Every year, the Orioles invite between 15 and 20 players who aren’t on the major league roster to spring training. Despite some fans thinking incorrectly that this exercise is a substitute for authentic team building, it’s actually a vital part of putting a team together.
Norfolk and Bowie need competitive teams, too and that’s not for cosmetic reasons. Promising young players need to learn how to win, and sometimes veteran players who have major league experience can help.
That was the case a year ago when Paul Janish, who signed a minor league contract with the team was a key factor in helping young pitchers at Norfolk. His defense at shortstop was superb, and when J.J. Hardy was injured in late August, Janish’s contract was purchased.
Janish is back again this year on a minor league deal, and if there’s an injury to an infielder during spring training, he’ll have a good chance to make the Opening Day roster.
Otherwise, he’ll go back to the Tides and again solidify the team’s defense.
Last year, Nolan Reimold returned to the team on a minor league contract. He had a solid first two months of the season at Norfolk and played well enough the rest of the season to earn a major league contract for this year.
Chaz Roe came to camp last year with some major league time with the Yankees and Diamondbacks. He stayed around until late in camp, and two months later was back in the big leagues.
Roe stayed around, too and will compete for one of the final spots in the bullpen.
Dariel Alvarez was invited, too, but he didn’t have enough minor league service time to need to be placed on the 40-man. He came up to the team in late August.
Steve Johnson, Ryan Lavarnway and Chris Parmelee also saw time on the major league roster in 2015.
If seven of the 17 players who were invited on Monday play for the Orioles in 2016, that’s hardly a wasted exercise.
Two of the 17 fall into the Alvarez category: Hunter Harvey, who came in for a look last year before a series of injuries prevented him from playing at all last year, and Trey Mancini, who led the Eastern League in batting.
A pair of young catchers, Chance Cisco and Jonah Heim, are also on hand, but they’re not likely to see big league action any time soon.
This year’s Chaz Roe could be Jeff Beliveau, an intriguing left-hander with lots of major league experience with the Cubs and Rays. Beliveau had surgery on his labrum last April, and did some throwing at last month’s minicamp.
Of course, Janish is the favorite to be this year’s Janish. He’s joined by Ozzie Martinez, who wasn’t in big league camp last year, but was signed to help solidify Bowie’s defense. He did that, and the Orioles will get a longer look this year.
An old friend, Steve Tolleson, will show up. Tolleson likely has a post-playing future in coaching, and pitchers in Norfolk would be lucky if they had a double play combination of Tolleson and Janish behind them.
Last year, Cesar Cabral was signed to a minor league contract, but he spent his team at Twin Lakes instead of the Ed Smith Stadium complex.
Cabral had two brief appearances in early June, and he’ll come to major league camp.
A year ago, Mychal Givens didn’t even merit an invitation to major league camp, but was summoned when the team was short. One of his Bowie teammates, Ashur Tolliver, who was drafted in 2009, finally gets his chance to impress the team. It doesn’t hurt that Tolliver is a left-hander.
Xavier Avery and L.J. Hoes have returned to the organization. Along with Alfredo Marte, they have big league experience, but probably don’t have much chance of cracking the roster—at least initially. Marte was assigned No. 80, the highest number for any players.
Pitchers Pedro Beato, Andy Oliver and Todd Redmond and catcher Audry Perez also have big league experience, but seemingly a long road to the Orioles.
Not all the players invited to camp make much of an impression. Last year’s invitees included J.P. Arencibia, Mark Hendrickson, Dane De La Rosa, Jayson Nix and Matt Tuiasosopo. All were big leaguers at one time, but none came within weeks of making the Orioles.
Hendrickson was 40, and a new grandfather. He was always great to talk to as he discussed his family, transitioning to a sidearmer and life in the NBA. Like Pat Connaughton, Hendrickson was a two-sport guy, and after a decent NBA career, had a long major league career.
He retired in mid-March. The Orioles won’t have any grandfathers this spring, but there’ll be a lot of good stories from them beginning in nine days.