by Eric Garfield
Starting today I arrived at 9 am and pulled in as Trey Mancini was awarded the ‘number one parking spot’ according to the lot attendant, definitely a good sign. It’s also NOT the best spot, but it’s close. Looking around there was not much going on as players were taking or finishing their physicals. Mancini was dressed and ready in minutes and welcomed the media to his locker. He answered questions for a few minutes and was both forthcoming and relaxed.
The interview centered on a few topics. Why he’s here early, what he expects in year 2 under Hyde, his position defensively and the changing makeup of the roster specifically. He said that his comments about the Villar move were not taken out of context and he feels that Johnathan is probably ‘the most underrated player in the league’. Also Villar’s unique skill set and readiness to address locker room issues is gone and hasn’t been replaced. I found that interesting, he’s speaking up a bit about a void and filling it in despite having low expectations for 2020. Something only a leader can express. He is however upbeat, optimistic and excited and those are the reasons he arrived a few days earlier than required. The new arms represent a group Mancini has yet to see, only heard about and he, like other Orioles staffers looks forward to seeing them in person. As far as where he’s going to play he said that there will be ‘a split’ in his field work between the outfield and first base and he’ll be glad to stay after and take ground balls at first after practice if that’s what it takes. At this point I’m realizing that he’s the team vet and has seized this role going forward. Finally he went on to describe a collaborated effort between him, Hyde and the hitting coaches to hit with more power.
According to Mancini, it’s something that is more ‘approach oriented’ than swing oriented and his eye level at the plate needs to be more on the outfield wall and batters eye than simply over the second baseman’s head resulting in longer, higher line drives.
After that we moved to the field where pitchers had their throwing sessions in a new area constructed for this purpose. There were several groups and the only pitcher I saw who worked up to fill exertion was Wojo and he only threw 30 pitches but the last 15 were hard and accompanied by grunts. He’s an intense player, already sweaty and into it on Day 2. I went back and watched some more video and he had strong hand release and whip action with his wrist. It’s hard not to like a guy that has lots of pitching skills on display. He seemed to be focused on footwork and a consistent landing spot. Other elements I saw were: Kremer keeps the ball hidden in a low low glove almost forcing it down but his release is long and limby despite that. His stride isn’t long but his long leg covers some distance out of the stretch position. Pretty athletic overall. Hanhold has a smooth build up and release and can look very low effort with his movements. Rucker gets good torque and downward motion from his wide open right side and has a clean if not consistent finish to the motion. It’s hard to say he’s well balanced on one leg out of the windup but more angled towards the hitter, like an attack stance. I included a pic of Rucker mid-motion to try and demonstrate. Akin showed a great deal of torque on his front foot after planting in a windup and like a Bud Norris body type guy needs significant leg push to finish off the delivery. He has the legs and brings good balance without a super long follow through. His motion from windup to release seems less than fast and yes I realize it was day 1, to me it was a tick slow. If that’s his style I look forward to seeing it effective. Lowther looks a bit more ‘finished’ from my perspective and his motion and weight transfers appear to be clean and repeated. I liked what I saw of him but didn’t get a chance to watch his stuff yet. Armstrong took his side this morning and was both behind and on top of the baseball and it still came off his fingers spinning and in no way flat. His fingertips just stay on the ball for a tick longer than most pitchers. He seemed to be getting lots of input from instructors during the session. Finally I got a good look at Alex Wells and it’s easy to see why he’s a prospect. I’d say that his lower body and upper body don’t seem to work flawlessly together but watching the ball in the air he can make it move with ease. Placement was pretty good (again Day 1) but his pitches seemed to dive and dart pretty effectively and occasionally with bite. Phillips and Sulser threw a bit too but not an extended session. I wanted to see Sulser more as I trust him after seeing him on the Rays.
Also of note: During catcher’s BP Austin Wynns showed some effortless pop and several warning shot blasts in a row. It stood out to me because last year he was really barreling up behind the ball and topping it for line drives. More catcher depth is a commodity and Wynns is a name not often mentioned especially with Taylor Davis and Holoday recently brought in.
I saw pickoff moves being practiced and Bleier’s would fool me in a second. It looks close to a balk and I posted a video on Twitter.
Harvey’s needs work but let’s hope it stays unused in late inning situations.
The day ended with Hyde talking to reporters and I’ll summarize the session here by saying that he prioritized moving on from last year but not forgetting it. He welcomes guys ‘pitching with a chip on their shoulder’. Means is a ‘special case and a real mature guy’. So him being a veteran voice despite being limited in experience is valuable and guys can ‘learn and follow suit’. There are lots of arms and for them to get a fair look there may need to be games added on.
Akin was a topic too and Hyde labeled him a strike thrower who has multiple pitches and isn’t afraid. The team is both excited and expecting of him to be a starter in the major leagues. Harvey doesn’t need extra time or a different schedule for himself and he’s on track like everybody else.
Kyle Moore and Buck Britton have in depth knowledge of the minor league guys and will be relied upon to share, Hyde wants them to both gain experience and help with the development early on in camp.