Sarasota, Fla. — Just as soon as the pitchers and catchers settled into their routines, the mandatory arrival of the Orioles’ full camp roster shook things up Monday, leading to a crowded group of fields at the Ed Smith Stadium complex.
The first day for the hitters meant a jumbled schedule, with pitchers throwing live batting practice early in the morning and the workout stretching deeper into the afternoon than usual. But especially for this Orioles team, which had plenty of roster turnover among the hitters this offseason and could end up going in several directions for their 13-player contingent on Opening Day, there was plenty to be gleaned about the present and future from how things were set up and what was done Monday.
From Ryan Mountcastle’s first-day position to Chris Davis’ batting practice breakdown and the technology being used to help the position players, here are five noteworthy observations from the Orioles’ first full-squad workout.
Mountcastle with the outfielders
When the infielders and outfielders split up, it was interesting to see power-hitting prospect Ryan Mountcastle trudge off to the stadium field with the outfielders. Mountcastle got work in left field in a rotation with Dwight Smith Jr. and Anthony Santander, his first spring exposure to the outfield.
Last year, the first day of full-squad workouts included Mountcastle’s introduction to first base after beginning his career at shortstop and spending a season and a half at third base. He got to camp and had to borrow a first baseman’s mitt, and started the year there at Triple-A Norfolk before he was introduced to the outfield midseason.
Mountcastle, like Trey Mancini before him, will probably get plenty of work at both spots as camp rolls on. He’s had plenty of work at first base before the full squad reported. But this is valuable time, with so many major league coaches around so many young players, and on the first day, Mountcastle was working out as an outfielder.
Chris Davis’ first BP
When Davis rode on a golf cart from the practices fields to the Ed Smith Stadium field for batting practice, he brought a crowd with him, including manager Brandon Hyde. Hyde and hitting coach Don Long stood watch behind the cage as Davis, with his new bulked-up physique, took swings.
Before he began, Davis got into a deep, unbalanced squat, almost as if he was doing a yoga pose in the batter’s box. Then, he crouched all the way down with the bat over his head, jokingly demonstrating all the stance and swing changes he decided not to make in the offseason.
Once he began taking hacks, Davis seemed to have a regular batting practice round. There was a fair share of balls sliced the other way into the turtle-shell cage, but that could just be a symptom of him trying to tune his swing to the opposite field.
There was also, of course, plenty of home runs. It’s hard to judge what Davis’ offseason bodybuilding will do to his game, but the fact that anyone is trying illustrates just how much scrutiny comes with being a player with his salary and recent struggles on his resume.
The opposite of a photo finish
Last spring, the introduction of high-speed cameras to the area behind the bullpens was viewed as a symbol of the organization embracing technology and all that comes with it. Most of that, however, was reserved for the pitching side in 2019.
Those cameras were set up on a practice field Monday to be put to use with the position players. The Orioles’ advanced scouting and video staffs had two cameras set up — one with a side-view and one with a front-view of a player simulating his running break off a base.
Under the supervision of first base coach Anthony Sanders, the base runners did two rounds of base-stealing breaks, with the cameras collecting video that can later be dissected and used to make adjustments that can account for the split-second difference between a caught-stealing and standing safely at second base.
It’s been promised by members of the front office that some of the data-driven methods and technological advances that so helped the minor league pitchers last year will extend to the position players this year. The first day of full workouts was a good example of what that could look like in practice.
Where you want to be
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When the players returned to the fields late Monday morning after a full-team meeting, the first post-stretch order of business was base running drills. A lot can change in the course of the spring, but there was certainly one field someone who hoped to make the major league team would have wanted to be on.
The group was split in two, with Davis, José Iglesias, Hanser Alberto, Rio Ruiz, Renato Núñez, Richie Martin, Pat Valaika, Stevie Wilkerson, Dwight Smith Jr., Austin Hays, Mason Williams and Anthony Santander forming one group. DJ Stewart was also watching on that field as he recovers from an ankle injury, and presumably Mancini would have been with them if he wasn’t sidelined because of an illness.
It doesn’t include Richard Ureña, who’s out of minor league options, and Wilkerson and Valaika are both off the roster, but those players would likely be considered front-runners to make the club if the decisions had to be made now.
When those groups split up for infield and outfield work, the outfielders were all together while the infielders split into two sides. Valaika went to the other field to play first base, essentially making for an entire field of infielders who aren’t exactly known commodities to Orioles fans (or the coaching staff at camp).
Infield has been a constant depth issue that executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias has had to address through minor league free agency and waiver claims over the past year-plus, as the area hasn’t produced even enough high-minors depth to get through a season in recent years.
On that field alone, there were two prospects (Rylan Bannon and Mason McCoy), four players brought into the organization on waivers (José Rondón, Ureña, Ramón Urías and Valaika), and two minor league free agents acquired in the offseason (Dilson Herrera and Malquin Canelo).
This wouldn’t be a group requiring nametags if Mountcastle was taking balls at first base instead of in the outfield. Either way, it represents a pretty eye-opening look of just how much attention has gone toward building some high-minors depth at an area that simply hasn’t produced the required amount of talent in recent years.