How Baltimore Orioles' 2020 alternate site led to a brighter future

Baltimore Orioles v Cleveland Guardians
Baltimore Orioles v Cleveland Guardians / Nick Cammett/GettyImages

Three years ago minor league baseball was shut down due to COVID-19. With no 2020 MILB season, many MLB teams held “alternate training sites” where prospects got high-level practice reps without playing in actual games. 

The Orioles sent prospects across all levels of the organization to their alternate site in Bowie, Maryland, the home of the Double-A Baysox. This allowed players of all developmental stages to meet and forge relationships during the unusual circumstances brought about due to the pandemic season. Now, looking back three years later, many of the prospects at this camp find themselves on the Orioles' big league roster or as soon-to-debut prospects. 

Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins was one of the players who spent time at the alternate site. After a rough 2019 in which he hit .094 in 64 MLB at bats and was sent to Double- and Triple-A, Mullins used the training camp to get back to his fundamentals. In 48 MLB games that summer, his confidence grew as he increased his average to .271. The following year, Mullins surprised many fans with his 30 home run, 30 stolen base season en route to being named the lone 2021 Orioles All-Star.

Star catcher Adley Rutschman developed during drills and intrasquad scrimmages at the camp, too. Drafted first overall the summer before, the loss of his first full season could have been viewed as a bump in the road for Rutschman’s development. Instead, the alternate site allowed him to meet the plethora of pitching prospects at the camp including fellow top prospects DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez.

Working with these pitchers allowed for an easier transition to the big leagues for all involved. Lefty DL Hall made his debut during the 2022 season and now projects as an important arm on this year's Opening Day roster. Right hander Grayson Rodriguez is now the seventh-ranked prospect in all of baseball. This spring, Rodriguez, with his impressive fastball, changeup and slider mix, will battle with other starting candidates to make the Orioles' 5-man rotation.

Infielder Gunnar Henderson, who many rank as the top prospect in all of baseball, grew as a player at the camp. Drafted in the second round in 2019 after Rutshcman, he used the alternate training camp to prepare for his rise through the entire system in 2021 and 2022. Heading into 2023, Henderson looks to be a staple on the left side of the Orioles infield and is a top name in the conversation for AL Rookie of Year. 

The camp served as a launching pad for Orioles prospects that propelled players to make their MLB debut. Three of these players were Ryan Mountcastle, Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin.

Pitcher Keegan Akin was the first to debut of the trio when he pitched on August 14. A 2016 second round selection, Akin appeared in eight games in 2020 pitching to a 4.56 ERA. In 2022 he turned himself into one of manager Brandon Hyde’s more reliable long relievers with a 3.20 ERA over 81.2 IP.

A top organizational prospect at the time, Ryan Mountcatle debuted on August 2021. In 35 games that summer, the first basemen took the league by storm, slashing five doubles and five home runs leading to a .333 average. In 2021, the former first rounder crushed 33 home runs putting him in the conversation for 2021 AL Rookie of Year. Now heading to 2023, Mountcastle is a staple in the middle of the Orioles lineup as one of the team's best power hitters.

Pitcher Dean Kremer made his debut on Sept. 6. Acquired in the 2018 Manny Machado trade, Kremer flashed his strengths in four starts with 22 K in 18.2 IP. Now Kremer looks like a lock for the starting rotation after a very successful 2022 with a 3.23 ERA in 21 starts.

Now the fourth outfielder for the Orioles, Ryan McKenna was one of the prospects who garnered some looks at the camp. He debuted early in 2021 on April 5 and showed signs of improvement during the 2022 season hitting .237 with 10 doubles and two home runs.

Much of last year's 83 win season can be attributed to this group of players. Heading to 2023, the Orioles are said to be ahead of schedule in their rebuild.​​ One thing for sure, there is optimism again with this year's squad and Camden Yards will be electric this summer once again.