Pitchers and catchers take the field for the first time two weeks from today at the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota, Florida, and there will be many of them on hand.
On Tuesday, the Orioles issued 23 minor league invitations to spring training and will add another for left-handed pitcher Wade LeBlanc, who signed a minor league contract with the team on Tuesday.
Sixty-four players in spring training is an enormous number, and 34 of them will be pitchers.
The Orioles issued 12 invitations to pitchers. The most interesting are left-handed starters Zac Lowther, Alex Wells and Bruce Zimmermann.
A year ago, in manager Brandon Hyde’s first season, the Orioles didn’t invite Keegan Akin, another highly regarded left-hander.
Lowther had a strong season for Double-A Bowie in 2019, going 13-7 with a 2.85 ERA while Wells, a native of Australia, was 8-6 with a 2.95 ERA with the Baysox.
Zimmermann, who’s from Howard County, was obtained in the trade with Atlanta that sent Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to the Braves. He was 5-3 with a 2.38 ERA with Bowie and 2-3 with a 4.89 ERA with Triple-A Norfolk.
The Orioles are also inviting two infield prospects, Rylan Bannon and Mason McCoy. Bannon, who came to the Orioles in the Manny Machado trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers in July 2018, hit .317 in 20 games for Norfolk after hitting .255 with Bowie.
McCoy, who has worked his way through the Orioles’ system, earned a promotion from High-A Frederick to the Baysox last season. He hit .379 in 27 games for the Keys and .266 for Bowie.
The Orioles also extended invitations to their overall No. 1 draft choice, catcher Adley Rutschman, and top outfield prospect Yusniel Diaz.
Diaz, who hit .262 in 76 games for the Baysox, missed time because of injuries but was impressive as a non-roster invitee in 2019.
Ty Blach, Tom Eshelman and Chandler Shepherd, each of whom started games for the Orioles last season before being outrighted to Norfolk, also received invitations.
Luis Ortiz, who was obtained from Milwaukee in the Jonathan Schoop trade in July 2018 and was on the 40-man roster last season, did not get an invite.
Others invited were right-handed reliever Cristian Alvarado, who was 3-3 with a 2.66 ERA and 13 saves for Bowie; left-handed reliever Hunter Cervenka, who had a 2.25 ERA in nine games for Norfolk; and right-handers Marcos Díplan and Eric Hanhold, who were claimed on waivers but later outrighted to Norfolk.
Cervenka and Hanhold have major league experience as do right-hander Brady Rodgers, signed to a minor league contract last week, and left-hander Tom Zastryzny, who signed with the team in December.
Catchers Rutschman, Martin Cervenka, Taylor Davis and Bryan Holaday also will be in camp. Davis and Holaday signed minor league contracts in recent days.
Infielder Dilson Herrera probably has a good chance to make the team. He’s been assigned No. 2. Herrera, who has played 102 major league games with Cincinnati and the New York Mets, could help at second and third.
José Rondon, who played one game for the Orioles in 2019 and re-signed with the team, could challenge for an infield spot. Malquin Canelo, who played in the Philadelphia Phillies organization last season, is another infielder who received an invitation.
Mason Williams, who played the outfield in September for the Orioles before suffering a knee injury, hit .267 with 11 games. He joins Diaz as the only non-roster outfielders.
Showalter apparently loses out: Former Orioles manager Buck Showalter was reportedly an early candidate to interview for the Houston Astros managerial position.
Instead of Showalter replacing A.J. Hinch, who was fired by owner Jim Crane after he was suspended for the 2020 season for failing to stop the team’s electronic sign-stealing gambit, it will likely be Dusty Baker.
Baker, who was named as Houston’s choice in a report by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, hasn’t been announced as Hinch’s replacement.
Like Showalter, Baker is a solid candidate who has managed 3,500 major league games with four National League teams: San Francisco, Chicago, Cincinnati and Washington.
At 70, Baker would be by far the oldest manager in the major leagues, and the game’s most experienced.
Hinch, Alex Cora, his 2017 bench coach, who was allegedly the mastermind of the scheme, and Carlos Beltran, who as a player was reportedly a key participant, all lost their jobs because of the scandal.
Beltran was let go as New York Mets manager before he managed a game and was replaced by Luis Rojas, the son of Felipe Alou and a onetime Orioles farmhand.
Cora’s discipline has not been announced by Major League Baseball, but the Boston Red Sox ended his two-year run after Hinch was fired.
The Red Sox have been secretive about their search for Cora’s replacement.