The Orioles' minor league spring training facility is the only one in the major leagues that is separate from the major league facility. While this is a nuisance for reporters trying to cover both camps, ahem, it does allow for unparalleled access to the minor league players and coaches. Fans can even sit in between the four baseball diamonds and watch players from all levels of the minor leagues run drills and take batting practice up close.
On Saturday, the early drills focused on defense. Pitchers took turns on the mound while coaches called out situations and had them react on the fly. Most pitchers handled themselves well, while 19 year old Zach Britton looked his age. He made a wayward throw to second base on a double play situation and then froze on a play when he should have covered first base. He got more chances and responded well to coaching, which is the most important element when you are talking about a guy with less than 50 professional innings. During infield drills, Dustin Yount stood out at first base, vacuuming up every grounder even close to him. On one occasion, the coach mis-hit a ball too far down the line, but Yount still got to it, looking very smooth the whole time. Fellow first baseman Chris Vinyard didn't look quite as good. He was displaying some improved footwork around the bag when receiving throws, but he didn't look at ease when fielding grounders. On hard hit grounders to his right, he has a tendency to pull his head up and his glove comes up too far off the ground.
Of particular interest was the extra defensive work that the Orioles' last two first round picks were receiving. Billy Rowell worked extensively with minor league fielding/baserunning instructor Tom Lawless. As Lawless explained to Rowell, he wasn't getting square to the ball as he approached grounders, often causing him to misplay them. At 18 years old, Rowell still has to learn the fundamentals of the position. Once he has those down, he'll need a lot of repetitions to commit them to muscle-memory. Rowell certainly has a lot of work to do, but his work ethic is unquestioned and the Orioles seem committed to keeping him on the hot corner… for now. Brandon Snyder, on the other hand, looked quite comfortable with his new first baseman's glove on. Although he doesn't have the range for a middle infield position, his soft hands looked like they would play there. He also looked comfortable in all phases of his game, showing no visible indications that his shoulder is still bothering him. His swing, complete with natural loft, was clearly unhindered. If Snyder and Rowell are at the same level in 2008, it's possible they will switch corner infield positions.
The catchers took part in their own drills that involved blocking balls in the dirt, recovering bunts/passed balls, and throwing down to second base. Morgan Clendenin stood out defensively, while Kyle Dahlberg sailed a few of his throws. During bunting drills; Pedro Silveren, Jarod Rine, Bobby Andrews, and the Figueroa brothers set the standard. Arturo Rivas and Richard D. Oleo were the only non-catchers/first basemen to have consistent trouble getting their bunts down. Nolan Reimold didn't stand out either way, but deserves a mention because everyone was calling him Home Run Nolan during the drill.
Batting practice happens in two stages. At first, a few pitchers get work in while throwing at about 90% to their organization mates. On the pitching side, Luis Lebron was clearly the highlight, rendering everyone he faced useless at the plate. His delivery looks like it puts stress on his throwing arm, but his arm action is extremely fast and the ball pops out of his hand. Pedro Florimon stepped in against Bruce Gallaway and was fooled by a lot of off-speed pitches. It could have just been a bad day, but he did a poor job recognizing anything other than a fastball and didn't hit anything with much authority. The very large Anthony Martinez stepped in against Kyle Schmidt, showing power that is more the result of raw strength than bat speed.
In the second stage of batting practice, coaches throw to the 60+ hitters who still need reps. The lanky Paul Chmiel impressed by making it a point to consistently hit line drives to the opposite field. When his body matures and fills out, he could become a serious power threat. Chris Vinyard looked similarly impressive. He may be handicapped as a right-hander who is already at the bottom of the defensive spectrum, but his bat will keep getting him chances.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com