At every point in their abbreviated offseasons since joining the Orioles and becoming the figureheads of a from-the-studs organization-building process, baseball operations chief Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde have preached patience to a community that's been interested in all they plan to do but ultimately just wants to know when their club will win again.
Beginning this month in Sarasota and specifically with the individual meetings that players and staff are having beginning Tuesday as pitchers and catchers reported for spring training, there's been a similar message to the players. They'll have the opportunity to improve and win jobs, and everything from the coaching hires to the data available for them will put them in a position to do that. It's just going to be a process on their end, too.
"We're explaining to them that we're expecting to roll out a lot of advanced tools, analytics tools, over the course of the year," Elias said. "It's not going to be an instantaneous thing. We do have some stuff that we are rolling out right now and is ready to go, but there's going to be more coming, and they're excited about it because this is a tough division and all of the other opponents in our division are using this information as well.
"They're welcome to it. They're open to it. They know that we have a coaching staff here that has experience using this information realistically and in individual terms rather than a cookie-cutter approach. I think the reception has been great on that front so far, but we're preaching a little bit of patience with it as we get this stuff built."
Though so much is new about this camp for the Orioles, their first not under the stewardship of Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter since 2012, some familiar tones have already been established. Veterans will get some privileges when it comes to missing road games in spring and will have input on how camp is going. There's a familiar staggering of old and young players in the clubhouse locker assignments, though there are far more of the latter this year.
And there's an excitement for what's ahead that's being manifested in these meetings that could be perfunctory in some camps, but have proven enlightening so far here. Regardless of where the team is in implementing its new analytics department — and Elias said they're still making hires under assistant general manager Sig Mejdal as camp begins — there's enough to show the pitchers a breakdown of their pitch arsenal, including what works, what doesn't, and what specifically the new coaching staff wants them to be working on in spring training before they move on to a new set of goals.
Such implementation, in making it about the individual as opposed to dumping everything on the entire group, seems to be part of the plan.
"It's been unbelievable," Hyde said. "We've met with a handful of guys so far. We've got 50-ish guys to go. These individual meetings are wonderful for the fact that you really get a one-on-one time, talk a little bit about yourselves, talk about your goals, tell them how we feel about them at this point, tell them the things they'll be working on in spring training. Those one-on-one meetings are unbelievably valuable.
"We haven't addressed the group as a whole, but I think between me and [Hyde], we've probably individually talked to almost everybody," Elias said. "They understand what we're trying to do, and they want to be a part of it. They recognize that there's a lot of individual opportunity for them in a situation like this, and we're relying on these guys. Like I've said all along, I can't wait to see who are the guys that are going to take us to the next level, because they're here now and we just want to find out. We want to see what this group has, and see how it unfolds."
Many of the young players who populate the list of early reports, all on the pitching side, are excited to see what that means individually for them. After all, with only Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner, Alex Cobb, Mychal Givens, and Richard Bleier owning a resume that holds more than one season of true success, there are jobs both in the starting rotation and bullpen to be won. Same goes for the catcher position, where Elias said there's plenty of options with a focus on defense among the free agents brought in.
Hyde's message to the young roster has always been about competition — beginning with competing with each other in camp, through competing against teams in other uniforms in the Grapefruit League then up to New York on Opening Day. But the fact that the roster is so unsettled could not only improve the camp, but catapult the quality of the team once games start to count, too.
"There's a lot of optimism in terms of a fresh start and a big opportunity," Elias said. "We're going to be taking a fresh look at really every position on the diamond. You see there's a lot of competitors for each spot, and this camp's going to essentially be an open competition wherever you look. So it's exciting for a lot of the young guys and the new guys here, because they know they've got a chance to win a job."
"It makes camp fun and it makes camp interesting. When you have a very established roster, you're more concerned with ramping guys up and keeping them healthy and for the younger players, it might not be very realistic for them to win a job. But that's not the case here. It's going to be really cool in terms of, this is in many ways, a tryout for a lot of these guys for a major league position."
"What I like most about this is there's a lot of competition, and I think that's one of the best things that can happen to any club," outfielder Mark Trumbo said. "There's a lot of fighting for positions, and I think that's going to get the best out of everybody. There's hardly any spots that are totally wrapped up here. There's a few that are probably spoken for, but a lot of it's kind of wide open. We'll see how it goes."