SARASOTA, FLA. — The Orioles' three-day minicamp this week seemed to come and go quickly, but the gathering at the Ed Smith Stadium complex accomplished a lot in a short time.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter had a chance to connect names and faces, to see if the videos he has seen of pitchers throwing match up to what it looks like up close. He received an early glimpse of players who he will soon have to evaluate, like Rule 5 draft picks Jason Garcia and Logan Verrett.
Major league coaches and player development staff were able to gain more insight into where some of the organization's top minor league pitchers rank going into spring training.
Some fringe players had the opportunity to entice the Orioles to be considered for an invitation to major league spring training. Familiar faces like right-handers Chris Tillman, Tommy Hunter and Ryan Webb were able to get a jump on spring training, even if it was to close on a condominium, which was a reason that brought Hunter here.
"The last two or three years, it's been big for our success, being able to get a head start," Showalter said. "This is all voluntary — not only by the players, but ownership's been very supportive of it."
And Showalter wanted to make sure the front office, his coaches and the player development staff are on the same page going into spring training. He organized a conference call with all parties to make sure everything is accounted for.
"I want the players to know when they get here that there's been a lot of time and thought put into knowing them and knowing what they're going to bring when they get here," Showalter said. "Get through the period of adjustment, so when we get here [in February], we can start doing the things it takes to get better. That's what this is all about."
Before catching his flight home to Dallas on Wednesday, Showalter sat behind his desk and proudly rattled off a list of heights and weights, boasting about how outfielder Henry Urrutia gained 10 pounds in the offseason and how Webb lost 18 pounds.
Pitching prospect Hunter Harvey added 12 pounds to his lean frame, while left-hander Brian Gonzalez — the Orioles' third-round pick last year — came in having shed 18 pounds. Minor league catcher Jonah Heim, who hasn't played above short-season Single-A Aberdeen, drew Showalter's attention because of his size. The 19-year-old measured up a quarter inch shy of 6 feet 4.
The greatest gain of the week, however, might have been the Orioles' opportunity to briefly see third baseman Manny Machado and check his progress from the August surgery to repair a partially-torn ligament in his right knee.
The focus would be on Machado regardless — especially since each of his past two seasons have ended abruptly because of knee surgeries — but the Orioles will depend more on Machado's healthy return in 2015 given the losses of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis from their lineup.
Machado said he hasn't discussed a schedule with Showalter, but he plans to be a full go by the first day of spring training. The Orioles' first full workout is scheduled for Feb. 25.
"I think coming here, we didn't talk about [a schedule]," Machado said. "[Showalter] just wanted to see where I'm at. Obviously, I told him I'll be ready. I think I'll be ready. I think I'll be ready to be out there come Day 1 of spring. We're just taking it how it is, not putting any, 'You're going to be ready here, You're going to playing there.' [It's more saying], 'Hey, you feel right? Go out there and do what you can do and play baseball, and have fun at the same time.'"
Machado has yet to play a full major league season. He arrived in the big leagues in August 2012, his 2013 season was ended by a torn ligament in his left knee suffered when he stepped awkwardly on first base in September, and he had surgery on his right knee in August.
"Keep in mind the bar has been set pretty high by guys like Adam [Jones] and Matt [Wieters] and J.J. [Hardy] and Chris [Davis], for that matter," Showalter said. "Do I expect him to play 162 games this year? No. I think he would love to get a full season under his belt. The game and the baseball gods may not allow it. I don't know. This ain't easy to do to your body. You're going to have problems. I hope that we get over the hurdle of it being knee-related."
The Orioles have had a minicamp for the last four years under Showalter. In 2012 and 2013, the gathering took place in Baltimore the week before FanFest, but Showalter jumped last year at the opportunity to move the camp to Sarasota, where the weather allows the team to do more outside.
The minicamp this year might be more important than previous years because of the team's key offseason losses — Cruz, Markakis and left-handed reliever Andrew Miller. There's no secret that the Orioles are banking on the returns of Machado and Wieters from injuries and a rebound season from Davis, who hit just .196 and ended the season serving a 25-game suspension for illegal Adderall use.
"Those are two big keys of our team that left," Machado said of losing Cruz and Markakis. "That's part of the game. That happens. We all kind of knew that Nelson was probably not going to come back. Markakis was a different story. I don't know what happened there. It [stinks] that they're not there with us. We've got the same team that we had in 2012 and 2013. That's how I see it, and we were all healthy in 2013, and we came up short. I got injured.
"Things happened, but I think we're all positive coming into this year," Machado said. "That's something this team has that we have. We've just got to play with each other and see how it goes and roll the dice. We're not going to put in expectations. That's something that we've never thought of — Orioles are going to be in last place, Orioles are going to be in first. We don't care about it. The only thing we can control is how we play the game, and how we play, hard, and play it The Oriole Way like we've been doing."