It's been years since either the Orioles or their new manager, Brandon Hyde, arrived at a spring training like this. Instead of one or two major league jobs up for grabs at the fringes of the roster, there could be a dozen, with everyday roles the spoils for the winners.
So when Hyde, his coaching staff and the 58 players or so who will arrive at spring training in Sarasota, Fla., over the next week to get to work after an offseason defined by change in the organization, the unsettled nature of the roster will feed into what Hyde hopes will be a defining characteristic of this young Orioles team in 2019.
"Competing matters to me — watching them compete and watching how they prepare," Hyde said. "It's a clean slate with me, you know? I came from a pretty good spot [with the Chicago Cubs] where in spring training, maybe there was a spot or two open when camp started. This is different. This is more how it was in '12 and '13 and '14 there, where there's a lot of young, interesting guys that we can't wait to start developing, and whether they're ready to make the big league team or not, I can't tell you right now.
"But I think it's a great situation for a lot of guys in that there's going to be innings on the mound and there's [at-bats] to be had, and to have them and the opportunity to win a job, I think as a player, that's what you want."
With so many incentives around the diamond — at least a starting middle infield job, third base, right field and catcher don't have immovable incumbents — Hyde will likely get the best from his new roster of players. He knows how deceiving video can be, but to this point that's most of his background with the players who will fill the spring training clubhouse.
"That's what the next two months is going to be, of getting to know them as well as we can and making really good decisions with [general manager] Mike [Elias] and understanding that this is a development deal, and we're going to put guys in positions to have success," Hyde said. "I feel good about that. But I think right now if you asked me to pick 25, I'd be lying to you if I said I had it nailed down. I think that's what the next two months are for."
The feeling at FanFest last month was that Hyde, his staff and the players were ready for that to get going. Several players said there was an energy at the event that was missing in previous years, which could be attributed to turning the page on one of the worst seasons in baseball history and moving on to something everyone feels will be different.
"[It's] putting last year to bed, and not, I guess, trying to wonder why something's not working up to the level that it should have," outfielder Mark Trumbo said. "You get kind of a new start, the expectations are going to be far more modest than maybe they were last year, and I think that's what you have to do to kind of get some momentum and confidence going for younger guys, as opposed to, 'Why aren't you producing?' Give them a little time to work their way in, start winning a few games. I don't know how long the timeline is, but hopefully, in a few years, this team is at the top of the leaderboard."
For Hyde, spring training will be where that begins. He said he expects the work to be pretty intensive from the start, considering all the work that needs to be done.
"With this situation, it's a little different," Hyde said. "This is more — they didn't play in the postseason. They had a longer offseason. I know the shortcomings from last year. We're going to dive into, really, the fundamentals. I believe in simple. I believe in being the best base-running team in the league. I believe in catching the baseball. So a lot of the defense, base-running components, that's something we're going to really focus on."
Tim Cossins, who came with Hyde from Chicago and will serve as his major league field coordinator and catching instructor, said what they accomplish over seven weeks in Florida will set the tone for the rest of this staff's time in Baltimore.
"I think it's the most important piece, as we're getting going," Cossins said. "These 40-something days down there will cement a lot of the things that we have going forward. So, vitally important on a lot of levels.
"Relationships, which you've heard a lot of, we've said it a lot. And just getting our 'moj'. We call it the moj, getting our moj as the team. That's a really important component. There's a lot of things that go into this and I think the thing that glues everything together is the moj."