O's open camp with big hopes for 2010
Rebuilding movement over, club wants to be judged on record
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Michael Gonzalez, one of the Orioles' biggest offseason signings, stood in front of his locker at Ed Smith Stadium on Wednesday afternoon and tried to contain himself.
"I'm excited," Gonzalez said. "I've been ready to rumble for about two weeks already."
Dozens of other Orioles echoed Gonzalez's sentiment in the days leading up to Thursday, which officially signals the start of Spring Training with the first pitchers and catchers workout.
Baltimore's preseason kicks off in a new city, with a spacious facility that boasts upgraded fields and the convenience of having their Minor League operations just 15 minutes away. The team spent the previous 14 years at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, and the shift to the Gulf Coast will also make for an easier travel schedule throughout the Grapefruit League.
"This is going to be a good thing here [in Sarasota], to be able to have the whole team on the same side of the state," backup catcher Chad Moeller said. "It's an exciting year ahead of us. The [front office has] made some good moves and there are going to be some good people in [the locker room]. There's a lot of young players that did well last year, so I'm excited to see how that goes. It should be a very fun camp."
And most of this year's buzz surrounds the group assembled for Thursday's workout. The Orioles have three young starters in their rotation, and catcher Matt Wieters is expected to take a major leap forward in his second big league season. Baltimore also has newcomers Kevin Millwood and Gonzalez to work into the mix, a project that starts right away.
While the O's starting rotation doesn't figure to have many question marks, things could get murky if Brad Bergesen's timetable is delayed. Right now, the right-hander is projected to be about 10 days behind in camp after suffering a strained right shoulder capsule filming a commercial in early December.
The Orioles will keep a careful eye on the 24-year-old Bergesen, but the main camp battles will be for the role of backup catcher, the last utility man and the three remaining spots in the bullpen.
Gonzalez was signed to be the team's closer, which will slide Jim Johnson back to the setup role. Lefty veteran Mark Hendrickson figures to be a late-innings guy, and as a former starter, he can go multiple frames if necessary. And if healthy, Baltimore will likely use former starter Koji Uehara out of the 'pen.
Manager Dave Trembley said most of Spring Training will be devoted to the pitchers and getting them ready for the season, a task which starts as soon as the Orioles take the field on Thursday.
"That's what we will do; get our pitchers ready, identify our bullpen situation, start playing and tinker with the lineup," Trembley said.
The Orioles' batting order could be another interesting development this spring, as Trembley will work out how to best balance his offense without a true cleanup hitter. Brian Roberts is the team's leadoff man and Cesar Izturis will likely hit ninth, but the other seven slots -- a group that includes Miguel Tejada, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis -- could be structured a number of ways.
Top prospects Brandon Snyder and Josh Bell will be watched closely all spring and may be ready to make their debuts after the All-Star break, while the development of pitching prospects Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton will be also be monitored.
"We certainly have room for optimism based on the performance of some of our young players last year," said MacPhail. "But we need to show some collective progress as a team now, and that's going to have to manifest itself in terms of wins."
The Orioles begin their Grapefruit League schedule with a home game against division-rival Tampa Bay on March 3, the first of a total of 16 games at Ed Smith Stadium. New York, Boston and the Rays will each visit the Birds' new digs three times.
Baltimore will also see the Pirates, Twins, Phillies, Tigers and Mets during this spring, ending with a home game against the Mets on April 3. After that, the Orioles will stage a workout day at Ed Smith Stadium and another at Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field before they set their final roster and get ready for the long haul of the regular season.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.