UPPER MARLBORO-Heading into his second spring training as Orioles general manager, Mike Elias can picture the future. Though the team is still not close to contention, Elias said there are players heading to Sarasota for the start of spring training on Tuesday whom he expects to be in Baltimore sooner rather than later.
“A lot of those guys are going to have a chance to make the team out of spring training, and if they don’t they’re going to be in Triple-A and knocking on the door,” Elias said on Saturday at the Birdland Caravan stop at the Calvert Brewing Company in Upper Marlboro. “And, obviously, we have some of our younger guys coming. I just think we’re going to be seeing more and more of that, and it’s a good indication for the future.”
Pitchers Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer, outfielder Ryan McKenna and infielder Ryan Mountcastle will be in Sarasota as part of the 40-man roster. Pitchers Zac Lowther, Alex Wells and Bruce Zimmmermann, infielder Rylan Bannon and outfielder Yusniel Diaz are non-roster invitees. Elias said pitcher Michael Baumann was also considered for a non-roster invite and might get some innings with the team early in spring training.
Each player was in Double-A Bowie or higher last year, and Mountcastle could be in Baltimore early this season. As for the pitchers, Elias said he prefers that they spend another year in the minors.
“Some guys move really fast … but Triple A [Norfolk] is not easy, and it just depends on the case,” Elias said. “For us, we are prioritizing development over individual players right now.”
Last year’s overall No. 1 draft pick, catcher Adley Rutschman, will be in camp as well, although no decision has been made on where he’ll start in the minors in 2020. Elias mentioned he could start in High-A Frederick, but that he might be back in Low-A Delmarva for a short time to start the year. Rutschman started last year in the Gulf Coast League before being promoted to short season Single-A Aberdeen and then Delmarva for the Shorebirds’ playoff run.
“I think a guy with his pedigree, profile and age … typically those guys will start in High-A,” Elias said. “But we’re not going to set anything in stone. We’ll talk to him and the coaches about it. We haven’t made any decisions about where he’s at.”
By drafting Rutschman and seeing a number of other players take steps forward, the Orioles’ farm system is in a better place than it was at the beginning of last year. According to Baseball America, the Orioles had the No. 22 farm system in the MLB before the 2019 season. By the end of last season, it had moved up to ninth. Rutschman (No. 5), pitcher Grayson Rodriguez (No. 35) and pitcher DL Hall (No. 47) were included on the publication’s Top 100 list.
“It’s not everything, but it’s a barometer and over time there are now multiple credible organizations that rank farm systems and prospects,” Elias said. “When you look across four or five, you can start to get the picture. Doesn’t mean you’re going to be right or wrong about everything but with our farm system going from consensus bottom 10 to now at this time being No. 9 to No. 15, I think there’s something there.”
McKenna ready to get started: As an outfielder for the Bowie Baysox last year, McKenna got a first-hand look at some of the Orioles’ top minor league talent. Baumann, Kremer, Lowther, Wells and Zimmermann pitched well in Double-A, and Diaz showed flashes at the plate and in the field despite nagging injuries.
“The talent we have in the system up and down the organization is very exciting.,” McKenna said. “I’m going to continue to praise those guys for what they’ve done and what they’re capable of in the future. It’s going to be a fun time for everyone, and I’m excited as a teammate as well.”
It’s been a different offseason for McKenna, 22, who slashed .232/.321/.365 in Double-A last season. The Orioles added him to the 40-man roster in November to protect him from being selected in the Rule 5 draft, which McKenna called “a pretty significant milestone.”
Instead of going home for the winter, he spent the past few months working out at Dynamic Sports Training (DST) in Houston with other professional baseball players. Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa and third baseman Alex Bregman, and Colorado Rockies outfielder David Dahl have trained at the facility in recent years. At DST, he focused on having a better bat path with his swing and general improvement.
As he heads into his second major league spring training, McKenna said he has a better idea of what to expect and has a blueprint for making the most of the opportunity.
“[The Orioles] know what I’m capable of,” McKenna said. “Being confident in that and showing what I can do and being motivated and competitive to make the team along with being an encouraging teammate. It’s just balancing everything, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”