New spring park excites Orioles brass
Optimism abounds as O's gather near Florida's Gulf Coast
SARASOTA, Fla. -- President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail sat in the second story of the Orioles' freshly painted Spring Training clubhouse building, renovations cluttering the nearby hallway and sunshine billowing in from his office window.
"Just sitting here right now, instead of in Fort Lauderdale, to me, that's an indication of meaningful progress," MacPhail said Tuesday.
Indeed, Baltimore's shift from South Florida -- where it spent the previous 14 seasons -- to the heart of the Grapefruit League's Gulf Coast is about more to MacPhail and manager Dave Trembley than shorter bus rides to games: it's also a chance to begin anew.
"I tell people it's a great time to be part of the Orioles," Trembley said from inside his office at Ed Smith Stadium. "Because this is probably the best team the Orioles have had going into the start of the season in a long time."
And the reasons for that are relatively new, as well. MacPhail has gone on record as saying the Orioles are finally out of their rebuilding phase, and potential impact rookies such as pitchers Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman have already generated a buzz around camp that's been missing the past few springs in South Florida.
"Both of those guys showed they could handle the rigors of competing at the Major League level," Trembley said of the two, who made a combined 20 big league starts following their second-half promotions.
"I think you see a big difference in a positive way once those guys go home in the offseason and they come back the next year."
Catching phenom Matt Wieters, who hit .288 in his rookie season, will also arrive in Sarasota later this week with a year of experience under his belt. The 23-year-old will be asked to command a pitching staff that added former Rangers veteran Kevin Millwood in part to help amp up efforts to ease the transition of the younger guys.
"We know that the largest barometer of our success is probably still going to be whether those young players can sustain the improvement they've shown or the performance they've shown," MacPhail said. "But we need to support them and surround them with as many high quality [veteran] guys as we can."
The additions of free agents Miguel Tejada and Garrett Atkins to the corner infield spots, along with former Braves closer Michael Gonzalez, is a page from the same book.
"We wanted to bring in high quality guys that we thought our guys could learn from," MacPhail said. "We think they all fit that bill."
And this year, the learning won't be reserved just for those lucky enough to get a Major League Spring Training invite. While the team's Fort Lauderdale complex was a three-hour drive to the Minor League operations, Ed Smith Stadium is just 15 minutes from Twin Lakes Park.
"It's a huge upgrade for us in just about any way you can calculate," MacPhail said. "We made the investments in upgrading our facilities, whether they are in the Dominican Republic or getting involved internationally or being more aggressive in the [First-Year Player Draft]. But it always rang a little hollow to me as long as we had the facility set up we had [previously] in Spring Training."
Although Ed Smith won't host its first official Orioles practice until pitchers and catchers report on Thursday, a handful of players got in a workout on Tuesday, including Tillman and right-hander Kam Mickolio, who is in the running for a bullpen spot. Japanese pitcher Koji Uehara also threw at Twin Lakes.
The team's first full-squad workout is scheduled for Feb. 23, and as of Tuesday, MacPhail didn't foresee any changes to the Spring Training roster, meaning the current group will report as is next week.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.