That’s the first word that comes to mind about the “vibe” at Orioles spring training in Sarasota this year. It just feels different than it has in the past.
It’s the Orioles’ first-ever spring camp in Sarasota without Buck Showalter at the helm.
But – as we all know – the changes didn’t stop there. The coaching staff…front office…and the most prominent players from the most recent run of success are now gone. Even the radio play-by-play team of Fred Manfra and Joe Angel – together as recently as 2017 – has now retired.
With that said…it’s not as though the atmosphere was all doom and gloom, however.
After spending last weekend at Ed Smith Stadium – watching the O’s fall to both the Yankees and Phillies on back-to-back days – I came away impressed with the positive energy surrounding the team in spite of the massive changes.
Of course, that positive energy could have had as much to do with the 80-degree weather as it did with the happenings on the field.
Throughout the weekend – at the ballpark and away from the field – those Orioles fans I ran into still seemed excited about the team. For the most part the feeling was one of anticipation to find out how things will unfold rather than dreading another potential 100-loss season.
So I took that as an encouraging sign, even though the sample is a self-selecting one, as those who are pessimistic about the team aren’t likely to spend the time and money to travel to Florida to watch exhibition games.
On the field, a few things stood out that are worth noting…
** Yes, this O’s team is running much more aggressively than they have in the recent past…although the bar there is pretty low given how this has essentially been a station-to-station team since the end of the Brian Roberts era. Still, it’s a bit strange to see runners taking off from first on straight steal attempts as much as we have this spring.
David Hess in bullpen March 9, 2019
** David Hess was impressive in 3 1/3 innings of work against the Yankees, retiring nine straight batters at one point. Hess ultimately allowed 2 earned runs and 3 hits but struck out 3 without allowing a walk. So far this spring, Hess has struck out 7 in 10 1/3 innings and has held batters to a WHIP of just 1.06 – well below his 1.38 mark from last season.
** The defense is still a work in progress. No question, one of the first orders of business for the new regime was to upgrade the team’s defense. And the moves they’ve made this off-season – bringing in Rule 5 pick Richie Martin, for example – have been with an eye toward defense. But to date, the defense has been a bit suspect. Renato Nunez in particular has struggled – with 4 errors in just 18 chances so far this spring.
Austin Hays singles vs. Phillies March 10, 2019
** Austin Hays looks to be the same player we saw back in 2017. After a lost season in 2018 – due to an ankle injury and a slow start – it’s encouraging to see one of the team’s top outfield prospects moving well and hitting the ball consistently. A potential outfield including Cedric Mullins in center and Austin Hays in right could go a long way toward improving that team defense.
** Ryan Mountcastle isn’t far away with the bat. In fact, I think there’s a very real possibility that Mountcastle is on the team as a designated hitter or first baseman by the end of this season. That, of course, would depend on Mountcastle performing well in the minors this spring – and also on the team moving on from either Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis…or both.
** Speaking of which, if the team were somehow able to free up first base for Trey Mancini, that could open up playing time for Joey Rickard in the outfield – giving the team its best potential defensive outfield since the 1989-90 outfield of Steve Finley, Mike Devereaux and Brady Anderson. Rickard had a strong day at the plate on Sunday vs. Philadelphia – going 2-for-3 with a single and double off Aaron Nola and Nick Pivetta, respectively. Rickard has a .936 OPS this spring in 28 at bats in an attempt to impress his new coaching staff.
** Are the strong springs of Anthony Santander and Mike Wright a sign of things to come…or merely a mirage? Santander is 11-for-25 this spring with a pair of home runs and a 1.401 OPS. Is it possible that spending most of the 2018 season in the minors helped provide the seasoning he needed to hit at the major league level? And Wright’s string of 10 scoreless innings – which was stopped by an Aaron Judge home run Tuesday night – were said to be the result of a new approach thanks to help from the O’s new analytics enhancements. Wright has relied more on his cut fastball this spring – and less, apparently, on his slider – in an attempt to secure a spot on the team. Now that the word has gotten around, it will be interesting to see if Wright can continue to impress or if he reverts to the Wright we’ve seen struggle to miss bats over the past several years.