SARASOTA, Fla. -- Three weeks in it's
still too early
, but it is a week later and some degree of reality is beginning to set in, so here goes …
The Orioles are probably running the most unique training camp in baseball and not even the scouts can tell the players without a program. Some of the observations can be harsh.
"I don't think I've ever seen a team in spring training with so few established big league players," said one scout, whose name and team remain anonymous for obvious reasons.
Generally, the Orioles get higher marks for position prospects than they have in years, but it comes with a warning that "the starting pitching is terrible," which we've all heard before and found to be all too true.
Suffice it to say that manager Brandon Hyde will have to be very innovative to negotiate a 162-game schedule with the staff on hand, barring some big breakthrough performances. Still, in some ways, this has been the most interesting camp since 2012, when there were no expectations and the Orioles ended up in the playoffs.
But it should be noted that team was much more advanced than this one, so be advised not to get any feelings of grandeur.
Right-hander Dylan Bundy was one of the pitchers expected to benefit most from the Orioles' use of advanced analytics this year. Let's just say it hasn't started out too well.
With the advent of the much publicized "launch angle" by hitters, the new strategy calls for pitchers to throw high in the strike zone, creating difficult angles for the uppercut swing. "Pitching up," as the new saying goes, would appear to be dangerous territory for Bundy, who led the major leagues by giving up a whopping 41 homers last year.
In the past, of course, "pitching up" was generally considered a mistake, the kind that resulted in those long balls leaving the yard. In three outings this spring, Bundy has pitched 6.2 innings, giving up 10 earned runs and 15 hits, three of which left the building in rapid fashion.
The early favorite to repeat as the O's Opening Day starter, Bundy's position at the top of the rotation isn't secure. Alex Cobb, the only one of the so-called top three who has pitched decently, now appears to be the front runner for Opening Day.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the best minor league prospect in baseball and easily the most outstanding young player performing in Florida this spring. He's also the most recent to suffer the dreaded oblique muscle pull.
Here is one scout's capsule: "He is a good hitter who knows he is a good hitter. He's not worried about anything. There's not a pitch that bothers him." End of comment.
And, oh yeah, he's got a strong arm, just like his Hall of Fame father, who finished his career with the Orioles, but the consensus is he'll outgrow his current third base position and end up in the outfield or at first base.
It won't happen before the start of this season, however. Even before the oblique took control, the Toronto Blue Jays had planned to delay starting his big league clock by starting Guerrero in the minor leagues. Now the question is whether he starts the season on the major or minor league disabled list.
Either way, it won't be long before he's in the big leagues to stay.
The Orioles have reason to be concerned about the early ineffectiveness of late-inning relievers Tanner Scott and Mychal Givens, both of whom have struggled in the early going.
Scott in particular, because his track record is still in its infancy, would appear to be in jeopardy of losing a spot in the bullpen as a situational left-handed reliever. Givens, whose performance dropped off late last year, has had a marked drop in velocity, which is always a concern.
If spring training in Florida doesn't seem quite the same for veteran observers, there's a good reason. Perhaps baseball's most familiar face and for sure the game's longest tenured scout, Tom Giordano, is missing for the first time in 72 years.
Giordano, who was the Orioles' scouting director from 1976-1987, played 12 years in the minor leagues and 11 games for the Philadelphia A's in 1953 before turning to scouting, a profession he loved. He and Clyde Kluttz were the first two hires when Hank Peters took over as Orioles general manager after the 1975 season.
One of baseball's most colorful storytellers, Giordano was a fixture in spring training for half a century before passing away Feb. 14.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com
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