Baltimore Orioles' Spring Training sights and sounds video from Sarasota, Florida. An up close look as the Orioles take part in skills and drills as they prepare for the season. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun video)
If you’ve been under a rock (or trying to avoid paying attention), the Orioles will play their 2019 home opener Thursday against the New York Yankees.
Here’s a quick catch-up guide for what you need to know before the team plays at 3:05 p.m. Thursday at Camden Yards.
1. New leadership
After suffering through 115 losses in 2018, the organization underwent a face-lift. Longtime Chicago Cubs coach Brandon Hyde replaced Buck Showalter as manager, while Mike Elias, a veteran of the St. Louis Cardinals’ and Houston Astros’ front offices, took over for Dan Duquette as the Orioles’ executive vice president and general manager. Assistant general manager Sig Mejdal is a former NASA engineer.
2. Few familiar faces
Many of the names that defined the past decade of Orioles baseball — Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Showalter and others — are gone, but there are a handful of names that fans should recognize. Chris Davis seeks to rebound after a dreadful 2018 season. One-time top prospect Dylan Bundy will try to live up to his potential. Trey Mancini returns after leading the team in home runs, runs scored and games in 2018. Mark Trumbo, another familiar face, will open the season on the newly named injured list as he recovers from last season’s knee surgery.
3. Waiting on the kids
The Orioles’ mission this season is development. As a result, the players fans most want to see might not be at Camden Yards, but in Norfolk, Bowie and Frederick. Despite putting up solid spring training numbers, a handful of prospects will begin the season in the minor leagues, with Hyde, Elias and Co. not wanting to read too much into exhibition stats. That doesn’t mean Austin Hays, Chance Sisco and the like won’t make it to Baltimore sometime this season; just not yet.
4. Late additions
Part of the reason some of those prospects were sent down were additions made after spring training began. After losing infielder Hanser Alberto to the San Francisco Giants in a February waiver claim, the Orioles claimed him back March 1; it was the second time they claimed him this offseason after doing so in January from the Yankees. On March 8, Baltimore acquired outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Orioles also added former Washington Nationals catcher Pedro Severino via a waiver claim late this spring. All three made the team’s Opening Day roster.
5. We meet again
Jones and Machado are no longer even in the American League, but they’ll still face the Orioles this season. Jones, who made five All-Star teams and won four Gold Gloves while spending over a decade in Baltimore, signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks this offseason; the O’s play a three-game series in Phoenix on July 22-24. Machado finished top 10 in MVP voting three times in his five full seasons in Baltimore and was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers last July; the San Diego Padres signed him to a 10-year, $300 million deal and play four games against Baltimore: June 25-26 at Camden Yards and July 29-30 in San Diego.
6. Opening up
The Orioles are among the teams playing around with using the “opener,” in which a relief pitcher starts a game and handles an inning or two before giving way to a starter-type pitcher in the middle innings. The Tampa Bay Rays used openers with great success last season, and the Oakland A’s even went that route in the American League wild-card game. With projected Opening Day starter Alex Cobb instead beginning the season on the injured list, Hyde has used right-hander Nate Karns as an opener twice this season, but it could be argued those have just been standard bullpen games.
7. Top pick
The most important date this Orioles season might be June 3, and not because it’s the day off before a road trip to face both Texas teams. That’s the opening night of the 2019 MLB Draft, and Baltimore has the No. 1 overall pick thanks to its 47-115 record in 2018. In what will be the organization’s first draft with Elias at the helm, possibilities for that top pick include Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman and Texas high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr.