Now that the spring training season for 2013 is 99% complete, let me reflect back upon these weeks that really went by quickly. Going into it, there was a series of questions that needed to be answered, and at this point we have resolution to most of them.
Who will be the 5th starter? – This turned out to be every bit as interesting as we thought it might be back in February. Clearly the Orioles have planned all along to have Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman as the first four guys – providing each was healthy. The final position appears to be in the possession of Jake Arrieta, and perhaps by the time this post goes up online, or by the time you read it, this will have been announced. Brian Matusz, Jair Jurrjens, and Steve Johnson all made strong statements, as did Zach Britton on a couple of occasions. The depth is impressive, and it will surely be called upon sooner or later.
What will be the plan with the young stars Bundy and Gausman? – As I strongly speculated in an article in late February, the plan all along has been to have Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman begin this year at AA Bowie. There is certainly a plan to carefully monitor and count their total innings. I happened to have a text message conversation with Bowie pitching coach Blaine Beattyon the day that Gausman was sent down. When he asked if I would be making it to Florida this spring, I told him no, and teasingly said that he was therefore on his own with working with these young pitchers. His comment was that he may not have them for long – not an inside scoop there, simply an acknowledgement of the upside potential of their talent.
Will Brian Roberts really be healthy and able to be anything close to his old self? – It sure looks like the answer to this is a “yes.” I would not have predicted this, though see it as a great development that certainly all Orioles fans hope will be sustained.
Will Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis be able to return to top form? – The jury is still out on both of these guys. I actually feel better about Reimold. What worries me about Nick is that there is no reason given as to why he has the disc problem in his neck – it is not incident related. So, if nothing caused it, what would a crash into the right field fence do to it?? It seems to me that the Orioles should find out the exact model of bed each player has been sleeping in all winter, and pay for such to be available to each player for spring training! It sure seems like sleep causes a lot of problems!
Will the WBC be disruptive to O’s players participating? – The answer appears that it was universally a positive experience… especially for Pedro Strop.
Will Chris Davis be adequate at first base? – The answer to this is apparently such a positive that nobody is even worrying much about it anymore.
Other Observations and Opinions
Weather – There certainly seemed to be more cold and wind than other years – affecting play at a level beyond my recent memories. I’ll admit to being a global warming skeptic, and this spring did nothing to change that posture. Showalter said, “It’s tough. It’s tough for the players. It shouldn’t be tough for evaluation if you really take it into consideration. That’s why spring is one of the great foolers. It’s why I lean so much on track records and I don’t look at stats here.”
Pitching Strategy – The biggest worry I have at this point is the manner in which the returning four starters were held away from competing against top level players – most often due to the competition being against teams the Birds will see early and/or frequently. This seems out of character with Buck’s disposition that I have heard him state every year, especially at FanFest … some version of “I don’t spend a lot of time looking at or worrying about the other teams.” My concern is that this has perhaps poorly positioned the primary four starters for the level of competition they will see beginning next week. This is certainly not unique to my mind; it is frequently commented upon by other writers. As an example of the experiences faced when throwing to lower level players, here are a few quotes:
From Jason Hammel – “You can’t really get deep enough in the counts with them to work on some of the things you want to work on – i.e. like striking people out. If you want to work on a slider back foot or a curveball in the dirt or something like that, you can’t get there because they swing at the first three pitches, no matter what. But you just get your work in and just treat it like that.”
From Tommy Hunter – “I told (catcher) Steel Russell to set up in the other batter’s box. Well, he did that and the umpire called it a strike. I was like, ‘All right, this isn’t even fun. This is kind of a joke.’ You’ve just got to go and get your work in. I know there are a few things I probably would have done – throwing balls in the dirt; you can definitely get a few strikeouts. But it’s just not going to play.”
From Roch Kubatko of MASN – “I see the logic in keeping them away from division rivals and other teams that the Orioles will play within the first few weeks of the season. No sense letting these opponents get too familiar with them. But the counter argument revolves around the notion that it’s harder for these pitchers to prepare when they’re facing Single-A batters who start swinging the bat while the donut is still on it.”
The Final Roster – It looks like I got 23 out of 25 (discounting Betemit), though the final roster has not been announced. I predicted Britton rather than Arrieta, and I did not have Steve Pearce on the radar … would have sooner thought Conor Jackson. We’ll see what happens. There is lots of depth and lots of guys had a good spring.
Predictions – There should be several teams in the running for the AL East, including the Birds. I believe the Orioles will have another successful season roughly like last year, being a playoff contender. Beyond that, I believe this year will sort out who will be the stars of the next several years, and that the next 2-3 years after this season will feature an Orioles team in the first handful of dominant clubs in the major leagues. I think the Nationals will be the dominant team this season.
So faithful readers: What are your impressions of spring training and your hopes and fears for the coming season?