The Orioles begin a three-day minicamp in Sarasota on Monday, something they’ve held annually for the past few years.
It’s the brainchild of manager Buck Showalter, and throughout the year he’ll reference it – often giving credit to ownership for paying for an expense that few other clubs do.
There isn’t usually a whole lot of news that comes out of the minicamp – except when a guy like Delmon Young shows up so the Orioles can evaluate whether he’s worth a contract (he was in 2014).
One of the most important aspects of the event is that Showalter and his big-league staff has a chance to evaluate select minor leaguers before spring training occurs. Pitchers like Mychal Givens and Donnie Hart have raised eyebrows in past minicamps and put themselves squarely on the big-league radar for the following season.
What makes this week’s camp a little different is that this will be the first time that Orioles pitching coach Roger McDowell will see some of the organization’s prospects.
McDowell, hired this offseason to replace his old mentor, Dave Wallace, is well-respected for the work he did tutoring Atlanta Braves pitchers. But, like many seasoned pitching coaches, he also has the reputation of being better with veterans than younger hurlers.
Even if that’s the case, McDowell (pictured above as an Orioles reliever in 1996) should be fine in Baltimore, since most of the Orioles’ key pitchers have been in the majors for several years. Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman aren’t quite established yet, but they are also considered rather coachable.
I think the Orioles were fortunate that McDowell was on the market when they were looking for a pitching coach. Given his relationship with Wallace, it seems like a good fit. That journey starts this week.
Looking for starting pitching again?
For most of this offseason, Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette has said that starting pitching was not a priority because the cub had six legitimate options for five rotation spots.
Then a funny thing happened. The market for this mediocre starting pitching class grinded to a halt. It appeared that the best bargains this winter may end up being rotation pieces. And that had to be killing Duquette, the king of undervalued assets.
So, on Friday, Duquette traded one of his veteran pitchers away, sending Yovani Gallardo to the Seattle Mariners for outfielder Seth Smith. And, a few hours later, Duquette told reporters that, “We may sign another outfielder and we may also look at some pitching depth.”
He basically reiterated that Sunday on SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio channel. When he was asked about Jason Hammel, arguably the best free-agent starter available, Duquette admitted that, “We like him.”
Hammel, 34, pitched for the Orioles in 2012 and 2013 – he was one of Duquette’s first acquisitions in 2012, acquiring Hammel from the Colorado Rockies for Jeremy Guthrie.
Hammel was 15-10 with a 3.83 ERA in 30 starts with the Chicago Cubs last season, and was seeking a multi-year deal. But who knows if that will happen this late in the offseason?
A week ago, the Orioles couldn’t entertain such a thought. But now adding a veteran on a one-year or two-year deal (maybe one with a 2018 option) makes more sense. It is particularly realistic considering the Orioles could lose three starting pitchers – Chris Tillman, Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez – to free agency at the end of the 2017 season.
The next bat up?
Duquette made a point of saying that he is still looking for an outfielder even after the Smith trade. And that seems obvious to me. The leadoff spot still is up for grabs, and the team didn’t significantly improve its right-field defense with the acquisition of Smith.
Outfielder Brandon Moss’ name has been bandied about recently, and I never say never. But he’s another left-handed hitter who is limited defensively. If the Orioles aren’t bringing back Mark Trumbo, they could use more right-handed pop. Or, at the least, a lefty that can play above-average defense in right field (making Smith more of a DH).
It may be January, but the Orioles still have time to fill that vacancy in various ways. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they added two hitters before Opening Day: A power bat to DH some and a leadoff/left fielder, preferably a switch-hitter or right-handed hitter.