Alan Dell

Lakewood Ranch’s Ohlman settling in with Orioles

About 20 yards separated Mike Ohlman and his former teammates at Lakewood Ranch, but in reality it could’ve been light years.

Ohlman played for the Mustangs last year when he was considered the school’s best major league prospect since Lastings Milledge, now with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder is less than a year removed from aluminum bats and playing just for fun. But he has matured, and his advice is don’t follow his path unless you are willing to make sacrifices.

Of course, the money is important, and Ohlman proved to be quite knowledgeable about the business side of baseball before signing a contract with the Baltimore Orioles on Aug. 17.

Baseball America reported Ohlman, an 11th-round pick, received a $995,000 signing bonus, which put him in the history books. The bible of baseball, the publication said Ohlman and another Baltimore draft choice, received the most money ever given to someone drafted after the 10th round.

Besides a .500-plus batting average and an over-flowing fountain of natural ability, the catcher had an ace up his sleeve. He had signed to play with the University of Miami’s heralded program.

Baltimore had to get league approval to pay Ohlman his money, and there was speculation the Orioles had planned to do that all along. Regardless, the 19-year-old has proven to be a wise investment so far with his demeanor and ability to absorb instruction.

Ohlman has been in Baltimore’s minor league camp in Sarasota since spring training started. Being home afforded him a chance to see his former team play this week in the Sarasota High Baseball Classic at the Orioles training complex.

Ohlman doesn’t talk money, but he will talk baseball. Dollars aside, his advice is to make sure you love the game before you put your name on the dotted line.

“The biggest surprise for me about professional baseball is that it’s a grind,” Ohlman said. “You come out here each day and grind away and that takes a toll on you. You don’t know how hard it is until you actually do it. But I love the game and everything about it. What could be better than coming out here everyday?”

Ohlman has been spending much time this spring with the Orioles Single-A team, Delmarva (Md), which plays in the South Atlantic League. He might be traveling north with the Shorebirds this weekend or he could stay for extended spring and join them later or go to one of Baltimore’s short season teams.

The one thing Ohlman knows is that wherever he goes he will play. The Orioles didn’t pay him money to sit.

Baltimore minor league catcher instructor Don Werner has spent more time with Ohlman than anyone in the organization and couldn’t be happier with the young prospect.

“I see a lot of improvement in his catching just from when he was in the instructional league,” Werner said. “I am really looking forward to seeing what he can do when he plays a full season. He has improved in every facet of the game. He is such a great worker and pleasure to work and is picking things up pretty quick.”

Ohlman has adjusted well to the wooden bat and his defensive skills have shown marked improvement in games he has played against other minor leaguers from various levels.

“The biggest difference in pro ball is everyone knows how to pitch,” Ohlman said. “They know how to work the wooden bats, and you’ve got to figure out how to work against them. It took awhile to get used to the wooden bats, and you’ve got to get stronger to help with that.”

Though some in the organization might want take a slower approach and believe Ohlman is not quite ready for Delmarva, Werner is not hesitant to push him ahead.

“Mike doesn’t have much experience in pro ball, but I am never afraid to challenge someone if they’ve got talent,” Werner said. “I don’t think he would lead the league in hitting or be the all-star catcher, but at the same time he can compete there. We will see what happens.”