SARASOTA, Fla.—The first day of Orioles spring training was unlike any other in years. Former manager Buck Showalter wasn’t hurrying around, checking in on everything and everybody. Former general manager Dan Duquette wasn’t speaking in his staccato-like tones, describing his newest acquisitions.
Showalter, who had managed the team for more than eight years, has been replaced by Brandon Hyde; Duquette’s replacement is 36-year-old Mike Elias.
Hyde comes from the Chicago Cubs and has grown accustomed to a team that contends. He’ll have to adjust his sights in 2019.
Although the Orioles lost a franchise-record 115 games in 2018, there aren’t many new players on the team. Elias has added just five players to the 40-man roster who weren’t in the organization a year ago.
“I don’t know it was a plan,” Elias said Tuesday. “If we were making a move on the roster, we want to feel like we’re making some incremental improvement. I don’t want to get guys off the roster just because we’re trying to change things. There are good players here. We want to try and help the players that are here.
“We see things in these guys that we like. We want to have spring training for all of us to lay our eyes on them, and it just resulted in a mild winter in terms of activity.”
Elias wasn’t hired until nearly Thanksgiving, and it wasn’t until mid-December that Hyde was hired.
“We didn’t want to make any decisions with the major league roster that we’d regret just because we were a little naïve,” Elias said.
Those decisions left the Orioles with just a handful of positions already set.
“It was a tough last year for the team,” Elias said. “It was a lot of losses. It was a hard season, a lot of disappointing individual performances. I also think the players now understand the new administration is in place, a new major league coaching staff.”
Of the eight Orioles coaches, just one, assistant hitting coach Howie Clark, was with the team a year ago. Two others, bullpen coach John Wasdin and all-purpose coach Jose Hernandez, were in the organization.
“There’s a lot of optimism in terms of a fresh start and a big opportunity,” Elias said.
“We’re going to be taking a fresh look at really every position on the diamond. There are a lot of competitors for each spot, and this camp’s going to be essentially an open competition wherever you look, and so it’s exciting for a lot of the young guys and the new guys here because they know they’ve got a chance to win a job.”
Tuesday was the day pitchers and catchers were scheduled to report, but there were a handful of position players in attendance. Mark Trumbo was there and so was rookie outfielder Ryan McKenna and non-roster utility hopeful Christopher Bostick.
With the addition of outfielder Eric Young Jr., the Orioles will have 60 players in camp.
“These next six weeks are going to be really, really important and we’re going to dive into every single guy,” Hyde said. “Obviously, our roster’s not set, and I think that we’re going to go on past history. Past history is really, really important.”
Last season, the Orioles drew 1.56 million fans, the lowest full-season total in the last 40 years. It might be hard to sell fans on the patience required for a multi-year rebuild.
“If you like baseball, this is an interesting process, and it’s a rewarding process, and you get to see players grow and you get to follow them in the minor leagues all the way up in their careers,” Elias said.
The first-year GM is trying to get fans to watch the future Orioles in Aberdeen, Delmarva, Frederick and Bowie.
“I can tell you from first-hand experience, it’s very rewarding, and it’s going to be very special,” he said. “As we grow as an organization, and as fans come to spring training or a minor league affiliate that are all staggered around the Baltimore area, more or less, you have access to these guys that’s not as easy when their careers are more mature and the team is more settled.”
Elias, who is just getting to know the spring training facility, walked around wearing a gray Orioles cap while Hyde wore Orioles shorts. It’s been less than three months since Elias has been hired, and two months since Hyde came aboard.
For the new manager, it’s been an adjustment.
“I haven’t had time to sit back and just kind of relax and think about that,” Hyde said. “I think there are certain things along the way that, yeah, it’s super cool and I’ve worked hard to get to this point. I feel great about where we are, I feel great about our preparation going into spring training. I’m looking forward to, I think maybe tomorrow, or the first day of full squad, when I stand there with a fungo and it’s like, ‘This is our club.’ But, yeah, honestly, I’ve been so busy that I haven’t reflected too much.”