Orioles open camp with optimism carried over from '22

February 16th, 2023

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The optimism surrounding the Orioles throughout the winter was brought with them to warm, sunny Florida. The change of scenery has even amplified it.

With pitchers and catchers -- and a smattering of other position players -- reporting to the team complex in Sarasota, Fla., on Wednesday and Thursday, the work begins for Baltimore to carry over the success from its breakthrough 2022 season into ‘23. The feeling around the facilities is the most positive it’s been in quite some time.

It helps that 2023 Spring Training is bringing a sense of normalcy. No COVID-19 shutdown or restrictions (like in ‘20 and ‘21) or lockout (like in ‘22).

“We’re all very happy to be here,” O’s general manager Mike Elias said Thursday ahead of the team’s first workout for pitchers and catchers. “It’s nice to have the lengthy Spring Training calendar; it feels like we haven’t had that in a while. This is a little more leisurely pace leading up to games, which is great, and characteristically excellent Sarasota weather and vibes so far.”

The sound of baseballs hitting gloves could be heard throughout the backfields at Ed Smith Stadium on Thursday morning. A slew of Orioles pitchers got in their work throwing to catchers, including Adley Rutschman, who later moved over to the main field for batting practice.

Rutschman and the rest of the catchers weren’t the only position players already in camp. Among those who showed up well before Monday’s report date were infielders Ryan Mountcastle, Gunnar Henderson, Ramón Urías and Terrin Vavra, as well as outfielder Cedric Mullins. The handful of prospects who participated in the development camp in Sarasota have been here since last week.

As manager Brandon Hyde noted, a glance at the camp roster listing those names (and more) only adds to the usual hope that comes with the arrival of spring.

“You’re really encouraged by the amount of talent that’s there,” Hyde said. “And we’re still fairly inexperienced and we have a lot of young dudes that haven’t been in the big leagues yet that are incredibly talented. It’s really, really exciting.”

Some external expectations may not be as high, at least not for 2023. That’s nothing new. Many predicted the Orioles to struggle in ‘22, before they won 83 games.

The PECOTA projections have Baltimore going 74-88 this year. FanGraphs’ ZiPS projections have the club faring better, though still missing the postseason at 80-82.

Elias acknowledges he may be biased, but he believes those win totals are a bit low.

“We really like this team,” Elias said. “It’s going to be a dogfight, I know that, but I think we’ve got a good shot to get into the playoffs this year, and we’re going for that.”

Mike Baumann, Kyle Bradish and Bruce Zimmermann throwing at the Orioles Spring Training complex in Sarasota, Fla.

It will help if the Orioles can stay healthy, which was one of the primary keys to their success last year. However, it became known Thursday that Baltimore will likely be without one of its key relievers for Opening Day in Boston on March 30 -- maybe even two.

Dillon Tate sustained a right flexor forearm strain during a November workout, and Elias said the right-hander will "almost certainly" open the season on the IL. Meanwhile, closer Félix Bautista is still rehabbing from the left knee sprain and right shoulder soreness that shut him down late in 2022. His Opening Day status will depend on when he can get into Grapefruit League action, per Elias.

In addition to the eagerness to return to action that Spring Training delivers, it’s accompanied by a cautiousness to avoid any major setbacks.

“Things happen these next six weeks, and so you just cross your fingers and you try to prepare these guys as much as you possibly can and try to stay healthy, honestly,” Hyde said. “We’ll see in about a month from now how we look.”

But that’s why the depth the O’s have accumulated is crucial. It’s a credit to Elias, who has done a tremendous job of rebuilding the organization since his hiring in November 2018.

On Thursday, Elias was again asked about his contract status, as well as that of Hyde (hired in December 2018). While the GM didn’t share those details, he praised the rest of the baseball operations department and expressed his continued hope for the future.

“I think that people are, for better or worse, going to have to get used to [Hyde] and I here for a while,” Elias said. “I think we’re going to have a lot of success going forward.”