When the Orioles summoned outfielder Austin Hays back to the majors this weekend, he got the call while he was back home in Florida helping his fiancee’s family move furniture around the house after the threat of Hurricane Dorian had dissipated.
He wasn’t at the team’s training facility in Sarasota, Florida, preparing for his pending trip to the Arizona Fall League, but there wouldn’t have been much there for him to do anyway. It’s going to be a much quieter fall for the Orioles in Florida this year.
The Orioles aren’t holding a typical fall instructional league this month in Sarasota, in which young minor league prospects would continue their work through the beginning of October under the supervision of coaches and staff.
Instead, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said the extra offseason program for their farmhands is much more likely to come in January.
“A lot of teams in the major leagues the last couple of years have been experimenting with a January instructional league, and while we haven’t officially made that decision or announced it, I think we are planning on doing something in January as opposed to the fall,” Elias told The Baltimore Sun.
“The reason for that is in the fall, sometimes guys are tired. The pitchers have run out of innings, and there are some benefits to getting people in early before spring training and working with them then, before the season. I’ve never been a part of a January program before, but I’m thinking that it’s something we’re going to try.”
It’s not going to be something unique to the Orioles, as the St. Louis Cardinals and more recently the Chicago Cubs have adapted their offseason programs away from the September instructional league setup to provide something that served more as a runway into the spring training.
In the meantime, members of the Orioles’ player development staff will get to spend their time (after the minor league season ends with Double-A Bowie’s Eastern League playoff run) working with the approximately 60 players scheduled to take part in the traditional instructional league program at the team’s facility in the Dominican Republic. That program begins Sept. 16 and runs for five weeks.
Traditionally, the Orioles’ instructional league roster was filled out by their recent draft picks and young prospects from the lower levels who needed more work. They’d work out in the morning and play games against other teams’ instructional league rosters, with the home games at Ed Smith Stadium free to the public.
There would be a brief break for players to go home a bit before the program ran for about a month. Last year, the Orioles had their traditional roster that included top high school picks Grayson Rodriguez and Drew Rom, plus some rehabilitating players. They also had strength-and-conditioning camps for Ryan Mountcastle, Keegan Akin, and DL Hall and Zac Lowther, who all had full minor league seasons already.
Yusniel Diaz, Jomar Reyes, and Cole Billingsley all took part in a hitting camp, but didn’t play in games.
Instead, the only action for Orioles prospects will be in the Arizona Fall League, where Rylan Bannon, Mason McCoy, Alex Wells, Dean Kremer, Cody Carroll, David Lebron and eventually Hays will get an extra month of game action against fellow well-regarded prospects.
By the time the Orioles bring everyone back to Sarasota in January, Elias said, it might be a completely different program that they’re part of.
“I do think we’re going to have a busy fall, and we’ll be hiring a lot of people in the fall,” Elias said. “There will be a lot of new staff in, whether it’s front office or player development, or the performance arena. It’ll be nice to have, hopefully, more of them in place by January. But that wasn’t part of the reason that we decided to do this January thing. It’s just something that’s growing in popularity, and we wanted to give it a try.”