SARASOTA, Fla. (AP)John Means was a long shot to even make the Baltimore Orioles’ roster a year ago. Each time the Orioles added a player to the 40-man roster, Means thought he’d be the one to lose his spot.
Means not only survived spring training with the Orioles, he became their most dependable pitcher and the team’s All-Star representative.
The 26-year-old left-hander, who never made any of the Orioles’ top prospect lists, had a solid season, with a 12-11 record and 3.60 ERA. Means finished second in American League rookie of the year voting.
This year, Means not only has a spot on the club, he could be the Orioles’ opening day starter on March 26. However, he said that’s not something he’s thinking about.
“I actually haven’t looked that far ahead,” Means said. “I’m sure some people have, but I’m just focused on the next outing, to be honest.”
Manager Brandon Hyde has, but hasn’t decided whether Means will face the New York Yankees in Baltimore’s opener. However, with the Orioles playing the Yankees on Friday, he’s making certain that Means won’t pitch against them in spring training, choosing a simulated game in Sarasota for him instead.
Means, who was an 11th round draft choice in 2014 and methodically worked his way up the organization, knows that his success from 2019 doesn’t guarantee more in 2020.
“I want to come in here and still think I’m competing,” Means said. “Still thinking that I’ve got to go out there and do something. That’s usually how I want to go out there and pitch.”
Means isn’t a dominant pitcher. He doesn’t have an overpowering fastball, and last year’s success came from improving his changeup, and he’s still working on his pitches each day.
“That’s just how I’m wired,” Means said. “I don’t ever want to sit back and be comfortable and just think I’ve figured it all out. In this game it’ll humble you really, really quick. I’ve been around enough guys that have had (service) time and have had that experience. They’re like, ‘Once you think you’ve figured it out, you better keep working hard because you haven’t.’”
Hyde, whose first year as Baltimore’s manager was Means’ rookie year, has enjoyed watching him succeed because he believes Means’ journey is a lesson for other players who aren’t considered minor league hot shots: They,too can make the major leagues.
“I think John Means is a special case,” Hyde said. “I think he’s a real mature guy, ultra-professional, and he’s dealt with a lot of things, and he’s had to earn everything that has come his way. Nothing was ever handed to John. I think that’s why there’s so much appreciation from him. That’s why he competes the way he does. He’s just always had to do that.”
Means and Alex Cobb are Hyde’s only established pitchers in the rotation, and it’s essential they show younger players how to prepare, the manager believes.
“There are different ways to lead,” Hyde said. “I think John Means’ story is super valuable to a lot of the guys we have in that room. I’m hoping that guys can learn from that and follow suit.”
Means knows that baseball history is full of players who’ve had terrific rookie seasons only to fall back in their second year.
“I always pitched as if my back is against the wall,” Means said. “I’m going to keep that mentality probably my entire career.”