These are frustrating times for Orioles director of player development Matt Blood. There are so many minor leaguers he’d like to work with and the opportunities are limited.
So far, the only minor leaguers he’s seen on the field are the small number at the Bowie alternative site to Camden Yards as the Orioles get ready to start their 60-game 2020 season.
Though the Orioles have a 60-man player pool, the vast majority of the players are with the major league team.
There are 13 players at Bowie — pitchers, Keegan Akin, Michael Baumann, DL Hall, Eric Hanhold, Branden Kline, Dean Kremer, Isaac Mattson, Chandler Shepherd and Hector Velázquez, catchers Taylor Davis and Adley Rutschman, infielder Ramón Urias and outfielder Yusniel Diaz.
Some began working out with the Orioles when summer training started on July 3rd. Others went to Camden Yards for several days before reporting to Bowie last week. Others came to Prince George’s Stadium without working out in Baltimore.
Davis, Rutschman, Shepherd and Velázquez were sent to the alternate site. Davis, Rutschman and Shepherd came back to play in Saturday night’s intrasquad game. Davis and Velázquez accompanied the Orioles to Philadelphia for Sunday night’s exhibition game in case the team needed an extra pitcher and catcher.
What stands out to some observers is that there are some top-shelf prospects who aren’t in camp: right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, the Orioles’ top pick in the 2018 draft; shortstop Gunnar Henderson, who was taken in the second round last season; and left-hander Bruce Zimmermann, who was scheduled to start for the Orioles on March 12 before the pandemic halted spring training.
“We wish we could bring everybody,” Blood said in a video conference call on Sunday. “We wish we could have every single player there.”
At least one spot will open when the Orioles take left-handed pitcher Ty Blach off the roster. Blach had Tommy John surgery on Wednesday.
But there are other players, including outfielder Heston Kjerstad, the Orioles’ first-round pick and the second overall in last month’s draft, that they’d like to take a look at, too.
One of the problems is that if the Orioles decide they want to remove a player from the pool, he’ll have to have a long-term injury or be released.
“This is a major league operation,” Blood said. “We have to protect and serve the major league team.
“We’re being pretty careful about those decisions. We’ve got some time, so we’re not necessarily rushing to make those decisions. Once the major league season gets up and running and we know how the health is of players and how this whole thing is going to operate, more decisions will be made.”
There isn’t much more Blood can do. While they’d like to, the Orioles can’t play what would in essence would be extended spring training games with prospects from the Nationals and Phillies, the two closest teams, because Major League Baseball doesn’t want to put those players at risk.
Perhaps if conditions allow, the Orioles can have an instructional league at their complex in Sarasota.
“It’s definitely something we want to do, and we’re hoping to get that opportunity,” Blood said. “Things are so hard to plan at this point, but as many players as we’re allowed to have and for as long as we want to have. We want to take advantage of that opportunity. There have been discussions, but nothing has been set in stone or any type of framework outside of speculating.”
What could be set up at Bowie is a group of starting pitchers who could be ready if needed to replace Oriole starters. Akin, Kremer and Zimmermann could be possibilities as well as any starters cut from the Orioles’ current roster, which, including Blach, is 43.
“That’s definitely part of the plan,” Blood said. “It’s what we’re working on right now. I think it’s still a little fluid because we’re not sure who’s going to be where at the start of the season. When that does get finalized, we’ll start sliding guys in where the major league team would like us to. We’ll follow the protocol as close so that we can be ready in the case that any of these guys are needed.”
Last week, Rutschman talked about some of the Zoom calls he’d participated in with other Oriole minor leaguers. He mentioned the wellness courses as well as the book clubs and cooking classes.
That’s a weak substitute for not having minor league games.
“It’s really hard to replicate live competition, live speed of the game, adrenaline,” Blood said.
“Hitters not getting live at-bats and pitchers not getting live hitters to face with runners on base when your stats are being kept. All of that is definitely not ideal.
“We’ve done everything that we can to help the players get better both on and off the field, physically, skillwise and even mentally and culturewise.
“You just can’t replicate what a season is without a season. I do feel like we’ve made some progress in some areas that would have been more difficult to make with a season. We’ve been productive and made the most of our situation. But we obviously wish we were playing baseball.”
Call for questions: This week, I’ll be answering your Orioles questions. Please leave them in the comments section or send them to: [email protected].