SARASOTA, Fla. — One swing in a Grapefruit League game between two split-squad teams won’t change the organizational perception of a player, but Hudson Haskin took advantage of the opportunity presented to him Monday.
Baltimore’s second-round pick in 2020, Haskin was perhaps the most notable exclusion when it came to prospects the Orioles brought to major league spring training as nonroster invitees. An outfielder Baseball America ranks as the organization’s No. 26 prospect, Haskin got his first opportunity to play in a big league exhibition on the home side of Monday’s split-squad contest, homering as a pinch hitter in his first at-bat.
“Anytime you can get out here, big league atmosphere, is something to try not to take for granted,” Haskin said. “I was glad I was able to go out there and do something positive, help the team.”
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Haskin, 24, had an .821 OPS with 15 home runs last year with Double-A Bowie. The Orioles’ nonroster invitees included an outfielder who finished the year a level below him and another drafted a year after him, though both Heston Kjerstad and Colton Cowser were both first-round picks. They also homered Monday; Kjerstad’s improved his battling line to 11-for-23 this spring and came in the other half of Monday’s split-squad game at the Atlanta Braves, while Cowser’s was his second opposite-field shot at Ed Smith Stadium after he ended last year at Triple-A.
The club also has plenty of major league outfielders, with Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander entrenched as starters and several players with major league experience part of a deep competition for a bench spot.
Asked whether he was surprised to not receive an invite to big league camp, Haskin responded, “I can’t really speak on that. Just trying to get the most out of wherever I’m at and get ready for the season.”
As games begin on the minor league side, Haskin will surely receive more regular playing time than he would have as a reserve on the major league roster. The Orioles have already reassigned two other position players prospects who closed 2022 with Bowie, so it’s possible even if Haskin was invited, he already would be back at Twin Lakes.
Still, this represents a significant season for Haskin. He’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft in December, and those circumstances could make him the ideal piece for the Orioles to include in a trade this summer. His play could also encourage Baltimore to add him to its 40-man roster, or at least convince another organization to take him as a Rule 5 pick.
He said his big offseason focus was adding strength, “trying to get more physical,” while honing his unique swing. In one at-bat, he showcased the results of both efforts. But a lot more like it will be needed.
Another good Gibson day
Kyle Gibson said the heavy winds blowing out to left field didn’t affect his third exhibition start as much as the 25-minute rain delay that preceded it. He also didn’t point to the gusts as an excuse for the first-inning home run he allowed.
“It’s a pitch right down the middle,” Gibson said, “so it deserves to be hit pretty far.”
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Akil Baddoo’s solo shot accounted for the only run Gibson allowed in his four innings as the veteran continued his march toward an Orioles rotation spot, a competition officially reduced to 10 on Monday with left-hander Drew Rom optioned. Gibson noted locating his pitches is more important to his path to success than pure stuff, with two thrown on Monday offering examples: the one that Baddoo hit out and a cutter that Marco Feliciano lined back at Gibson, who caught it amid retiring eight consecutive Tigers.
He said the adjustments he’s making between outings are carrying into games and producing results; he’s allowed two runs and eight base runners over nine innings this spring. Given his status as the most veteran member of the pitching staff and having signed a $10 million deal in the offseason, he should be viewed as a front-runner to make the opening day start for the Orioles on March 30 in Boston against the Red Sox.
“I think this place has been as advertised, for sure,” Gibson said. “Everybody has a lot of passion, a lot of heart in what they’re doing. They’re working hard, staff and players as well. I think it makes for a smooth camp, makes for a camp that has been pretty successful for our group and getting our guys ready.”
Big day for bench bats
Monday’s split-squad game meant almost all of the Orioles’ candidates to be a left-handed hitter off their bench were in one of their two starting lineups; the exception was Ryan O’Hearn, who is still nursing a tweaked right knee.
In Sarasota, Franchy Cordero followed a solo shot from Adam Frazier with one of his own, ending the day with a .478 average and 1.391 OPS. Continuing his recent tear, Josh Lester hit a three-run home run in North Port.
Fellow nonroster invitees O’Hearn and Lewin Díaz have had impressive moments in camp. Terrin Vavra and Kyle Stowers, young players already on the 40-man roster, have shown their readiness, as well.
“We’re all having a really good camp,” Cordero said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “And I think that ultimately, that competition brings out the best in us.”