Free-agent hitter Jack Cust participates in tryout at the Orioles' minicamp

January 14, 2014|By Eduardo A. Encina | The Baltimore Sun

SARASOTA, Fla. – Veteran free-agent hitter Jack Cust has been waiting for an opportunity to get back into the major leagues for nearly a year. He will now have that opportunity this week at the Orioles’ minicamp at the Ed Smith Stadium complex.

Cust, who will turn 35 on Thursday, entered the Orioles clubhouse on Tuesday holding his Tampa Bay Rays equipment bag from his last major league stop, a spring training invitation that ended with him being cut and then sitting out the 2013 season waiting for another team to call.

Cust’s last regular-season major league game was July 27, 2011 with Seattle.

But on Tuesday, Cust — who played 28 total games with the Orioles in 2003 and 2004 — began a three-day tryout with the club here in Sarasota. If the Orioles like what they see, they could sign Cust to a minor league deal with an invitation to major league spring training.

With the fields wet after rain in the morning, Cust first hit in the complex’s covered cages and then took ground balls at first base and fly balls in the outfield on the turf field.

“I just want to play,” Cust said. “I know I can still hit. I know I can still drive the ball. The swing feels great, my bat speed feels great. I’m just looking to help out and play baseball again. It’s a good opportunity. Baltimore, I was here a long time ago. It doesn’t seem like that long ago, but 10 years. It’s kind of cool. This is where I got my first shot to play in the big leagues for a little bit.”

Cust hit 33 home runs, drew a league-leading 111 walks and posted a .375 on-base percentage back in 2008 with the Oakland Athletics, but his at-bats diminished after he hit 25 homers for Oakland in 2009.

He asked the Orioles for a tryout last season, but nothing came of it. Instead, he went to camp with the Rays and hit .174 with no home runs in 10 games before getting cut.

“I'm trying to get back in the game, and I'm willing to do anything it takes,” Cust said. “I've been hitting a lot, taking a lot of ground balls. Took a lot of ground balls in the summer, just trying to get back to playing a little bit of first base, which I hadn't done in a while, and still taking fly balls in the outfield.”

Cust’s professional career began with the Arizona Diamondbacks when Buck Showalter managed the team, so he reached out to Showalter and he was invited to tryout.

“He asked me to come down and work out,” Showalter said. “I know Jack. He’s a professional hitter. He’s got as long a track record that you know what you’re going to get.”

But the Orioles’ spring training roster is getting crowded.

The club has already invited 12 outfielders to major league camp this spring, and getting all those players enough innings to evaluate them will already be a challenge. So Cust, who would primarily serve as designated hitter, faces an uphill climb.

“Comparatively speaking, you want to compare him to what you have, and what you potentially could have,” Showalter said. “I think we’ll know in-or-out on that opportunity in the next few days.”

First-round pick Harvey taking in first camp

This week is right-hander Hunter Harvey’s first experience of an environment similar to major league spring training.

Harvey, the Orioles’ first-round pick last season, has pitched in just 13 professional games and he just turned 19 last month.

“I think it’s pretty big,” said Harvey, who was the 22nd overall pick last season out of Bandys High School in Catawba, N.C. “It’s my first year in spring training. Just coming down here and being able to do this is a pretty big honor.”

Harvey had a 1.78 ERA in 25 1/3 innings in the Gulf Coast League and rookie-level Class-A Aberdeen last season.

This time last year, Harvey was preparing for his senior year in high school.

“I think it went OK, going from high school to pro ball,” Harvey said. “It was a big jump, but I think it went OK. I think [now it’s about] just commanding all my pitches. Just learning how to pitch the game the right way.

Harvey had one familiar face watching him Tuesday: His father, former All-Star closer Bryan Harvey, was at camp with him and even sat in on meetings with coaches.

“We sat down with Bryan today,” Showalter said. “That’s pretty good pedigree right there. Do you know who knows Hunter Harvey the best of anyone here? His daddy. So I’m glad Bryan is here.”

Harvey said his father and his brother, Kris, a former farmhand with the Florida Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates, have helped him make the adjustment to professional baseball.

“They both went through it, so they can just give me knowledge on what they did and tell me all the adjustments they did and just try to help me out that way,” Harvey said. “It’s been huge.”

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