SARASOTA, Florida—As pitchers, catchers and a few position players reported to the Ed Smith Stadium complex on Tuesday, there was, as always, an air of optimism. But there was still the realization that the Orioles were beginning the second full season of a tortuous rebuild.
“We know where we’re at this year,” general manager Mike Elias said. “We’re realistic about our chances in the American League East this year.”
A year ago, Elias and manager Brandon Hyde were in their first camp. Now, there are 67 players expected to be on their camp roster.
“Feels different because I’m used to the complex and we know all the players, or most of the players now,” Hyde said. “It’s a great feeling to be back here. Weather’ beautiful and looking forward to getting started tomorrow.”
Pitchers and catchers take the field on Wednesday morning. The position players must report by Sunday and have their first workout on February 17. The Orioles still might sign a starting pitcher.
“We’re working on it,” Elias said. “I can’t really handicap it right now. There are players out there. There are free agents out there that are good pitchers that would either be upgrades for us … guys that can come in and compete for depth purposes, so we’re working on it. We’ll just see.”
Elias wouldn’t rule out multiple signings.
“We’ve got a large camp right now,” Elias said. “If there are two guys that we think can help us, we won’t draw the line right now.”
The Orioles have invited some of their top pitching prospects in the high minors — Zac Lowther, Alex Wells and Bruce Zimmermann, none of whom will begin their season with the team. Overall, there are better players here now that there were in 2019.
“I think it’s getting better,” Elias said. “I think a lot of the talent that was in the organization when we came in at this time last year, we’ve got a better feel for it. A lot of those guys took steps forward, had a good year in the minor leagues, so that’s on the rise. [Adley] Rutschman’s here in camp.
“Going over the 40-man roster and looking at the players that are here, we’ve got hopes for all of them, and they’re all talented, and they have things to like about them, so we definitely feel like it’s coming together. It’s a part of a longer process, but it’s moving in the right direction.”
Outfielder DJ Stewart was one of three position players spotted when the clubhouse was open to the media. Infielders Rio Ruiz and Pat Valaika were the others. Stewart is recovering from offseason ankle surgery and isn’t expected to start the season with the Orioles.
“He’s progressing well,” Hyde said. “He’s going to be slow-played a little bit in camp because he’s still recovering, but he’s going through his progressions well and the rehab. They feel real positive about how his rehab’s gone. I think he’s going to be behind a little bit going in, but we’ll see how it goes throughout the next six weeks.”
At the Winter Meetings in December, Hyde said that he wanted at least eight candidates for the starting rotation. He has that many now and said that Hunter Harvey, who impressed late last season in the bullpen, isn’t one of them.
Harvey is a favorite to pitch in the late innings, and he said that he’s not assuming he’ll be with the Orioles on March 26 for Opening Day.
“I still have an option,” Harvey said. “There’s always that chance that you can be sent down. I don’t think anything’s guaranteed, yet.”
Hyde said there are no new injuries he’s aware of nor are there expected to be any delays because of visa issues.
Castro welcomes camp: One player who’s thankful to be safe is reliever Miguel Castro, who survived an armed robbery last month in the Dominican Republic.
“Whatever happened, it’s already in the past,” Castro said through a translator. “I’m not thinking about it anymore. Right now just concentrating on the next season and doing the best job that I can.”
Castro said that he thought about the robbery, in which a gold chain was taken, for two or three weeks afterward.
“For a while, every time I went to bed, I kept reimagining everything that happened,” Castro said.
Rule 5 arrivals: Among those who were already in the clubhouse were Rule 5 picks, right-handers Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker.
“Both of those guys have started in the past,” Hyde said. “Bailey has just started, so we look at him as a definite starter candidate. Rucker was a starter up until last year when they moved him into the bullpen to see what his stuff looked like out of the ‘pen. But he does have a starter history, also. So, we’re going to stretch out both of those guys and give them a long look.”
More infield depth: The Orioles claimed infielder Ramón Urias on waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals. To make room for Urias on the roster, they outrighted Valaika, who cleared waivers.
The 25-year-old Urias has never played in the majors. He hit .262 with 10 home runs and 55 RBIs for Triple-A Memphis, Double-A Springfield and High-A Palm Beach.
Urias can play second, third and shortstop. He played five years in Mexico before joining the Cardinals in 2018.
This is the second time Valaika has been taken off the Orioles’ roster. Last month, he was claimed on waivers by Arizona on January 16 and reclaimed by the Orioles on January 30.