SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles opened full-squad workouts RTC yesterday, but the squad wasn't really full. Second baseman Juan Bell and outfielder Luis Mercedes were conspicuous by their absence.
Bell's arrival was delayed so he could attend the wedding Wednesday of his sister in the Dominican Republic. Mercedes apparently is having visa problems. Both are expected to arrive today.
Players are not required to report to spring training until March 4. That is the mandatory reporting date dictated by baseball's collective bargaining agreement, but everyone was expected to be in camp by yesterday. Several established players -- including Glenn Davis and Dwight Evans -- were in camp last week.
"I'm not really worried about it," manager John Oates said. "I'm not going to judge a guy for choosing to be somewhere else. There might be something in my life that warrants me leaving camp that someone else might think isn't important enough."
This would seem to be a pivotal spring for both Bell and Mercedes, two young players who are trying to prove they belong in the major leagues. Bell's status with the club is uncertain after a difficult 1991 season. Mercedes is expected to compete for a full-time leadoff role.
Oates didn't seem particularly concerned about the absences, but it was apparent that he was not happy the two failed to arrive on time.
"If they want to be here, fine," Oates said. "If not, that's fine also. I'll play with who is here."
* CAL AT FIRST? Shortstop Cal Ripken raised some eyebrows when he took some grounders at first base yesterday, but he is not pondering a position change.
"He probably found the only dry spot on the field," Oates said.
The practice fields were soggy after two days of heavy showers, so players had to pick their spots carefully.
No need to worry. If Ripken was going to work out at another position, it probably wouldn't be first base, where the Orioles are having trouble finding room for the guys who work at it full time.
* FIRST IMPRESSION: Outfielder Mark Smith, the club's first-round choice in the June 1991 draft, made a good first impression yesterday. With his first swing, he drove a ball into a stiff breeze and short-hopped the right-field fence.
* VERSATILE TIP: Oates took 27-year-old infield prospect Mark McLemore aside yesterday and told him what it would take for him to get a legitimate shot at the major-league roster.
That's why McLemore, a career second baseman, is working out at third base.
"If he makes our ballclub, he'll have to play more than one position," Oates said. "I told him, don't be surprised if I have you out there at shortstop this spring. If he can play second, third and short, that would be valuable to us."
McLemore played some shortstop and third base during his short tenure with the California Angels, but his strongest position is second base. Shortstop might be his weakest position, but this is one club that probably could afford to overlook that.
* LEWIS IMPRESSIVE: The Orioles have had no reason to regret the recent trade that sent third baseman Craig Worthington to the San Diego Padres for pitcher Jim Lewis and minor-league outfielder Steve Martin.
Lewis has thrown very well in early workouts, impressing the coaching staff with a wicked sinker that breaks down and in to left-handed hitters.
What impressed Oates the most was the durability he showed last year. He pitched long and middle relief for the Class AAA Las Vegas Stars and seldom asked for a day off.
"He seems like he might be the kind of guy who can pitch in whatever role you want him," Oates said.
* LITTLE LEAGUE BAT? Rule V draftee Darrell Sherman isn't known for his bat, and no wonder. He uses the smallest Louisville Slugger in camp.
"I couldn't believe it," Oates said. "I thought it was a Little League bat."
* THE ANDERSON TAPES: Brady Anderson's new sideburns did not go over well with the manager, though the club's hair rules have been more relaxed since the arrival of bearded Rick Sutcliffe.
"They're ugly," Oates said. "They don't even match his hair."
Anderson isn't sure what to do about it.
"What can I do?" he said. "I've got to either cut my sideburns or do something with my hair."