Now that pitchers and catchers have reported to the Orioles’ facility in Sarasota, we can all take comfort in the knowledge that baseball is back.
As we look ahead to the beginning of exhibition games, here’s a quick list – a “starting nine” if you will – of things Orioles fans can to look forward to in Spring Training 2017:
- Hyun-Soo Kim’s Emergence as an Everyday Player – After spending roughly the first two months of the 2016 season on the bench (just 58 plate appearances in April and May combined) Hyun-Soo Kim persevered in 2016 and became a valuable presence in the lineup against right-handed pitching. But with the Orioles still searching for a valuable on-base presence at the top of the lineup, the question is: Will Kim get a chance to show what he can do against left-handed pitching? Kim was 0-for-17 in limited action against left-handers in 2016. With a full Major League season under his belt, Kim could begin picking up additional at bats against left-handed pitchers this season…and that audition begins in Spring Training.
- Who Will Be this year’s Grapefruit League Hall of Famer? – From Fritz Connally’s Spring Training “breakout” back in 1985 through last year’s monster spring (1.044 OPS in 63 at-bats) for Joey Rickard, it seems there’s always a player who surprises everyone with a great spring. Once in a while these players continue their strong performances into the season…but most of the time, these Grapefruit League “Hall of Famers” fizzle out when the games begin to count.
- Joe Angel Calling Play-by-Play on the Radio – Hearing the words, “Hello again, baseball fans” on Sunday, February 26 will instantly transform a dreary, 40-degree Baltimore winter day into a sunny, 75-degree day without a cloud in the sky. Angel is, in my opinion, one of the top three radio play-by-play men in Major League Baseball…yet for some reason he is under-appreciated by many fans nationally. And while we all know Joe will miss having “The Big Fella” (Fred Manfra) in the booth this season…having Joe back for another season behind the microphone is most definitely one “in the win column” for all O’s fans.
- Spring Training Reports of the Arrival of Veteran Players in your Twitter Timeline: No question, Twitter has proved to be great for following breaking news or keeping up with your favorite team. But sometimes it can be, well…a little redundant.
- Welington Castillo’s Comfort Level with the Pitching Staff – For the first time since 2009, the Orioles will head into a new season with someone other than Matt Wieters expected to handle most of the catching duties. Welington Castillo was signed as a free agent to take over the job and his introduction to a new league – and new pitching staff – will be put on hold while Castillo leaves the team to play for the Dominican Republic team in the World Baseball Classic. As the defending WBC champions, the Dominican team should have a nice, long run in this year’s tournament…and that means Castillo will have a limited opportunity to become familiar with the O’s pitching staff. Will this translate into more appearances by Caleb Joseph early in the 2017 season as Castillo adjusts?
- Roger McDowell and Alan Mills Debut as Orioles Coaches – Speaking of adjusting to new roles and a new team…the Orioles’ pitchers not only will be working with a new catcher this season, they’ll also be under the direction of new coaches Roger McDowell and Alan Mills. With McDowell a protégé of former pitching coach Dave Wallace – and Mills familiar with several of the O’s younger pitchers – look for this transition to be a smooth one.
- Daily Words of Wisdom from Buck Showalter – After the Orioles’ disappointing loss in the Wild Card game last October, many fans were likely ready for a break from Buck Showalter’s daily press conferences. But that break is over – and the Buck-isms are back. Look for a steady dose of references to a player’s “want-to”…mentions of the “contact-to-damage ratio” for Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo…references to a pitcher “presenting himself real well out there” on the mound…and many more to begin filling your newspaper and radio soon.
- Sarasota’s Ed Smith Stadium – This Spring Training will be the Orioles’ seventh at the renovated Ed Smith Stadium. It seems like ages ago now that the O’s did not have a suitable Spring Training home. (And as someone who attended games in Fort Lauderdale’s run-down stadium…I can tell you that was far from “suitable.”) The O’s relationship with Sarasota has not only helped the team prepare for the season with the same efficiency that their rivals enjoy…it has also given fans the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful new ballpark – Ed Smith Stadium – that brings some of the look-and-feel of Camden Yards to the Grapefruit League.
- How Will the Rotation Shake Out? – It would seem that the first three spots in the O’s rotation will be filled by Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. Wade Miley posted a disappointing 6.17 ERA in 11 starts after joining the O’s on July 31. But Miley delivered quality starts in his last two games of the season last year – including going 8 2/3 innings in a 6-1 win over Arizona on September 24. That late-season turnaround – and Miley’s overall track record – suggest he will do well as the club’s #4 starter. But will Ubaldo Jimenez prove to be a capable #5 this year? Or will the O’s be forced to turn to Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson or the newly-acquired Gabriel Ynoa to start the season?