Bowie. "You want to go in and try to grab it as best as you can. I think the biggest thing is just coming in and being as prepared as you possibly can, work as hard as you can and give yourself and the team the best opportunity to succeed."
Hess, 24, is at his third minicamp, as is Lee, 25, though they've never been as close to the majors as they are now. Hess, by virtue of being added to the roster, becomes an instant depth piece who has already begun to prepare himself for the moment's-notice call that can come when you're in the Orioles' Triple-A rotation and on the big league roster in a moment of need.
Lee never got that call last year despite being at Norfolk all season, and finished with a 5.11 ERA after missing most of 2016 with a shoulder injury.
Because of that, he's focused on improvement, not the chance that could arise in the major league rotation this spring.
"It's just another year," Lee said. "I'm going to take it like I usually do, day by day and work hard. And if an opportunity comes, take it. Every year is an opportunity for you to come out and present yourself. If you're ready and a spot's open, it's your turn. If not, you keep grinding and working hard for the opportunity."
Even with the group of possible starters at minicamp, including those two, Miguel Castro and Nestor Cortes Jr., there's still a big crop that will join that conversation when pitchers and catchers report next month. That crew includes Mike Wright, Gabriel Ynoa, Jayson Aquino and Alec Asher.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said the club's choices of who to bring to minicamp were strategic in giving the team the best chance to see as many candidates for its various needs as possible.
"The criteria for being here — and we had a lot of people to pick from, you try to keep it 15, 16," Showalter said. "Not that someone who's not here doesn't have a chance to impact your club, but we felt like these guys are [players] some people from our minor league system said, 'You need to take a look at this guy,' and get a little ahead of it. ... I'm not saying everybody here has a chance to impact our club, but some of them are here for that criteria."
Pitching on the same back-field mound where Showalter first noticed something was amiss two springs ago, Orioles right-hander Hunter Harvey charmed the coaching staff with his bullpen session Tuesday.
"It brings a smile to my face, to think about how far he's come and the similarities with Dylan [Bundy]," Showalter said. "It's one thing about potentially getting a good pitcher, but another thing about the kid, the human being."
Orioles left-hander Tanner Scott is much more comfortable with the idea of being a starter than he was this time last year, and is likely going to be in that role again as the Orioles refine his impact arm.
And for a second straight day, Showalter refused to rule out the possibility of Harvey seeing major league time this season despite nearly three years of inactivity around various injuries that included Tommy John elbow reconstruction. While director of player development Brian Graham had an idea of several pitchers' Opening Day assignments Tuesday, he said no one knew Harvey's.
"You let your eyes and ears tell you, because you can't get anybody medically, even trainers, to say this is exactly what you do," Showalter said. "It's too much of a moving target. We'll see what happens. The hitters will tell us. He will tell us, more importantly. He's come so far, he's not going to do anything."
Left-hander Alex Wells, the team's Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2017, will likely begin 2018 with High-A Frederick. ... Showalter said the team won't pencil in Brad Brach as Zach Britton's deputy just yet, adding there are several pitchers capable of doing the job in 2018, including Darren O'Day and possibly Mychal Givens.