Baltimore Orioles: 5 Surprise Players That Could Break Camp with the Club
Spring training can be a different experience for each player. Some players have roster spots locked up and just need to work on getting ready for Opening Day. For others, it's a battle to snag one of the scarce roster spots.
The people fighting for spots often have very different stories. Whether they are an aging veteran looking for a final shot or a young gun looking to break into the league, they will fight for their lives to avoid being sent back to the minors.
In the past, a lot of players have surprised in camp and managed to make a huge impact. Bartolo Colon, Jason Heyward and Casey Kotchman have all been examples of players not expected to be a part of the major league team that snuck in late.
Here are the top five candidates to win a job with a strong spring.
The Rule 5 draft can yield surprising results at times. Dan Uggla, Johan Santana, Josh Hamilton and Ivan Nova have all been selected in the draft and gone on to successful major league time. The Orioles selected Ryan Flaherty in 2011's Rule 5 draft from the Chicago Cubs and he'll have a good shot to make the team as a backup infielder, especially if Brian Roberts isn't healthy.
The odd thing about Flaherty is that after being selected, he jumped to seventh on Baseball America's list of the Orioles' top prospects. That's either a huge knock on the Orioles' farm system or a big compliment to Flaherty and Dan Duquette for selecting him.
Flaherty plays all around the infield, but could make the most impact for the Orioles at second or third base. He has some good power, as exhibited by his 19 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A in 2011.
Keeping Flaherty may be difficult, but the O's might want to give it a shot. If they keep him on the 25-man roster all season, they would get him for good, so he has an interesting chance to make the team.
The Orioles made a big decision when they got rid of former first round pick Brandon Snyder, but they liked Jai Miller better, so they made a 40-man move.
Miller is the type of player that the Orioles can take a chance on. Since the O's are so far out of contention, they can let a powerful, young outfielder come in for a low-pressure chance at the majors.
Jai Miller hit 32 home runs in 2011 for the Sacramento River Cats before getting called up to the show for the first time. He another home run in Oakland that was key in winning a game. Miller's power and versatility in the outfield could give him an edge at camp.
Miller's biggest competition for a spot is Endy Chavez, who the Orioles signed to a major league deal. Chavez has the advantage of being established and being able to bat first in the order, so Miller will have to really outplay him.
I think that the best chance for Miller to make the team is to hit his way into a DH time share with Wilson Betemit. He could be the fifth outfielder as well, but could hit against lefties because Betemit is best against righties.
The Orioles made the perfect choice (pun intended) when they signed Armando Galarraga to a minor league deal.
Galarraga will be forever remembered for being robbed of a perfect game on a bad call by Jim Joyce in 2010, but that one game won't do much for him anymore. The 30-year-old pitcher from Venezuala has struggled with inconsistency and has been cast off by the Tigers and Diamondbacks, only to come away with a minor league deal with the Orioles.
The competition for the rotation will be fierce. There are probably 12 pitchers already on the 40-man roster that are vying for the five spots and it would be hard to believe that Jeremy Guthrie and Wei-Yin Chen don't get spots. That leaves at least 11 pitchers for three spots.
Galarraga will likely fit into the Norfolk rotation, but he could surprise everyone with a strong spring. If Galarraga can show that he'll pitch deep into games, I couldn't imagine Buck Showalter letting him go to the minors.
For a pitcher, the bullpen is one of the easiest ways to make a big league roster. Oscar Villareal, who was recently signed to a minor league deal, will have a shot to make the Orioles, three years removed from his last stint in the majors.
Villareal was last seen pitching for the Houston Astros, but has since played in the minors for Seattle, Colorado, Kansas City, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Tommy John surgery caused his shot at a major league comeback to stall in 2009, but he has fully recovered and at 30 years of age, Villareal still has more left in the tank.
I'd expect Villareal to at least make some noise this spring. He'll likely end up at Norfolk when the season begins, but there will inevitably be some injuries, which could open the door for Villareal. Josh Rupe made the bullpen unexpectedly in 2011 and Villareal could do the same.
Jon Link is another long shot to make the bullpen, but as I said, the bullpen has some spots open and Link may push to take one.
One thing that bullpen candidates benefit from is that Jim Johnson and Kevin Gregg are really the only locks to make the bullpen. A couple other spots may be reserved for the losers of the starting rotation battle, but the Orioles sometimes carry 13 pitcher, so spots are definitely open.
Link has pitched pretty well out of the bullpen in the hitting frenzy that is the Pacific Coast League. In his three Triple-A seasons, Link had a 3.99 ERA, which isn't that bad. His one stint in the majors went pretty well, allowing four runs in nine games for the Dodgers in 2010.