Rylan Bannon is one of the oldest players in the Orioles’ Instructional League in Sarasota, Florida this month. He’s also one of a handful who were also at the Bowie alternate training site.
Bannon, a 24-year-old infielder who was obtained from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Manny Machado trade in July 2018, was a late addition to the Bowie camp, not getting a call to join the 60-man player pool until early last month.
“It’s definitely been an interesting year,” Bannon said from Sarasota. “A lot of indoor work. I didn’t really get to work outside much until I got sent to Bowie. It’s definitely been a challenging year mentally.
“It’s not so much being out of shape from a baseball standpoint as much as it is the mental reps of the game. We were all hitting. We were all throwing, we were all taking ground balls. Now that I’m down at the instructs, I’m starting to realize the mental side of the game is what a lot of us missed … I wouldn’t say it contributed to a rusty start, but [I’m] just getting back into the swing of things.”
Bannon got to spend the first few weeks of spring training with the Orioles as a non-roster invitee, his initial major league camp before reporting to minor league camp for a week before the coronavirus pandemic ended spring training on March 12.
He stayed in Sarasota for several days until word came that minor leaguers should head home. Bannon returned to Joliet, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, for a wait that was much longer than everyone expected.
“I don’t think we realized that until probably mid-April,” Bannon said. “When stuff got really serious, and you realized you’re really not going anywhere.
“At the time, you gave it like two weeks. We’ll probably be back. None of us thought that anything like this was going to come of it. The amount of uncertainty all summer definitely made it tough.”
Bannon had about five months between spring training and the alternate site, and he tried to spend it productively.
“I got to do some woodworking,” Bannon said. “I built my sister a table. I have a knack for that. I always liked building things. I built a few other things around her house. I had some fun with that.”
Bannon hit five days a week with fellow professionals near his home. Once a week, pitchers would throw live batting practice.
Bannon wanted to be a part of the player pool, and waiting was the hardest part.
“When the big leagues started back up, and the alternate site got going and not getting that call, it was definitely challenging,” Bannon said. “But, at the end of the day, you dig down and realize why you’re playing the game, and keep grinding away with my friends back home because we were all in the same boat. It made it easier.”
After spending September in Bowie, Bannon has noticed a difference between the alternate site and Instructional League, where he’s one of 55 players.
“Bowie was extremely laid-back,” Bannon said. “We had a group of roughly 10 position guys. We were on the pitchers’ schedule, so whatever pitchers had to throw that day, we would go out there and we’d break up into two groups. You jump in and hit off those guys and, when you’re not hitting, you go out to the field and stand at your position.
“There weren’t too many game reps, mental game reps, game situations … They told me when I came down here it was going to be a different pace, longer days, more of a spring training feeling, get to the field early in the morning, working on very specific things. In Bowie, we were all polished, we know what’s going on. We’re there to potentially be a backup to the big leagues.”
Bannon wasn’t added to the Orioles’ roster last month, but he knows the team’s plan for him.
“They’ve mapped it out pretty simple to me,” Bannon said. “I’m here to work on second base stuff, and kind of surprising, [Friday] was my second day of working on a little bit of catching stuff. That’s kind of fun.”
In 2019, Bannon played 89 games at third base for Triple-A Norfolk and Double-A Bowie and 38 games at second for the Baysox. In 20 games with the Tides, Bannon hit .317 with three home runs and 17 RBIs.
Second and third are the only positions he’s played as a professional. He’s still playing some third base, but the Orioles want him to diversify.
“Pretty much focusing on second base,” Bannon said. “They said they want to get me to be an MLB second baseman as of right now.
“The kind of coaching staff the front office has put together for us is absolutely incredible. It’s for a reason that I’m here, and it’s to show those [younger] guys the path, and this is what we do.”
Bannon is eligible for the Rule 5 draft for the first time, and if he isn’t added to the 40-man roster, any team can draft him in early December, which he’s thought about.
“I have a little bit, but I try not to,” Bannon said. “I try to stay as day-to-day as I possibly can. I can’t say I don’t think about it. I try not to think about it. You can’t really think about it and perform at your best if you worry about what’s going on behind the scenes.”
Answers to Friday’s Quiz
1-Jim Bouton 2-New York Yankees 3-Steve Carlton in Game 3 of the 1983 World Series 4-B 5-Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, Tampa Bay Rays 6-Kiko Garcia 7-Paul Blair 8-Eddie Watt 9-Don Buford, Frank Robinson 10-Dave McNally 11-Russ Snyder 12-Bryan Holaday 13-Travis Lakins 14-Chandler Shepherd 15-Robert Andino 16-Pedro Severino 17-Justin Turner 18-Jim Traber 19-Mark Williamson 20-Rocky Coppinger (22), Kent Mercker (12), Jimmy Haynes and Rick Krivda (11 each) 21-Arthur Rhodes 22-WCBM broadcast the games in 1987 23-Cal Ripken Jr. 24-Anaheim, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New York Mets, 25-Seven: Rick Kranitz (2010), Mark Connor (2011), Rick Adair (2011-2013), Bill Castro (2013), Dave Wallace (2014-2016), Roger McDowell (2017-2018) and Brocail 26-Bluefield, West Virginia from 1963-2010 27-Mark Hendrickson, who played for four NBA teams 28-Joey Rickard 29-Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom 30-Sidney Ponson May 16 and 22, 2004