After left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez cleared waivers and was assigned outright to Triple-A Norfolk on Thursday, he received an invitation to spring training. When spring training begins with pitchers and catchers reporting to Sarasota on February 15th, there will be 31 non-roster players, and perhaps more if the Orioles sign additional players to minor league contracts.
Having 71 players in camp may seem like a lot, and it is. Last year, the Orioles invited 22 non-roster players for the delayed spring training and added several more in the first few days of spring training.
This year, there are six weeks of spring training with games beginning on February 25th. Last season, the Orioles used 58 players, nine of whom were non-roster invitees.
It makes sense to get a look at players in Grapefruit League games who may play for the club during the season, and it’s an opportunity to look at some top prospects, such as shortstop Jackson Holliday, outfielder Heston Kjerstad and left-handed starter Cade Povich, who have never been to major league spring training.
Several of the Orioles’ regulars — starter Dean Kremer, reliever Dillon Tate, infielder Ramón Urías and outfielders Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander — are scheduled to leave camp to play in the World Baseball Classic next month. Their absence will create opportunities for some players to make an impression on the major league staff.
Two of the pitchers on the 40-man roster, John Means and Seth Johnson, are recovering from Tommy John surgery and won’t pitch in Grapefruit League games. Left-hander Nick Vespi, a non-roster invitee a year ago, is recovering from hernia surgery last month and may not pitch, at least early in camp.
The 31 players fall into three categories: top prospects, players with some major league experience and players ticketed for the minor leagues but needed in camp.
The Orioles have 38 pitchers coming to spring training, including Means, Johnson and Vespi, and though Adley Rutschman and James McCann are the only catchers on the major league roster, four additional catchers will be on hand to catch pitchers’ bullpen sessions in the early days of camp and play a few innings in games.
Holliday, who was the overall No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft, has played in just 20 professional games, but the Orioles would love to watch him in early Grapefruit League games until minor league camp at Twin Lakes Park opens early next month.
They’re also eager to see Kjerstad, their top pick in the 2020 draft in his first big league spring training. He’ll probably begin the season at Double-A Bowie. A year ago, Kjerstad who missed 2021 because of myocarditis, an inflammation of muscles around the heart, suffered a hamstring injury and missed spring training. He didn’t make his professional debut until last June.
Povich, who was obtained in a trade from Minnesota in exchange for closer Jorge López, also will be in camp. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel ranked him as baseball’s 54th top prospect this week.
McDaniel ranked nine Oriole prospects in his top 100, and all of them will be in camp. Besides third baseman Gunnar Henderson, his top-ranked prospect, starter Grayson Rodriguez (12th), and infielder Joey Ortiz (71st), who are on the 40-man roster, Holliday (17), outfielder Colton Cowser, the top pick in 2021 (30), third baseman Coby Mayo (47), infielders Jordan Westburg (66) and Connor Norby (92) will be in camp.
Infielder César Prieto, a Cuban defector who played for High-A Aberdeen and Bowie, and right-handed pitcher Ryan Watson, who was named the Orioles’ top minor league pitcher last season, have also been invited.
Hernandez and right-handers Eduard Bazardo, Kyle Dowdy, Reed Garrett, catchers Anthony Bemboom and Mark Koloszvary, infielders Franchy Cordero, Lewin Díaz, Josh Lester, Ryan O’Hearn and Curtis Terry and outfielders Daz Cameron and Nomar Mazara all have major league experience.
Right-handers Wandisson Charles, Ofreidy Gomez, Morgan McSweeney, Kade Strowd, Cole Uvila and Chris Vallimont, catchers Maverick Handley and Ramon Rodriguez and outfielder Robert Neustrom haven’t played in the big leagues.
Charles and Gomez were signed as free agents. McSweeney, who pitched in some Grapefruit League games last year as an extra player and was a 17th-round draft choice in 2019, was with Bowie and Norfolk last season.
Strowd, who pitched for Aberdeen last season, was the Orioles’ 12th-round pick in 2019. Uvila was chosen in the minor league portion of the 2021 Rule 5 draft and pitched for Norfolk last year. Vallimont was claimed off waivers from Minnesota in 2022, pitched for Bowie and Norfolk, and was outrighted to Norfolk last month.
Handley was also in camp last year. He was the Orioles’ sixth-round pick in 2019 and played for Bowie last year. Neustrom, a fifth-round selection in 2018, played for Norfolk last year and was in camp a year ago.
Tickets going on sale: Regular-season tickets will go on sale on Wednesday, February 8th at 10 a.m. at Orioles.com/Tickets.
Birdland Caravan: The Birdland Caravan will visit Evolution Craft Brewery & Public House at 201 East Vine Street in Salisbury from 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, manager Brandon Hyde, outfielders Ryan McKenna and Kyle Stowers and first baseman Ryan Mountcastle are scheduled to be guest bartenders.
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB