The daily practices at the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota that constitute the Orioles minicamp are about to wrap up as minor league spring training has begun. Some interesting storylines emerged from this gathering of prospects, all of them quite positive.
Orioles Training Camp Highlights: The Infielders
Shortstop Joey Ortiz started his 2021 season well and looked to be establishing himself as a rising star. Emerging skills in the infield mixed with a potent, loud bat made it seem like there would be an explosive finish to the year. A torn labrum unfortunately ended those plans early. In Sarasota this winter Ortiz has been back to his old self in every way. Stopping grounders with flair, showing smooth footwork and the laser arm that finishes plays is only part of the package. His BP sessions are loud and consistent barrel contact means laced line drives all over the power alleys.
Another infielder who demands attention to trained observers and casual fans alike is Darell Hernaiz. Having watched him since his debut season I’ve seen all aspects of his development but the self confidence now on display is that ‘6th tool’ that truly solidifies his profile. Early on back in 2019 I saw the same attitude day in and day out whether Darell drove in the game winner or went 0-4 w/4 k’s. Now he’s grown in size, strength and skill but bringing that belief has taken him from good player to leader type. He goes through drill after mistake free drill and when the grounders move faster he steps up the pace to meet it. Seeing him at this level is in no way a surprise, it was always a matter of when.
Orioles Training Camp Highlights: The Outfield
Moving to the outfield, drills have brought out the true foundational skills in these performers and some are more than impressive. Watching O’s 2021 Minor League co-MVP Kyle Stowers move in the outfield while the ball’s in the air he attacks routes like a wide receiver jockeying for position. When he extends to catch it’s with the kind of accuracy and strength that only unique movers possess. His pivots and posture are dripping with confidence so tough grabs just seem a degree easier. I never knew he was a true stud defender. Now I do.
Also another name from the outfield group has impressed me doing most of the little things really well. 2021 draft pick John Rhodes has been discussed as both an infielder and an outfielder. While versatility is good, his tracking and catching skills are great. I’ve seen him able to speed towards the wall and snag the ball while slowing at the track to avoid a big collision. I’d be surprised, although pleasantly to see him do the same in the infield. Young catcher Creed Willems has shown versatility and an aesthetically pleasing swing to build on. Vets like Adam Hall, (footwork) Robert Neustrom, (pitch selectivity) and Pat Dorrian (gap to gap/oppo stroke) have shown improvements to their profiles while the execs are watching.
Orioles Training Camp Highlights: The Studs
Future franchise leaders like Adley Rutschman, Coby Mayo and Gunnar Henderson have been depositing baseballs all over Sarasota. Watching the battle between the electric Henderson and the staggeringly consistent Jordan Westburg has been another fun aspect of this minicamp. Colton Cowser is having enough fun for the whole team as he’s loud and outgoing all day long bringing energy to every rep. Newer prospects like infielder Collin Burns and corner Ryan Higgins are part of the gang and have had their share of sweet plays or hard knocks in the cage. It’s been exactly what the team’s innovative player development crew wanted when they designed the camp last year.
Finally, the best and certainly biggest surprise of all has been Heston Kjerstad. The 2020 #2 pick missed 2021 with myocarditis so there were concerns about all levels of his health and fitness. Those are gone now as I’ve seen him perform athletic maneuvers consistently with ease. He runs hard but with measured pace to get himself in position to make plays quickly. It’s an understatement to say he looks healthy because he looks like an outstanding player beginning his climb toward Baltimore. There are other battles and positions to follow, most importantly the arms, but those will come over the next few weeks.
Scrimmages and games against other clubs’ affiliates will help sort those out. There’s competition coming soon but the Orioles star prospects are as ready as they’ll ever be after warming up in the Sarasota sun.
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