By Eric Garfield
Back to typical Sarasota, it’s about 75 and sunny at 10am as I walk into the Orioles minor league. complex. There’s action on all fields. Pitcher Ryan Conroy pitching to outfielder Chris Cespedes in a cage. Bullpen mounds occupied by righties Morgan McSweeney, Hector Guance and Tyler Herb. A simulated game on another field with lefty Cameron Bishop firing off a mound to field a bunt from outfielder Jaylen Ferguson. Turn to another field and it’s starter Zac Lowther (looking sharp)facing live batters. Catcher Maverick Handley is at-bat….backwards K. Infielder Andrew Fregia walks into the box wearing a vest to measure his swing data and Lowther is switched out for the now-warm Tyler Herb. Adley Rutschman steps in to replace the catcher and work with Herb.
Today things are moving and improvement is happening as scheduled. Some drills and all action in every available spot. This is what I wanted to see.
Yet another field and McSweeney is gassed up throwing heat to corner JC Encarnacion, grunting like John McEnroe with every release. The long hair and exaggerated hip turn adds to the mound presence.
Briefly, on the way in and on TV getting ready the sports discussions centered around Coronavirus and potentially cancelled events. Last night at the Orioles game there was a ceremony to honor the 2019 GCL champ Orioles. Their playoffs did not happen because of Hurricane Dorian in August of 2019, they were cancelled. But I’m so proud of the team and they deserved recognition for their shiny 38-15 but also for setting the course forward for a few years of O’s development from the bottom up. This foundation got their credit, plus a banner. Talking to some players, they’re proud but still miffed at missing the chance to prove they were the best. They were. Catcher Chris Burgess liked the recognition and admitted that team was pretty damn good but wanted to win a series to lock it down. I hope there’s a way to not cancel these events.
I saw a large group go inside but infield and outfield drills with a defensive slant continued. I watched the outfielders do a charge grounders and ‘pop up into a throw position’ and also some of the juggs machines with increased speeds shooting grounders at infielders on field and on the side in groups, shortstops specifically. If you want a guy who has caught my eye out of nowhere and is urging me to pay attention by his actions, it would be SS Irving Ortega who looks to be a large guy for an infield position but is so smooth with the up and down. His glove leads his infield actions and he’s not going to accelerate the action. I like it. The drill I watched was won by 2B Andrew Fregia as he had great focus and watched the ball out of the machine like a hitter looking at a pitcher’s hand. Focused.
There was so much to see today that my head was spinning. I hope I got some good video for you and a few more players/drills were introduced. I talked to second year 3B Toby Welk at the fence for a while as he’s slowed by a slightly sore quad. He’s very ready for this year and especially focused too as he knows it’s a crucial one for his future. Orioles fans should familiarize themselves with Toby and his story. They’d love him and have another player to root for.
I saw so much defense drills but it still wasn’t enough. The gloves from early camp are hot and the new arrivals, especially Irvin Ortega and Angelo Mora are mistake free and sharp with backhands, forehands and shorthops. I like watching them and 2B Carlos Baez who caught my eye (and ear) this past GCL season.
Here are my notes:
-of Frank Tolentino has some holes in his swing but less than last year.
-of Trevor Kehe lined a sharp single off starter Tucker Baca and I remembered the sound of Kehe’s contact well. He swings with a controlled surge and uppercut. His GCL homer I saw was a no-doubter.
-Joey Ortiz stepped in next, worked to a 1-1 and then lined a loud tater to left-center off a flat fastball. Joey!
-Tyler Joiner—HUUUUGE 12-to-6 break.
-Infielder Andrew Fregia shows deadeye stare to juggs machine as the grounders come out….he’s looking for spin/bounce potential and maintaining his stance.