Peter Schmuck: Orioles spring training might not be inspiring, but it'll at least be intriguing

February 18, 2012|Peter Schmuck

SARASOTA, Fla. — The Orioles' new spring training facility is all but complete. The second phase of the construction process is basically down to a punch list, and the stadium complex is truly one of the most scenic in the Grapefruit League.

Now, the construction of the ballclub is about to get underway with the first workout for pitchers and catchers Sunday. There is little chance of this team being as aesthetically pleasing as the group of buildings the O's will call home for the next six weeks, but everyone seems to agree that spring training will be an interesting — though not necessarily uplifting — experience.

"We have a lot of guys we haven't seen first-hand a lot, so that's going to be intriguing," manager Buck Showalter said. "Talk about guys like [Wei-Yin] Chen and [Tsuyoshi] Wada and Jason Hammel and go right on down. I could mention a lot of names, and it'll be fun seeing them running around on the field."

It will look like a stampede. There will be at least 30 pitchers on the field Sunday — barring a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms in the area — and a surprisingly high percentage of them have a real chance to be on the 25-man roster that goes north in early April.

That is an unusual number, but if sorting through them presents a major challenge for the coaching staff, Showalter doesn't seem too concerned.

"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "We have the potential there. We've got a lot of optionable people there if they can't do it, a lot of different ways to go. There's some depth there. The main thing now is getting everybody healthy and ready to go."

Try to think of it as a jigsaw puzzle, except that there's no way to know what it will look like after you fit all the pieces together.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has kept his promise to spend most of the offseason building organizational pitching depth, but he has done so with a diverse cast of new characters that does not exactly inspire confidence in the club's ability to be more competitive in the ever-hardening American League East.

Much of the intrigue will center on the two new arrivals from the Pacific Rim. Chen, a Taiwanese left-hander, is projected to make the season-opening rotation, and Wada, a Japanese lefty, could pitch as a starter or in relief. They are part of an initial global outreach by Duquette that has — for both better and worse — made the Orioles a very visible player on the international scouting scene.

Chen met briefly with American and Asian media Saturday and said through an interpreter that he hopes it isn't a short-term arrangement.

"I hope I am here for 10 years," he said. "When I was in high school, a lot of my teammates went to the States to play baseball. It has always been my dream to play in the major leagues."

If only some of the top American free-agents dreamed of playing in Baltimore, Duquette and Showalter might not have to try and mold a team from a huge assemblage of unproven talent, but this is the baseball world they and Orioles fans apparently are going to live in until some of that lightning actually finds its way into a bottle.

The important thing now is helping all the new pitchers assimilate and position themselves for the best chance of success, a responsibility that falls on both the coaching staff and everyday catcher Matt Wieters, who spent part of Saturday getting acquainted with some of his new batterymates.

"[You're going to] have to soak in as much about these guys as you can as fast as possible," Wieters said. "It's a little bit different than in years past because almost every single one of these guys has a chance to make the team. They are all fighting for a spot in that bullpen or rotation. And you're really going to have to learn a lot because it's probably going to come down to that last week or two to decide who's going to travel north with us."

Perhaps by then, we'll all have a better sense of this Orioles team ... or at least be able to identify the players without a program.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and wbal.com.

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