Fifty-five Orioles minor leaguers, including last year’s overall No. 1 pick, catcher Adley Rutschman, are reporting to the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota, Florida on Monday for Instructional League.
The Instructional League will run until the last week of October.
Rutschman, who spent the summer at the Orioles’ alternate site at Bowie, will be joined by DL Hall, the left-handed pitcher who was the Orioles’ top pick in 2017, and Grayson Rodriguez, the right-hander chosen No. 1 in 2018.
Hall and Rodriguez also were at the alternate site.
“This takes on special meaning this year with the lack of a minor league season due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said in a video conference call on Monday.
“It’s going to be a very important player development, player evaluation, player planning even for our organization. We’ve devoted a lot of organizational resources towards having a successful camp in Sarasota.”
Heston Kjerstad, the team’s No. 1 pick in 2020, will not be there because of an “undisclosed medical, non-sports-related reason,” Elias said.
The other five players drafted in 2020 — infielders Anthony Servideo, Coby Mayo, Jordan Westburg, outfielder Hudson Haskin and pitcher Carter Baumler — also be there.
Kjerstad was not at the alternate site at Bowie.
“It’s not great. The fact that he’s an advanced high-level college hitter makes it a little less concerning that he ended up not getting much organized activity this year,” Elias said. “It looks like that will be the case. It makes it a little more tolerable just because we believe he’s a pretty polished hitter. He’ll be able to pick up next spring where he left off.
“For all these guys, this has been a concerning year, and certainly this would not have been our plan, but this has been a hard year to predict the future.”
Other prominent minor leaguers on the list are shortstop Gunnar Henderson, who was the second-round pick in 2019, pitchers Zac Lowther and Drew Rom, infielders Rylan Bannon, Adam Hall and Terrin Vavra. All were at the alternate site for at least some of the 2020 season except for Hall and Rom. Vavra was obtained along with infielder Tyler Nevin in the August 30th deal with Colorado for relief pitcher Mychal Givens.
“We haven’t really seen these players this year in person,” Elias said. “Just a little bit in spring training for some of these guys. I think the biggest value we’re going to draw out of this other than a few weeks development is getting plugged in with these guys and getting our hands on them for a little bit so that we have a very clear plan for them for the rest of the winter when they go home, and we have a good sense of where they left off, and what they need to do and what they need to work on.
“A lot of these guys are just flat-out new to the organization so I think there will be a small degree of evaluation there, and a general orientation.”
Two pitchers who were at Bowie, right-hander Kyle Bradish, obtained from the Los Angeles Angels for Dylan Bundy last December, and Kevin Smith, who came from the Mets on August 31st for reliever Miguel Castro, won’t be in Sarasota because they’ve pitched enough innings this summer.
Elias said Instructional League won’t necessarily be an extension of the work at Bowie. Most of the players attending weren’t at the alternate site.
“Some aspects will be similar,” Elias said. “The particular curriculum that we’ll be using in some areas will carry forth from Bowie. This is going to be a little bit larger number. We’re going to have more fields at our disposal because it’s Ed Smith. I think it will have more of an Instructional League structure and feel, but with the enhanced health and safety protocols that we saw at Bowie and Camden Yards.”
Elias said that the Orioles have invited some of the international players signed in July 2019 but aren’t able to bring Venezuelan players because of travel restrictions. The young players acquired from Colorado, Miami and the New York Mets aren’t available because the Orioles couldn’t process the work visas in time.
Elias hopes that later in the winter there will be opportunities at the team’s facility in the Dominican Republic for those and other international players.
The Orioles don’t know yet whether they’ll play nearby clubs. Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay have complexes within an hour of Sarasota.
“I think all the teams in Florida are hopeful for getting some intersquad action here,” Elias said.
The workouts, which will be supervised by Kevin Bradshaw, who managed Short Season Aberdeen in 2019, are closed to the public and media.
Manager Brandon Hyde might attend some of the sessions, Elias said.