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New Players Bring Skill to Sarasota

Kjerstad at Sarasota 2022
Heston Kjerstad (Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports)
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The extended spring training season is coming to a close as organizations figure out which players will fill their rookie league rosters. That transition happens in the first week of June and the games start to count. Here in Sarasota the Orioles will have a pair of teams and appropriately they have two excellent young instructor types as managers. Christian Frias & Matt Packer have been in the system for a few seasons now developing alongside lots of players they’ve helped move up the ladder. Prioritizing individual growth has paid off in the O’s newer hires. Coaches like these two are huge parts of the rebuild’s success and improved infrastructure.

One of the best parts of this type of baseball environment is when a new player comes in and starts showing who they are. Learning about them through their on-field performance is just one part of developing a profile, but it’s important. With that in mind I’d like to introduce a few new players added over the last few weeks to the Orioles Complex league roster.

I know that IF’s Rolphy Cruz, Alex Sanchez and Angel Tejada have been playing for a while because I’ve seen them in games since instructional-type contests began after spring training. Interesting profiles like OF’s Junior Lara, Teudis Cortorreal & Kevin Guerrero have been here and improving for a while now but some players just started seeing time in games.

Teudis Cortorreal
Teudis Cortorreal (Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports)

One of the newcomers is corner Eruviel Castillo. Signed in the same international class as Basallo, Bencosme, Maikol & co he’s already shown outstanding bat speed. In my 1st game seeing him he went deep for a pullside HR to LF. Listed as a SS, I’ve only seen him play 1st base and do it quite well. Scooping and positioning look too be his strong suits at the bag. Getting better timing for pickoff and double play type sequences will be a priority for rookie leagues.

Another player who has caught my eye for a variety of reasons is lefty pitcher Omar Hernandez. There haven’t been a lot of LHP’s excelling down here (Deivy Cruz is one of them and he’s developing very well)so that’s one reason he jumps out. But his 12-to-6 breaking ball is slider sharp with huge tilt and dive. He locates it extremely well to lefty hitters and it shows as a true finisher. It took him one batter for me to start seeing neat K potential. Listed at 5-8 Omar doesn’t rely on a big leg kick or momentum, much like Jean Pinto that spin is coming from a skilled hand/wrist combo.

Yet another new arrival not blessed with ideal baseball height is catcher Carlos Rodriguez. He’s 19 and is listed at 5-11. As a catcher I’ve noticed that his recent playing time has been marked by an unusually high number of foul balls to the face/toes/wrist and he’s using more than his fair share of injury mound visits but he stays in the lineup and contributing. I even asked him after one painful AB if he broke his toe as I heard him grunt (yelp) and he shook it off. The video was as gross as it was short. Tough guy. But he can also hit and he brings his catching/blocking background to the corner too. They bat CRod 4/5 sometimes and he’s even DH’d to get that uppercut swing in the lineup. Also had a long HR in the first game I saw him so there’s part of the impression.

Finally the player who commands immediate attention is fireballer closer (at least initially) Junior Pina. Pina, also 19 has unleashed loud and spinning gas from the Ed Smith mound and backed it up with a plane changing sweeper type that finishes ABs just as strongly. I’m sensing a quick rising arsenal marked with lots of bad swings as he figures things out. Tallish at 6-4 and a bit on the slender side, JP can get it buzzing, spinning and diving so I’ll be locked into what he starts to become over these summer months. I already see how he blends well after the breaking ball based righty diets of Edgar Portes, Miguel Padilla and Cesar Alvarez. When he came out to warm up for his first appearance, I heard the glove echo louder before I saw him pitch so that drew my attention.

There will be a few more additions as the rookie leagues get closer and continue. I’ll be paying attention to let fans know who I see and how they contribute. Several players have used this time to rehab from injuries and look close to being sent back up the farm too. IF Anthony Servideo has continued his on-base ways and mixes a daily walk in with a great play in the field and lots of positive swing decisions. He has to be close. OF prospects Reed Trimble and Heston Kjerstad look to be coming along well too. Trimble’s been back on the field over a week and Kjerstad just under a week but their swings and timing look to have been well maintained during their cage sessions. I would not be surprised if Heston is hitting well the instant he gets added to a roster.

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