There are plenty of reasons to attend Orioles spring training games in 2020.
It's mid-February, and the winds are starting to change.
The chilly mornings are getting less chilly, the winter holidays seem like a distant memory, and on Tuesday, the gates at Ed Smith Stadium opened to the media. Baltimore Orioles pitchers and catchers have reported to the club.
In other words, spring training is here.
For the 10th time, spring training will be held at Ed Smith. Beginning Sunday, Feb. 23, the team will begin its slate of games designed to prepare the club for the 2020 regular season. 2019 was an unsuccessful season for the club in the win/loss department — the O's finished 54-108 — but a successful one elsewhere. The team drafted catcher Adley Rustchman with the No. 1 overall pick in June's First Year Player Draft, pinning its future on the super-prospect from Oregon State. The O's also saw the development of prospects like outfielder Austin Hays, who hit .309 with four home runs in 68 big league at-bats, and starting pitcher Grayson Rodriguez, who cruised to a 2.68 ERA at Advanced A-level Delmarva.
What does this mean for spring training 2020? Well, it means casual fans won't know the names of many veteran players on the roster, outside of guys like Chris Davis, Trey Mancini and newly signed shortstop Jose Iglesias, best known for stints with the Red Sox and Tigers. The team isn't likely to be competitive in the regular season, something that Executive Vice President and General Manager Mike Elias readily admits.
"We're worried about the development of individual players," Elias said Tuesday. "We know where we're at this year. We're realistic about our chances in the American League East this year."
That being said, an uncompetitive regular season team isn't necessarily unfun in spring training. In fact, there are plenty of reasons for fans to attend. Chief among them is Rutschman. Even though he (likely) won't make his real O's debut until 2021, decades from now fans will want to say they saw him play in his first-ever big league spring training season. Hays and Rodriguez will also get opportunities to play, and Elias said that there are guys on the team's 40-man roster who have never played in the majors who will get the opportunity to do so out of camp. Who might those guys be? It depends on how they show themselves in training sessions and games, but candidates include pitcher Keegan Akin and outfielder Ryan McKenna.
It will also be interesting to follow the progression of starting pitcher John Means, who came out of nowhere a season ago to become the team's ace and reach the All-Star game before falling off in the second half of the season.
If you don't want to attend for on-field reasons, consider attending for off-field ones. Relief pitcher Miguel Castro was the victim of an armed robbery last month in the Dominican Republic. Castro was volunteering at a baseball clinic at the time of the incident. In Spanish, Castro posted to his Instagram account's story that he survived because his assailant's gun jammed, and thanked God for saving him. If there is someone to be rooting for this spring training, it's Castro.
Not all the off-field reasons are so dire. Relief pitcher Hunter Harvey has a sick mullet, for example. Infielder Ryan Mountcastle's name is "Ryan Mountcastle." It doesn't get much better than that.
Whatever your reasons, there's still no better way to spend a spring afternoon or evening than at Ed Smith Stadium. The hot dogs are crisp, the beer is cold and the community is friendly.
See you at the ballpark.