by Eric Garfield
Good morning from Sarasota. It’s cloudy, chilly and I’m wearing a hooded sweatshirt to start the morning. There’s a large group of pitchers out stretching, I’ve counted 25 and they’re all new faces. I see reliever Johnathan Pendergast who I celebrated the GCL clinching win with back in July. I think his dad was happier and gave me a high five that still stings. I see Adam Stauffer-he looks thicker with muscle a little bit. I see a few guys that I recognize and know by stats but can’t place the name to them. Give me a day of watching.
Most of the early camp group I’ve been watching isn’t even here today, I can tell by the cars in the lot. There’s more catchers to check out too. I’m going to make my way around and see what I can see. Be back soon.
12:00 pm Update-
I’ve waited over half a year to see reliever Nick Roth throw and today my wait is over. He’s here along with a bunch of new hurlers. I’m taking pictures and trying to memorize guys as they warm up and go to fielding practice. I see tall righty Morgan McSweeney, taller righty Dallas Lichter, tallest righty Leandro Rodriguez. Lefty fire baller Dalton Stambaugh is here with his heat. Low working lefty Zach Matson on the end of the bullpen mounds along with righties Shelton Perkins, Hector Guance and dozens more. The early camp’s position players checked in about an hour ago around 11 and have normal work in the afternoon. The coaches and some developmental staff are all out watching the new guys move and there’s plenty of smiles early on as ball players hop back into their routine. It feels like a beginning.
There was an afternoon session with both old and just checked in guys mixed together. A lot of minor league ball players, coaches and instructors are here and the rest of the offense arrives next week. There are also quite a few fans and the mood is relaxed but now aimed towards a goal as they finalize their organizational group in Sarasota. A lot of pitchers did long toss, a handful of them hit the mounds afterwards and at that point my pen ran out of ink. So my notes are minimal.
Again there were people who had no clue about who any of the players in front of them were. I told a guy why he needs to follow and support Brenan Hanifee and Toby Welk. I told another family that their son could learn from watching Willy Yahn and Cadyn Grenier. That looks like it’ll be an everyday thing.
After the mounds there was a exit velocity contest intertwined with a one-pitch BP home run contest. If you like sports at all, watching these will give you your fix. The winners were both JCE’s. Young Cornerman Jean Carlos Encarnacion won to left field and his uppercut is helping him lots. Slightly older Lefty corner JC Escarra won to right field and the cheers were loud enough that they interrupted Warrant’s Sweet Cherry Pie. .At some point, I will have a discussion with the DJ. Brett Cumberland May have hit them to right faster but not farther than big Escarra who likes the 💪🏼 emoji and pose. The catchers then went to another field and that group swelled by about 5-7. They were back to the flat palm mitt to bring the bal up to their chest quickly and softly. They also affixed a timer to the glove to time themselves.
Serious faces and focus under baseball caps is slowly starting to replace the eager smiles and relaxed postures of 2 weeks ago. The climb upward is starting in earnest and I see small elements of competition.
Players are in a good mood though and I sense it’s because baseball isn’t just their life, it’s their job and now they get to show his well they do it. After not working for over a year I can understand that desire.
Starter Josh Rogers and I talked about the baseballs on a paved path between fields. I told him I feel bad throwing them back in the bucket for them to use because they’re dented or scuffed or damp. He acknowledged but said clean, brand new baseballs are actually worse and much harder to grip. The hitters get a little advantage with the camp balls (mostly recycled from 2019 MLB Spring Training, NY-Penn League 2019 or MLB ‘Practice’ balls) but he said ‘if a guy pops one of these out, he’s a strong hitter’. Also Grayson Rodriguez was ready to chat as he clipped his resistance band in right in front of me. He said he’s ready to start ‘real baseball stuff’ and ‘make some noise’. Ok. He seems like a guy who’s prepped for the season. Toby Welk helped me figure out a couple of faces and pointed to outfielder Doran Turchin. ‘And the one who looks like Trout, that’s Turch’. He does look strikingly like the Angels number 27 in person. I took pictures of players and will match up tonight online. I have a feeling that the direction they’re moving as a group will become more clear as the days go. However, I also have a feeling that it’s toward success. It will be a little while before the guys in front of me are ready for major league competition (not you Michael Baumann) but they’re nearing ready for minor league level improvement. That’s getting the Orioles closer. I’m here (in Sarasota) to tell you and film for you the steps taken in that process and this ‘gathering’ isn’t a big one but it’s a milestone marker. There’s a few stars, a couple of regulars a bust or two and an out-of-nowhere stud who nobody has ever thought of in this group. The time to fill those roles is coming and the talent will help it happen. To me that is so much progress already. But it also leaves even more room to get to first in the East, then the AL and eventually the sport. If it starts at then I’m there at that bottom and you should be too, hungry to follow the stories and success much more than the stats as they climb levels.
Tomorrow morning I’ll be on Stan the Fan’s Saturday radio show in the 10am hour. To shock you all I’ll be talking about the Hangout and also the minor league system and what I’ve seen. If you’re awake and available give a listen in to my old buddy who I used to call after 1980’s O’s games and maybe learn a new guy or two.