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The Good, Bad, & Ugly of Week 1 of Spring Training

Orioles minor league camp
photo: Eric Garfield
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The first few weeks of spring training are usually quiet with little action. Due to the shortened Spring Training in 2022, we have already seen a decent bit of action and some controversial news from the Orioles since baseball came back.

So why not recap it all? I will do this series for the next two weeks as Spring Training goes on. So let’s get into the good, the bad, and the ugly from the first week of games in Orioles Spring Training.

The Good

Prospects are shining

The lineups that Brandon Hyde has put out these last few games have had a balance of players that are going with the team up north and the high-caliber prospects that make up one of the best farm systems in baseball. This balance has allowed specific prospects to shine in these moments when they get to start games or come off the bench. Kyle Stowers has shown his power, Tyler Nevin has demonstrated he is still a good hitter that can play either first or third in a pinch, and Joey Ortiz continues to show off how good of a defender he is.

Of course, I can’t go without mentioning how good Yusniel Diaz looks now that he’s healthy. Even the pitching prospects have gotten some time to shine in their moments. Felix Bautista has shown an intimidating presence and has overpowering stuff, while Kyle Bradish looked impressive on Wednesday against the Yankees.

Some younger players who aren’t prospects have shown some value this week. The main player I want to talk about is Dillon Tate. Tate has demonstrated that he has good stuff out of the bullpen in this past, yet he hasn’t been able to fully control his pitches. He went to Driveline Baseball in the offseason, a top-rated baseball facility in Washington known to fix pitchers’ movement. His pitches seem to have more bite to them as they move later than last year. Tate could have a really solid season if his improvements are for real.

The Bad

Injury bug starts to bite

While the Orioles’ major league players have stayed healthy this last week, the same cannot be said for two highly touted minor leaguers. Adley Rutschman hit an inside-the-park home run during a minor league scrimmage game, showing how exciting he could be. Unfortunately, he hit that inside the park home run because Heston Kjerstad tried to dive to catch Adley’s line drive, and he got hurt doing so. Over the next couple of days, we got updates on Adley and Heston’s health, and it wasn’t good for either.

Adley had to be shut down for two to three weeks because he strained his right triceps. This means he won’t make the Opening Day roster and probably won’t be called up until mid-April or early May. While this stinks, on Wednesday, we were given worse news about Heston. It was determined that he strained his hamstring when he tried to dive for the ball that Adley hit.

Mike Elias addressed the media over Zoom on Wednesday. He gave an update on Adley, saying he was progressing, but it was a matter of “weeks, not days” until he we be ready. The biggest news came when it was announced that Kjerstad had suffered a “higher grade” hamstring strain, and it would keep him out 8-12 weeks. This is an unfortunate situation because Kjerstad had put his heart conditions that keep him off the field in 2021 behind him, and now he faces another setback and probably won’t play until June at the earliest. These injuries are disappointing, mainly because we could have seen Adley on the Opening Day roster, and I projected a huge breakout from Heston this year.

For now, Orioles fans will have to wait for Adley’s debut in the majors and be patient with Heston’s setbacks.

The Ugly

Whiffs in Free Agency and Arbitration Drama

Note: While this section might seem like I am trashing Mike Elias, I am a huge fan of his, and this does pain me to write. I love what he has done off the field for the Orioles to improve the franchise with a more analytical approach, building up a farm system from zero to hero, and diving deep into the International Market and building a complex in the Dominican Republic. This negative section does not take away from the good things Elias has done, but I believe he is not above criticism.

When free agency opened up, it was supposed to be a frenzy where players would sign every hour by the hour. While free agency moved faster than usual, the Orioles took the stance of sitting on the sidelines and watching while making subtle improvements to the roster through minor league signings, outside of Robinson Chirinos. I was hoping for at least one more veteran piece either in the rotation or the bullpen but to this point, that hasn’t happened. Pitchers like Danny Duffy were linked to the Orioles, yet, they chose better teams over the Orioles; the cycle of a rebuilding team continues. The all too familiar process of the Orioles watching from the sidelines while other teams snatch up free agents is a sight all too familiar for Orioles fans, and it has continued these last couple of weeks. If you were hoping that this was the year that the budget would finally go back into the team on the field a little more, this isn’t the offseason for you.

Lack of free agency wasn’t the only thing causing discourse among Orioles fans this week. On Tuesday, arbitration numbers were released, and the team’s two main stars, John Means and Trey Mancini, did not reach agreements with the Orioles and are now heading to court. While these court sessions for Arbitration don’t usually lead to anything, when you have a $30 Million payroll, it makes you look worse. Add this to the fact that the Orioles ignored free agency, and you have a pot of confused and angry people. This Arbitration process is flawed, and to be fair, every team does this, but not every team has a lower payroll than some players’ salaries. The Pirates did the same thing with their star, Bryan Reynolds, and they have an obnoxiously low payroll. I am not trying to say that the Orioles are justified in what they do; every team does this – it just looks so much worse when the Orioles do it.

We’ll see you guys next week for the Good, Bad, & Ugly.

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