SARASOTA, Fla. -- The wait is over.
On the heels of the organization's most successful season in 15 years, the Orioles opened a much-anticipated 2013 season Tuesday, as pitchers and catchers reported to the team's spring facility in advance of Wednesday's first workout.
"We have some things we can build on, because we had a good year last year, but this is 2013," executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said of an Orioles team that advanced to the American League Division Series. "This is a new group of players. This is a new season. We have new challenges. This is effectively a new team, but I can tell you this: The consistency of the leadership from the manager and the work ethic of the players instilled last year, that should carry over."
Under Duquette -- who signed a six-year extension this winter, along with manager Buck Showalter -- the O's have accumulated some serious pitching depth, and the starting-rotation competition will be one of the camp's major storylines. There figures to be the most competition for the fifth and final spot, with Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez considered to have a leg up on the other starters. Steve Johnson, Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Tommy Hunter and T.J. McFarland are all options heading into spring, and top pitching prospects Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman will also get a look.
Bundy and Gausman will have their innings monitored all season and will not be shut down early, with Showalter noting that the pair of top prospects will be available to the organization in September and October. How about before then?
"That's how I'll answer it," Showalter said, referring to the organization's stance of insuring both Bundy and Gausman will pitch a full season. "How we get there, we'll see. I know that on the front end of it, we're going to get ahead of it. Does that mean I'm not pulling for [Bundy] to make the club? I'm not saying it's a long shot. We've got a lot of innings here for pitchers, so everybody is going to get a long look, including him."
Jair Jurrjens is another rotation possibility, should the two sides reach an agreement -- as his contract has not been officially announced and is being held up due to medical issues. Duquette said the organization hopes to have a resolution on Jurrjens within the next few days.
Matusz and Hunter are two starting candidates who could be bullpen options. Led by closer Jim Johnson, who led the AL in saves, the Orioles don't have many holes in their bullpen. But with relievers Pedro Strop and Luis Ayala both pitching in the World Baseball Classic and Showalter noting that he will bring certain guys along slowly this spring, there figures to be plenty of innings early in camp.
There has also been a slew of early arrivals to camp, with Showalter noting that there were maybe only three or four position players he had yet to see. The club's first full-squad workout takes place on Saturday, but several invitees are already in Florida, working out unofficially at the team's complex.
Among those who got in some early work Tuesday was outfielder Nolan Reimold, who hit off live pitching for the first time since undergoing season-ending neck surgery. Reimold, along with Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts, is expected to be a full-go at the start of camp and should help bolster an Orioles lineup that was unable to add a big bat this winter.
"I think it's a much more mature team and it should be a more competitive and confident team, because they proved to themselves that they can compete against the best teams in the league," said Duquette, who called the AL East "a tough playground."
"Last year, we asked the team to think about their identity as a team, and they did that and they established themselves as a real competitive team by virtue of winning the one-run games and the two-run games and a team that's willing to come out and stay until the job is done."
The Orioles hope to prove that last season's success was sustainable, and when the clubhouse opens to the media Wednesday afternoon, the players are bound to answer questions about momentum and following up 2012. Showalter, who was nothing if not consistent in his "one game at a time" mantra last season, didn't seem too worried about his club moving on.
"Our guys are going to turn the page like they did all last year," said Showalter, who has scheduled two intrasquad games Feb. 20 and 21 to get the players ready for the Grapefruit League opener against the Twins on Feb. 23.
"We want these to be the good old days. One of the biggest challenges we've got is keeping the clocks right where we know where the finish line is, because we're going to be down here for a long, long time. You're going to see some guys you won't even see one day, there just going to be told to stay home. This is a long, long time for guys, and I'm not going to let the challenges of the WBC get in the way of having these guys where they need to be in April."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less