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Early Report from O’s Camp

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As O’s fans salivate for the official reporting of pitchers & catchers, whet your whistles with what I saw last week…

Coby Mayo

The O’s third baseman of the future looks like he wants to accelerate the climb through the minors’ upper rungs. Slugging long laced line drives into the Sarasota wind and out of Ed Smith Stadium, Mayo is showing that he’s stronger than nature. At third in drills his glove is airtight but somehow the muscle he brought to camp has him zipping it across the diamond even harder (and quite accurate). Coby’s a throwing athlete, as I have said for years now.

Heston Kjerstad

Athletic, quicker twitch than observers realize and somewhat fast, Heston profiles as an everyday thumper who can play defense. The fact that his development includes some bumps and bruises is normal. His job is to get better and fully ready by the end of spring and I see no reason to doubt that he will be. Not a good player, a great one.

Colton Cowser

‘Experts’ who didn’t watch him play in college or in year 1 are ready to platoon him. What I see is a hitter who gets in a groove and stays there. Incorporating a bit more lower body into his swing, the distance & sound seem more ‘mature’ in BP. Covers ground swiftly, gets to the ball’s landing spot in time and is always in proper position to make plays in the field.  Give me more, not less.

Gunnar Henderson

Getting reps at third base and shortstop, it’s been a tougher schedule for the sport’s top prospect but he’s handling it well. A few imperfect transfers (none on backhands) notwithstanding, the future rookie of the year looks perfectly primed at the plate. His all-fields style sends deep shots all over Sarasota, something Birdland South fans are used to.

Terrin Vavra

Reps at second and in the OF will have him ready to fill whatever role the team needs him to fill. There’s been a fair amount of CF power too, as Vavra’s stroke is more tuned to pull. His BP rounds aren’t the loudest or longest distance but like a jump shooter his form is low flaw and repeated very cleanly. I’m interested to see where he fits this year. Personally I like him high in the order taking pitches and walking until he proves he can’t.

Ryan McKenna

Looks to be very fit and moving really well in drills. His pivots and catching motions are as clean as you’d expect for an athlete of his caliber and experience. Gathering himself stride by stride in front of the wall or moving laterally to the catch zone, he’s showing leadership at this early camp with strong outfield play.

Connor Norby

He’s been rising up prospect lists recently with good reason. Norby profiles as a high average hitter with plenty of pop. Using BP to get better at hitting everything fair and far has worked out so far. Also having little trouble with the wind, he’s increased both the angle and the distance from last season showing quick improvement. Fielding with confidence around the bag, it looks early on like he’s taking improvement seriously.

Joey Ortiz

At what point does it get obnoxious to talk about his defensive perfection? Is there a word for us? I can’t imagine anybody on this planet being a smoother or better fielder of grounders than Ortiz and that includes Lindor, Javy Baez or whoever’s the best in the bigs. He’s had zero missteps in the dirt in the few days I’ve seen. In the cage it looks like his stroke is a more level so he’s pulling the ball to left. Contact consistency is what will keep him up once that all world defense gets him to the bigs. It’s just artistic watching him handle grounders.

Jackson Holliday

Last year’s top pick accelerated the early phases of his pro development then came back to camp a bit bigger and stronger. The no days off mentality has this kid among the game’s top prospects almost instantly. It fits. The swing looks slightly sweeter. The sound is a bit crisper. The leg kick a bit less pronounced. Baseballs don’t sail into the sky, they’re forced away with speed. It just looks effortless. In the field he’s had a consistent glove but the throws to first while moving and tosses to second after a pivot look refined like a 10 year vet. Also has shown solid range in all directions; at least twice he’s got to balls nowhere near his initial setup.


BONUS for baseball nerds…Notes from Pirates Camp:

Maikol Escotto-fans waiting for him to develop have not been patient but he’s only 20. Finally looks to be pulling the ball with power. His glove isn’t flawless, but he’s a playmaker and a fast twitch performer. Improving behind the scenes, I’m not predicting a breakout but his career .750 OPS doesn’t exactly mesh with his skill set. The .349 on-base seems fitting, I expect the slug to rise somewhat.

Yordany De Los Santos-thrilling mover with a great deal of confidence. He can field, throw and hit with power.  Pirates crush it in the international draft. He’s one of the reasons why.

Axiel Plaz-another pedigree international selection this powerful catcher can put on a show in BP. A natural uppercut finish is not extreme, yet his forearm strength certainly is. High and deep are where his contact goes. Pirate fans are going to love this slugger.

Malcolm Nuñez-I had heard great things about him after Pittsburgh dealt there-to-be-traded Jose Quintana for him last season. He’s MUCH better than advertised. The softest hands/lightest feet combo belong to the biggest guy out there, so that in itself is impressive. His eye at the plate and ability to drive any pitch to the power alleys is an obvious skill.  At 21 and already having reached AAA, Nuñez shows a ‘complete player’ type of profile. Staffers have raved about his attitude and focus off the field too so maybe he’s a keeper.

Henry Davis-the top overall pick in 2021 has been like Kjerstad where his improvement has had to come behind the scenes and in the Fall League. Doesn’t seem to have affected him, he’s just awesome at baseball and has every skill flashing at a high level daily. My favorite aspect of his game isn’t the power, or the arm/pop time package either. It’s how he communicates with the pitchers (a fair percentage of them major leaguers) during and after their throwing session that shows he’s legit. Leadership, interpersonal abilities and being so good at baseball are why he was the top selection. Watch him every day and you’ll see.

Termarr Johnson-speaking of someone who’s a great deal better at this sport than the back of their baseball card, Termarr is thriving at his 1st spring camp. So clean at contacting the ball in the air he’s almost to the point of choosing its style and path off the bat. You think you love watching him scatter line drives to the wall? Wait until you HEAR it! He’s getting lower body strong by the day so the metrics have to be reflective of that. I’ve seen glovework at 2nd and short where he looks skilled at both. Feet/posture actually better at short

Nick Gonzalez-his footwork around the bag has been high level from day 1. Seeing the gains in hand speed, transfer and pivot take having seen him practice for several seasons now. Just like his close friend Joey in Baltimore, I think I’m watching a major league infielder in Gonzalez. Offensively he’s making an effort to hit it cleanly instead of far and it’s paying off in drills. Let’s see that change extend to games and he’ll be making an impact soon.

Endy Rodriguez-only have seen him once but he’s so good I had to include him. Another consistent communicator (in 2 languages) from the crouch, his offense is off the charts. Bradenton is an environment where Endy thrives so his BPs are exciting and full of souvenirs for everyone around the outskirts of Pirate City.

Shalin Polanco-another international selection who’s been improving at the rookie level, this year will be different for the quiet but confident future star. Slender but a weight room warrior, Polanco has so much bat speed and pop that his breakout seems imminent. Also a rangy ground covering standout, he puts those legs to use powering throws from the track too. I’m ok labeling Shalin as 5-tool as I’ve seen him perform well against my team many times.

Omar Alfonzo-lefty swinging catcher with contact ability and growing power. Baseball IQ stands out but he’s a pure hitter & should develop that way.

Luis Hernandez-last year showed the best arm at catcher in the low minors. This year has brought prodigious power to the cage (please find the videos). Looking forward to seeing more.

Javi Rivas-a taller infielder, Rivas has started the weight gain/exercise phase of his development and with the help of the Pirates training staff has translated his gains into on-field success. Extending to make plays or showing off an electric transfer, Rivas should start showing his unique bag of tricks in affiliated ball weeks from now. I’m ‘eager’

Esmerlyn Valdez-a tall and very strong OF/1B, Valdez is learning fast. A literal slugging contest with him and Henry Davis was a highlight of camp.  Another player poised to get out of the FCL, his best skill is the pop so he’ll have to tap into it in games.

Ewry Espinal-corner with hit tool/power and a good eye. Larger frame but can move around 1B and adjust well. Exciting player

Eybert Escalona-introduced himself to me the other day to make sure I was filming him. Then went on to hit 2 HR in one round and break a bat over his knee the next. Safe to say he’s ‘strong’.

Braylon Bishop-gained some weight and flexibility in the off-season and is now back to break out of Bradenton. Moving with the football athleticism he has to spare, he makes outfield play must-see. In the cage he’s been hit or miss (sorry)but better as of late. Braylon’s going to show out when he gets his chance, I’ve seen enough to know. Braylon and Shalin™️?

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