With full-squad workouts underway and the start of the Grapefruit League schedule just days away, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. Watching a clip of Trey Mancini taking batting practice in Sarasota was the best sign of spring yet. What a special time for someone who wondered if he’d ever play baseball again upon being diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer last March.
2. Mancini was able to “kind of have a normal offseason” after concluding chemo treatments in late September and beginning workouts in late October as many players would. He reported to Sarasota at the start of February, and Brandon Hyde says the slugger has no limitations this spring.
3. It’s understandable not to have given much thought about Mancini the ballplayer, but he was coming off a tremendous 2019 that included a season-best 1.049 OPS in September. He’ll soon turn 29, but I’m curious to see how he responds settling in at first base and not playing much outfield.
4. Managing pitching workloads will be a baseball-wide concern coming off a bizarre 2020, but it’s particularly unsettling for a rebuilding organization depending so much on the development of its young pitching. From Mike Elias to pitching coach and director of pitching Chris Holt, making those judgments won’t be easy.
5. With that in mind, I expect more relievers to be stretched out a bit more than usual with a full 162-game schedule and only so many starting pitchers to go around. Hyde confirmed Cesar Valdez, who closed games for the Orioles last season, is among those being extended.
6. Knowing this is a critical year after again dealing with health problems in 2020, Hunter Harvey threw twice as much this offseason in an effort to strengthen his arm and handle a bigger workload. The clock’s ticking for the 26-year-old to prove he can be a reliable back-end option.
7. Center field should be the most compelling non-pitching competition of the spring between Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins. Hays has been more hype than substance largely because of injuries these last few years while Mullins rebounded from his nightmare 2019 to put himself back in the everyday conversation.
8. A fascinating story will be seeing which young prospects embraced a growth mindset to better themselves despite having their 2020 season taken away. John Means added velocity and Dean Kremer developed a cutter during the shutdown, showing that could be done. Of course, it can go the other way too.
9. Adley Rutschman represents hope for a starving fan base, but I’m not worked up about him making the majors this season after just 37 career games in the minors. He worked at the Bowie site and in Sarasota last summer and fall, but let him force his way to Baltimore.
10. Opportunities were limited for Matt Harvey after the former “Dark Knight” posted a combined 7.82 ERA with the Los Angeles Angels and Kansas City the last two seasons, but hearing him credit the Orioles’ use of data and technology was refreshing. That just wasn’t the case a few years ago.
11. Though FanGraphs giving the Orioles a 0.0 percent chance of making the postseason prompted mocking headlines, that’s more about the quality of the AL East than a statement predicting historic futility. Yes, I expect this club to be bad, but we’re going to see more and more interesting young players.
12. Happy birthday to the great Eddie Murray, who turned 65 Wednesday. Those “Eddie!” chants at Memorial Stadium were part of the soundtrack of my early childhood. Many remember his perceived ability in the clutch, but Steady Eddie’s consistency was what made him a Hall of Famer. Excellence year after year.