Brandon Hyde is more at ease heading into his second spring training as manager of the Baltimore Orioles.
He’s fully ready to tackle the challenge of building a competitive ball club with a roster full of young players.
“It’s a lot easier for me because I know everybody now, at least the guys we had here last year, and some of the invite guys I’ve run into in the past also,” Hyde said at the inaugural “Birdland Caravan” at the Greene Turtle in White Marsh Mall Feb. 7. “Familiarity is a big thing for me. Not walking in blind. Not knowing many players. This year, I know most of the guys, so that’s a lot easier.”
Pitchers and catchers officially report to the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota, Fla., and work out for the first time Feb. 12. The first full-squad workout is Feb. 17.
The Orioles will open camp with 66 players fighting for a spot on the 26-man roster.
“It’s a big number, but I’m looking forward to the competition we’re bringing into camp and I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for a lot of guys,” Hyde said. “Especially where we are right now, I think the more guys we have competing for jobs the better. So, I’m happy with the number we have and the challenge of the next six or seven weeks is to get guys enough innings and at-bats.”
The biggest question mark is with the starting pitching.
Left-hander John Means was the Orioles’ top starting pitcher last season, emerging as an American League Rookie of Year candidate. Means went 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA, 121 strikeouts and 38 walks. Right-hander Asher Wojciechowski, who was acquired from the Cleveland Indians in July in exchange for cash, also will open camp as a starter.
The wild card is veteran right-hander Alex Cobb, who has dealt with myriad injuries since signing a four-year, $57 million deal in 2018. Cobb was limited to 12.1 innings in 2019, but Hyde said the right-hander is primed for a bounce-back season.
“He feels good, looks good,” Hyde said. “We saw him a couple weeks ago, and he feels healthy. He should be ready the first day of camp.”
The final two spots in the rotation are also uncertain, with right-handers Kohl Stewart, Brandon Bailey, Dean Kremer and David Hess and lefties Wade LeBlanc and Keegan Akin each expected to get an extended look.
Orioles top prospect Adley Rutschman will also make his debut at major-league camp. The 22-year-old catcher was the No. 1 pick in the 2019 MLB Draft after batting .352 with 72 extra-base hits, 174 RBIs and a 1.032 OPS throughout 185 games at Oregon State. Rutschman slashed .254/.351/.423 with four home runs, 26 RBIs and a .774 OPS in 37 games with the Gulf Coast League Orioles, Short-A Aberdeen and Low-A Delmarva.
Rutschman likely won’t push for a spot with the Orioles until 2021, but he will still be a popular attraction for fans in Sarasota during the next couple of weeks.
“I’m really excited,” Rutschman said. “It’s a whole new staff this year, so I think there’s a lot of new stuff that’s going to be coming our way. But went down for a minicamp a couple of weeks ago and they introduced us to a lot of new stuff with regards to analytics and whatnot, so I think it’s really good and going to be very beneficial.”
Hyde is simply looking to get started and see which players are ready to seize a big opportunity.
Phase Two of the Orioles rebuild is underway.
“I want guys to step up and I want guys to learn from experiences they had last year,” Hyde said. “I’ve talked to almost every single guy coming to camp. Everybody’s had a great offseason. I think guys are really driven. I think guys are going to play with a chip on their shoulders. I just want guys to compete.”
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