Sarasota, Fla. -- I have been reciting this same mantra since Mike Elias, Sig Mejdal and ultimately Brandon Hyde took their respective seats in the O's hierarchy: 2019 needs to be about finding several players who can be part of the solution "beyond the rebuild." Here's a sampling of observations from the weekend in Sarasota:
1. Chance Sisco: He was drafted by the O's with a second-round pick back in 2013. Since then, all he has done is speak with his bat. Sisco hit .306/.386/.420 with 28 home runs throughout parts of six minor league seasons.
But his catching skills have been sketchy at best. Under former manager Buck Showalter and catching whisperer John Russell, that was never going to fly. So, when Sisco broke camp with the big club in 2018, they thought they had fixed one important aspect of his catching: controlling the opponents' running game.
Out of the gate, Sisco surprised all of us with his quick release and the power and accuracy of his throws. But somehow in fixing that aspect of his game, Sisco totally collapsed at the plate. And then as his struggles mounted, his catching regressed as well.
Never one to be very vocal, the clean slate with a new regime has helped mightily in the first couple weeks of spring games. The new regime is armed with analytical data to assist him and perhaps offers more of a pat on his back. What's been more important is Hyde's assertion that he needs Sisco to become more vocal and more of a team leader.
Let's pump the brakes on superstardom this year. But he looks like he has opened the new eyeballs gazing at him. A batting average between .255 and .265, 14 to 16 homers, 50-plus RBIs and cutting down the strikeouts all seem like very reasonable aims now. A solid left-handed hitting catcher isn't something to sneeze at.
2. Mike Wright: Remember his first two or three starts in May 2015 when he was called up and placed in the rotation? It had been a long, long time since an unheralded Orioles starting pitching prospect (not a first-round pick) came up and pitched that well, but he has still not nailed down a solid place in the rotation.
While that initial look at the 6-foot-6 Wright was fool's gold, someone that tall and with that velocity shouldn't have been dismissed. But the disappointing numbers were there for all to see.
Last year at his lowest point, Wright found something. From May 23-July 29, he put together a he had an ERA of 1.93, struck out 29 and walked just nine during 32.2 innings. He allowed just four homers during that stretch.
However, just as the Orioles rebuild started in earnest and the club traded relievers Zack Britton and Brad Brach, his numbers reverted back to the Wright that has come all too common in an O's uniform: 7.81 ERA and six homers during 27.2 innings from August 1-Sept. 29.
New pitching coach Doug Brocail and the new analytics crew have been introduced to the mix, and so far the results have been near perfect. Wright has seemingly locked up a spot on the staff and is zeroing in on the unthinkable when camp started: a spot in the O's rotation.
It's important to note that Showalter used to warn the media against making rash judgments in spring training. Hyde's eyes are a little bit more open.
3. Two Rule 5 Guys: Shortstop Richie Martin and utility man Drew Jackson were acquired from the Oakland Athletics and Philadelphia Phillies, respectively. (Actually, the Phillies plucked Jackson from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Rule 5 Draft, then they dealt him for some of the Orioles' stash of international bonus slot dollars.)
I can report from my vantage point that both Rule 5 picks will be on the Orioles' Opening Day roster. But it'll be different from the days of Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter because the new GM and skipper are in lockstep about the Rule 5 players and the overall philosophy.
Martin should play a lot of shortstop regardless of whether Alcides Escobar factors into the Opening Day roster or not. But Drew Jackson has become an immediate favorite of Hyde and he'll be a factor not only in the infield but the outfield.
Ironically, outfielder Anthony Santander – one of Duquette's Rule 5 selections at the December 2016 Winter Baseball Meetings at National Harbor -- has shown flashes of being a really nice player this spring. All the rest of the benefits from Duquette's Rule 5 musings could be distilled into a thimble.
4. Refreshing Aspect Of The Rebuild: Don't get me wrong, my job is not really, truly affected by what I am about to say; my ultimate wish and hope is that this next generation of Orioles teams can in short order become as relevant as the Duquette-Showalter Orioles and take it to the next level.
But for a moment in time in this setting, I must admit to a certain enjoyment regarding the lack of ego and attitude from the players, coaches and manager. No, I didn't dislike anyone in particular on the 2012-2018 Orioles, but with their success on the field came a certain bit a sense of entitlement that only true winners should feel.
I saw it in the pre-Davey Johnson Orioles in 1993-1995. The club hadn't won anything, but the egos swelled.
The enthusiasm in this group may not translate immediately into wins, but it can catch the imagination of Birdland, and while perhaps not quantifiable, it feels tangible. It just smells good.
4.5. Boog's In Sarasota A Stroke Of Genius: Anyone who reads me on at least a semi-regular basis knows how much I love Boog Powell. Not sure whose idea it was to export Boog and all of his Baltimore equity right into the middle of the Ed Smith experience, but it doesn't much matter.
It feels as natural for Baltimoreans as a snowball or a crab cake. During the three games I have witnessed here at Ed Smith so far, his stand has had lines before and during the game of 40-50 people deep.
Boog, his son J.W. and his right-hand woman Annie are doing a remarkable job. Boog just continues to brighten the lives of baseball fans in our city and our sister city of Sarasota.
Photo Credit: Ed Sheahin/Gary Sousa/PressBox