Oriole pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Sarasota, Florida on February 16th. The group of starting pitchers manager Brandon Hyde can choose from is likely to be more attractive than those he’s had the past two years.
There are veterans Alex Cobb and John Means. Jorgé Lopez, who was impressive at times, is likely be in the mix. Rule 5 draft picks Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells have to be considered. So will Bruce Zimmermann, who made his debut in September. Some veterans are likely to be added, too.
But the starting candidates who have generated the most buzz are left-hander Keegan Akin and right-hander Dean Kremer and left-hander Keegan Akin, who both pitched creditably late in the season.
“I thought they put themselves in position the way they threw the ball the last four or five starts in the big leagues,” Hyde said in a video conference call on Monday.
“They threw the ball outstanding against playoff clubs. The teams that we were facing, all 60 games, and especially that last month, were teams that were putting the best foot forward to get the best position to be in the playoffs and get a good seed.
“To go against the lineups that Kremer and Akin faced on a nightly basis was really, really impressive with how they handled that. Absolutely, that gave themselves every opportunity to win a starting job next year.”
Hyde would like as many starting candidates as possible.
“The more starters the better in spring training,” he said. “We’ve been pretty fortunate from an injury standpoint here the last couple of years. We just never know what will happen. Eight, nine starters would be fantastic. We’ll get it rolling from here.”
Hyde said that replacing shortstop José Iglesias will be difficult. Iglesias, 30, was traded on December 2nd to the Los Angeles Angels. He led the Orioles in hitting with a .373 average.
“What Iggy brought last year from a veteran leadership standpoint, he had a great season offensively,” Hyde said.
Iglesias played in only 39 of the Orioles’ 60 games, 22 at shortstop, because of a quadriceps injury.
“I’d have loved to see him play more defensively. His leg wasn’t going to allow him to do that. That mentorship that he brought to the young players in our clubhouse was huge. Players really liked him.”
Second baseman Hanser Alberto, who wasn’t offered a contract shortly after Iglesias was traded, also will be missed.
“The infectious energy that he had, the way he played the game, the way he comes to play every day, it was a pleasure to manage him the last couple of years,” Hyde said.
Designated hitter/infielder Renato Núñez, who hit 43 home runs in 2019 and 2020, was released on November 25th.
“Nunie, with what he brought offensively, the power threat at the plate every single at-bat, the ability to drive the ball out of the ballpark, to take good at-bats against the good pitching that we face, those are going to be big losses,” Hyde said.
“I feel confident in our front office and how they’re constructing our roster. I feel good about the young players who are going to get more at-bats because of losing some of these guys. We’re moving forward with a younger club. We’re excited about the talented level of the guys who are coming through our system.”
Hyde is beginning his third season as Orioles manager. He’d like to be with the team if it becomes a contender.
“I have confidence in myself,” Hyde said. “I’m in this for the long haul. I knew that when I took the job there were going to be some bumpy roads, especially early.
“I’ve been through a rebuilding process before. It doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen in a couple of years. It takes a while. It takes a while to draft well. It takes a while to get guys through the system, so I was very, very aware when I took the job what the situation was going to be like.
“I felt like I was ready to manage in the big leagues in 2019. I feel even more prepared now.”
Last year had its challenges, including the Covid-19 protocols.
“There are a lot of things that we dealt with that we don’t have to in a normal season,” Hyde said. “I learned that there was going to be something different every day, things that you never had to deal with before, and you do the best you can, and try to lead a group of men the best you can … I thought it was a really productive year even though it was a strange year.”
Promotion schedule: The Orioles are planning a number of bobbleheads in 2021. The Jim Palmer bobblehead will be handed out on July 24th. The Oriole Bird Mascot Hall of Fame bobblehead is the August 7th giveaway.
Among other giveaways is the Baltimore Elite Giants replica cap on May 8th, the annual Floppy Hat on June 4th, the Mr. Trash Wheel Reusable Bottle (July 9th) and the Birdland Hawaiian Shirt (July 10th).
The Orioles’ Kids Cheer Free Plus program has been extended to include children 14-and-under. Information is available at Orioles.com/KidsFreePlus.
A new five-game flex plan is being offered that includes access to Opening Day tickets. Information is available at Orioles.com/Flex.