Usually, Orioles general manager Mike Elias has easy answers for questions he gets during conferences with the media. In Thursday’s conference call, he couldn’t give specifics because, like everyone else in this country, Elias doesn’t know when the coronavirus emergency will abate.
He said no one in the Orioles’ organization has tested positive for the virus, and that his players are where they want to be, whether in their homes or, for a small number, training or receiving medical attention at the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota.
Elias isn’t sure if the June draft will be delayed or held, but said he wants one this year and believes that player development is one of the key areas affected by the stoppage.
“Every player and every organization will be impacted the same way,” Elias said. “That will alleviate some of the ill effects of this disruption when it comes to minor leaguers.
“It’s tough for young guys, especially the guys right out of high school, who are still in A-ball. Those are really precious at-bats, and there’s college players out there right now that aren’t getting at-bats. There’s just no baseball being played.
“It’s going to be something that we’re going to be continually assessing and talking about during the layoff. It’s one of these things that we’re going to have to deal with.”
Orioles won’t rule out fanless games: On April 29, 2015, the Orioles played the only game without fans in major league baseball history during the unrest in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray.
Orioles Senior Vice President, Community Development and Communications Jennifer Grondahl said that resuming play without fans isn’t a preferred solution.
“I’m in favor of whatever we have to do to keep in line with the CDC’s recommendations,” she said. “If we are able to put baseball players on a field and we feel that we can safely do that for their protection, I’m in favor of that. Of course, we would prefer to have fans at Oriole Park just as the fans would prefer to be there. I’m in favor of whatever we have to do that’s a wise decision. It’s bigger than baseball for us. We want to do what’s right for the community, and we’ll follow the guidelines that are set for us.”
Grondahl said that the shutdown’s financial impact is likely to be substantial.
“It would be naïve of any of us not to think they were going to be pretty substantial,” Grondahl said. “We’re preparing to play baseball and, as Mike said, we want to play as many games as possible and certainly that would address part of that question.”
She said major league teams will compensate ballpark employees for $30 million of lost wages. Earlier in the day, MLB announced it would hand out a lump sum payment for all minor league players to compensate them for expenses from now until the scheduled start of the minor league season on April 9.
Cutting four: The only surprise among the four Orioles optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Thursday — outfielder/first baseman Ryan Mountcastle, outfielder Cedric Mullins, pitcher David Hess and infielder Ramón Urias — was Mullins.
Mullins began the 2019 season as the Orioles’ starting centerfielder. After a 6-for-64 start at the plate, was sent to Triple-A Norfolk and then to Double-A Bowie.
Austin Hays will be the likely Opening Day centerfielder, and Hays needs a backup. Mullins was thought to be in the mix for that position.
This move principally helps two players, Andrew Velásquez and Mason Williams. Velásquez, who’s in the competition for a utility role, has played some center field and Williams, who is a non-roster player, can play all three outfield positions.
Stevie Wilkerson, who was also in camp on a minor league contract, played more games in center than any other player in 2019. He’s also a possibility because he can play the infield and outfield.
Mountcastle was expected to be sent down to learn to play left field and work on plate discipline. Urias was behind Velásquez and Pat Valaika for a utility spot.
Hess was both a starter and reliever last season and wasn’t considered a possibility to start. The Orioles have a number of other relievers who performed well in spring training.
The Orioles’ roster is at 50.