WJZ sports director Mark Viviano is in Sarasota, Florida, for Orioles spring training. Below are his latest observations.
SARASOTA, Fla. (WJZ) — I’ve covered 20 years of Orioles spring training and each year is different: different managers, players, expectations and attitudes. This year, the manager and the players are mostly the same from last year — but the expectation and attitude are noticeably different. For the first time since 2012, the O’s begin spring training following a losing season, and there are serious concerns in camp. The greatest concern is whether the team is capable of improving upon their last-place finish of 2017. The signing of free agent starting pitcher Andrew Cashner lifted spirits somewhat, but even with Cashner, the O’s now have just three sure starters and six others auditioning for a spot (while Dan Duquette continues to wait out the slow free agent market for another possible, proven starter).
I’ve spoken with returning starters Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman and both are forthright about their individual and collective failures of last year while both are also optimistic about improvement. The most interesting input I’ve gotten regarding the O’s pitching is from catcher Caleb Joseph who’s in line to be the primary catcher for the season — a first in his Major League career. We sat down for an interview and Joseph just about jumped out his chair while voicing his frustration over pitchers who won’t throw strikes and end up in 3-1 counts to power hitters because they’re “nibbling.” He added, “that stuff about throwing 75 pitches to get through 3 or 4 innings is garbage!” Joseph does not sugarcoat the problem, he calls it out — and he took it a step further when discussing the attitude of the team overall. Joseph believes the O’s have gotten away from the things that made them a contender in the seasons prior to last year: out-working and out-hustling the opponent, attention to detail to the point of perfection and being “blue collar” as opposed to what may be a greater element of player entitlement. Joseph says the work ethic is something they talk about but his question is: are we going to stop talking it and start doing it?
I’m sure some fans (and even some players) might wonder how Joseph, a career back-up, has the credentials or the confidence to challenge his teammates on their approach. Well, as it turns out, his manager agrees with him. I mentioned Joseph’s comments to manager Buck Showalter and he said it sounds like Joseph might have glanced at his notes. Showalter says his message to the team will include a “redefinition of expectations of how we do things.” The manager alluded to getting back to an understanding of how the Orioles have to play to make up the gap in payroll and international prospects that other teams in the American League East division have. He’s talking tough this spring training and says it won’t be a place for those with “thin skin.”
As I mentioned at the outset, every spring training comes with different expectations and attitudes. It’s clear the O’s are in for an attitude adjustment to help avoid what many analysts expect to be another losing season.