SARASOTA, Fla. -- What a difference a year makes.
At this time last February, John Means arrived at Orioles camp in anonymity, the self-proclaimed last man on the roster with long odds of breaking camp with the team. This year, he reported to the club’s Ed Smith Stadium complex changed
SARASOTA, Fla. -- What a difference a year makes.
At this time last February, John Means arrived at Orioles camp in anonymity, the self-proclaimed last man on the roster with long odds of breaking camp with the team. This year, he reported to the club’s Ed Smith Stadium complex changed in many ways: with a new number (47), new locker, new wife and new status, both with the O's and within baseball.
Yet more or less the same approach.
“I still want to come in here thinking I’m competing,” Means said before the Orioles' pitchers and catchers began their first official workout on Wednesday. “Still thinking I have to go out there and prove something.”
In that way, little has changed in Means’ outlook since he emerged from the roster periphery last summer, blossoming into the Orioles’ ace and surprise All-Star. His situation this spring, though, is much different. Whereas every start last spring came with something to prove, he’ll be largely immune from the competition set to define Baltimore’s rotation mix this time around. In the O's eyes, only two rotation spots are set: Alex Cobb and Means, who was the runner-up for the American League Rookie of the Year Award last season.
“Now that I had a year under my belt, I had some things that I definitely wanted to work on,” Means said. “There were a couple weeks of relaxing, but after a few weeks you kind of get antsy.”
And so Means found himself traversing the state of Missouri -- from his Kansas City home to P3 Premier Pitching Performance in St. Louis -- this winter much as he did last. Means also married his longtime girlfriend, Caroline Stanley, and celebrated his hometown Chiefs’ run to the Super Bowl, but the bulk of his winter was spent on I-70 commuting back and forth to P3, the facility that laid the groundwork for his breakout in 2019.
Last winter, instructor Forrest Herrmann -- now the Seattle Mariners' pitching strategist -- and the P3 staff used data-based techniques to help Means add fastball velocity and develop the changeup that became his best weapon. This winter, Means focused on fine-tuning his breaking pitches and adding strength with an eye toward pitching deeper into games.
“I don’t want to ever sit back and be comfortable and think I just figured it all out,” Means said. “Because this game will humble you really, really quick. Once you think you’ve figured it out, you better keep working hard, because you haven’t.”
Eye on the sky
Toward the end of his 35-homer season last year, Trey Mancini and the Orioles began brainstorming ways for the slugger to tap into even more of his natural power. Their solution came not in a swing overhaul, but an approach-based adjustment Mancini then worked on throughout the winter. He explained Wednesday, when he was among the early position-player arrivals (others included Austin Hays and Anthony Santander) to camp.
“It’s a mindset at the plate -- setting your sights a little higher,” Mancini said. “I always tried to hit a line drive over the second baseman’s head. Now I raised it a little more, whether it’s looking at the batting eye or something. That really helps.”
The hope being that Mancini can build off his breakout 2019 campaign, when he hit .291 with a .899 OPS and sliced his ground ball rate to a career-low 46 percent. That was down from 53 percent over his first two seasons, an extremely high rate, especially for a player without much speed.
From the trainer's room
The first injury of Orioles camp struck when right-hander Brady Rodgers was held out of drills Wednesday due to “arm soreness,” according to manager Brandon Hyde. In camp on a Minor League deal, Rodgers spent most of the past eight seasons in the Astros organization, making three MLB appearances last season. The non-roster invite’s first scheduled bullpen was set for Thursday, but it appears now that will be pushed back.
Minor league hires
Among the slew of Minor League staff additions the Orioles announced Wednesday was the hiring of Liz Prado, the first female coaching staff member in franchise history. Prado, who sports a M.S. from Georgia College and State University, becomes the strength and conditioning coach at Class A Short-Season Aberdeen. This is her first job in professional baseball.
The O's also announced the hiring of Nick White as Minor League strength and conditioning coordinator and Ethan Stewart to the newly-created role of player performance facilitator. Anaíma García also joins the organization as education coordinator, after three years as MLB’s player performance coordinator. Also new to the organization are strength coaches Jonathan Medici (Double-A Bowie) and Julio Diaz and Andres Tarazona (Dominican Summer League).
Set your calendars
The following Orioles spring games will be broadcast on MASN, the network announced:
Feb. 23 vs. Red Sox
Feb. 26 vs. Braves
March 2 vs. Rays
March 8 vs. Yankees
March 13 vs. Blue Jays
March 20 vs. Red Sox
March 22 vs. Phillies
Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.