Six weeks from now, spring training is scheduled to begin in Sarasota, Florida. Here’s hoping the Major League Baseball lockout ends before then, and the Orioles can begin to prepare for the 2022 season.
If the lockout ends a month from now, a normal six-week spring training would still be possible. There’s been speculation, though, that even if there’s a delay of a few weeks, the regular season that is scheduled to begin on March 31st will start on time.
A shortened spring training likely will affect how the Orioles approach it. Let’s consider the possible impact.
Seeking good stories
One of the most interesting parts of a six-week spring training is the 10 or 11 days between the time pitchers and catchers report and the first game.
That’s the time to get to know some of the Orioles’ new players, although some appear to have little chance of making Orioles’ Opening Day roster.
Many of the lesser-known players of 2021 — pitchers Jay Flaa, Conner Greene, Eric Hanhold, Mickey Jannis, Dusten Knight, Spenser Watkins and Konner Wade and catcher Nick Ciuffo — didn’t begin the season with the Orioles but spent time with them during the season.
Some had interesting stories, and during a normal spring training, they have time to get in some early spring games. Former Orioles manager Buck Showalter used to tell those players in spring training: “The innings are going away.”
In a month of spring training games, there are plenty of innings to fill in Grapefruit League action. But once the starters pitch and play extended innings, there are fewer opportunities—unless a player stands out. In a three-week spring training, the emphasis would be on getting veterans ready to play rather than looking at non-roster players new to the organization.
Watkins will be back in spring training on a minor league contract. So will Travis Lakins, who had elbow surgery last July, and Marcos Diplán, both of whom were removed from the 40-man roster. Lakins was outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk, and Diplán was signed to a minor league contract.
Allowing the kids to play
A typical long spring training would allow plenty of time for the team to look at Orioles of the future.
Grayson Rodriguez, the top pitching prospect in minor league baseball, has never thrown in major league spring training, and the Orioles would like to get a look at him because he’s expected to be recalled later in the season.
DL Hall, who’s rated just behind Rodriguez on the prospect list and is on the 40-man roster for the first time, needs to be seen as well.
Infielders Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg won’t begin the season with the Orioles, but both were in spring training last season. A shortened spring training would mean fewer looks at them.
The Orioles would also like to look at outfielder Kyle Stowers, who began 2021 at High-A Aberdeen and ended it at Triple-A Norfolk.
As for catcher Adley Rutschman, he’ll get all the innings he needs because he’ll either begin the season with the team or spend a short time at Norfolk before coming to the Orioles. Rutschman has been in major league spring training in 2020 and 2021.
Observing the rotation
With only John Means and the soon-to-be signed Jordan Lyles assured of rotation spots, a long spring training would allow manager Brandon Hyde time to look at the younger contenders for the rotation.
Last spring, left-hander Bruce Zimmermann pitched his way onto the team, and left-hander Keegan Akin pitched his way off it, though Akin appeared in 24 games.
Akin, Zimmermann, Mike Baumann, Dean Kremer, Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells need long looks. So do Hall, Rodriguez, Kyle Bradish and Kevin Smith.
Bradish and Smith started at Double-A Bowie and Norfolk last year and are on the 40-man roster. Both could pitch for the Orioles in 2022.
Although the Orioles could pitch some of these starters in minor league or “B” games, a six-week spring training would be beneficial.
It wouldn’t be ideal to have a third consecutive spring training that’s not played as originally scheduled.
In 2020, spring training ended early because of the pandemic. Last year, the schedule was shortened and crowds were severely limited.
Many fans had hoped for a normal spring training in 2022, but the lockout could force them to cancel trips to Florida, hurting hotels and restaurants dependent on tourism.
Even if the lockout ends in time for spring training to begin on February 15th, health and safety protocols in this ever-changing environment must be negotiated.
In some sports, Zoom-only access has resumed. Others are allowing interview rooms, but not locker room access. In a best-case scenario, at least some in-person access should be allowed.