Baltimore Orioles: 12 Breakout Candidates for Spring Training
Every February, each MLB team enters spring training with question marks surrounding the exact composition of the team's roster, some clubs more so than others.
It can be uncertainty in who will take the final two spots in the pitching rotation, or the shortstop job is up for grabs—if you look around the MLB, you'll see at least one example of every situation each and every year.
For the Baltimore Orioles, though, things will be hectic this time around.
I can't say I've ever seen a situation like the one that is the O's spring training camp. The starting rotation has no one sure to be in it come Opening Day—all five spots are up for grabs. There are utility player battles, batting order battles and the starting second baseman job is there for the taking. The bullpen only has one or two guarantees.
Manager Buck Showalter has a lot of decision making to do. Fortunately for him, he'll have plenty of time to look at what he has and make up his mind.
Thankfully, even if the O's don't exactly have mega-quality at their spring training complex, they're loaded with quantity. And the more quantity you have, the greater your chances are of finding a gem, or "nugget," as Showalter likes to refer to it.
You could see the following players either break out as stars this spring training and into the regular season, prove to the Orioles' coaching staff that they belong on the team this April with an impressive spring, or fall somewhere in between.
Robert Andino; Utility Infielder
Robert Andino really came into his own over the course of the 2011 season, and could very well force Showalter's hand this spring.
Showalter is on record as stating, numerous times, that he would like to keep Andino in a super-utility role and find someone to play second base consistently in Brian Roberts' absence. But if Andino continues to improve his game like he did last year, he could very well become the regular second baseman for as long as Roberts is out.
As it stands, Andino is probably the favorite for starting at second base in Baltimore on Opening Day, and he could quite possibly see the first pitch thrown to an Orioles' hitter during the regular season as well.
Under Showalter, Andino has blossomed. You should keep a close eye on him.
Tsuyoshi Wada; Starting Pitcher
The first major move of the offseason for the O's, the signing of left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada out of Japan, did more than just bolster the O's pitching staff. It showed that new GM Dan Duquette is serious about raiding the international markets and setting up better scouting overseas.
Showalter seems to be pretty keen on Wada. The pitcher features above-average breaking stuff with pinpoint control, and he has been showing off that control early in camp. His fastball doesn't have much velocity to it, but it does have some movement, and again, Wada can throw it wherever he pleases.
Many baseball analysts and fans feel as though Wada may get stuck in the bullpen with all the starting competition in the O's camp, but the pitcher is determined to prove he belongs starting every fifth day, and that drive could carry him a long way.
Count me as one who hopes Wada turns into a good one for the O's. They need all the pitching help they can get.
Look for him to leave it all on the field this spring.
Nolan Reimold; Left Fielder
After surging back into the picture during the second half of last season, Nolan Reimold is out to prove that he's finally healthy, and that his big power potential will come through for him and the Orioles.
One thing that the Birds could definitely use is a legitimate power bat, and Reimold's swing has the chance to turn into that. He has shown tremendous power potential throughout his minor league career, and teased O's management and fans here and there at the major league level.
He needs to work on his fielding a bit, but as long as he works hard and has the right coaching, he should get better. He wasn't terrible before his Achilles injury in 2009, and for a big man, he can move pretty quickly.
Should his fielding improve and his bat become consistent, watch out. Reimold could really help this team if he puts it back together this spring.
Brian Matusz; Starting Pitcher
This season could be pretty critical to Brian Matusz and his future with the Baltimore Orioles.
Matusz had a pretty solid rookie season in 2010, and finished it fantastically after Showalter took over the team in August of that season. But in 2011, he showed up to spring training camp out of shape, got injured and went on to put up the worst season by a starting pitcher in MLB history.
Looking to bounce back this year, Matusz trained hard during the winter. Hopefully, he addressed his confidence level as well, and can enter this season with a fresh outlook.
The young lefty will be fighting for his role on the team, as well as his career, and that could help push him to improve immensely.
A good Matusz could do wonders for this team's pitching staff, especially if he starts to live up to his first-round draft choice expectations. Even if he has a good spring, he could wind up in Triple-A, but if he breaks out enough, he could force his manager to take him up to Baltimore this April.
Jake Arrieta; Starting Pitcher
Last season, Jake Arrieta tried to pitch through a bone spur in his pitching elbow. The bone spur had been with him for years, and he claimed it didn't bother him. However, he had to be shut down before the end of the season last year due to that bone spur, and he had it removed this offseason.
Apparently, the bone spur affected how he gripped and threw his breaking stuff, making it tough and painful for him to do.
So if he's been pitching like that his whole career and was a top prospect for the O's, imagine how good he'll be now that he can pitch pain-free.
I kid. Well, partially.
He could become a better pitcher now that his arm is healthy, or at least one would think that would be the case. And he along with every pitcher in the O's camp is out to show they belong on the team. Arrieta could be forced to put it all together in order to make the Opening Day pitching staff.
Chris Davis; First Baseman
With little competition for the starting first base job for maybe the first time in his career, Chris Davis is hoping that he can finally have a season's worth of at-bats to coast on his good streaks, battle through his slumps and ultimately become a better hitter—the hitter that he is capable of being.
Davis has some insane pop, and it comes from the left side of the batter's box. If he can cut down on the strikeouts, find some consistency in his stroke and learn to get his average up a bit, he could become a scary piece for the middle of the O's lineup.
He already has a pretty good glove over at first, so all he needs to think about in terms of fielding is keeping himself at where he is. Right now, his main focus of improvement should be his offensive game, because that's what is going to determine whether he stays employed or not.
If he finds his bat, he finds a permanent job, and the Orioles find a true middle-of-the-order hitter.
Dana Eveland; Starting Pitcher
The prize of the Winter Meeting for the O's, Dana Eveland is what many would call a journeyman. Once he pitches for the Orioles, they'll make the seventh team for him during his career.
Still, Eveland is confident in his ability to secure a starting job out of spring training with the O's, and it seems as though he may have become a better pitcher last season while pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers' Triple-A affiliate.
Keep an eye on him this spring. With what he learned last year combined with his drive and the fact that there are five rotation spots open on this team, Eveland could step up this year and turn into a decent starter for his team.
I'm sure that would be a welcomed sight to any Orioles fan.
Wei-Yin Chen; Starting Pitcher
Wei-Yin Chen was the second big-name international free agent signed by the Orioles this past offseason, and the club has some nice expectations of him.
Being only 26, he still has room to grow, and that's nice to see, especially after having dominated the Japanese league.
The Taiwanese lefty will get every chance to make the Opening Day rotation, and will be looking to improve his stamina and pitch repertoire this spring with the O's. Of course, the competition within camp, as well as with fellow Japanese pitching star Wada, will probably push Chen to pitch at a higher level than if said competition weren't there.
The main difference between Chen and Wada is that Chen is younger (and has more upside), bigger and throws harder, but he doesn't have the exact same perfect control that Wada does. Wada also has a larger assortment of pitches.
Chen is one of the pitchers I'm most looking forward to seeing this year. Hopefully, he can surprise us all. In a good way, of course. The potential is certainly there.
Zach Britton; Starting Pitcher
Boy, it seems as though nearly all of the O's starting pitcher candidates are left-handed, doesn't it?
After a somewhat up-and-down but overall very solid rookie campaign in 2011, Zach Britton will again be looking to force his way onto the Orioles this spring.
The young left-hander can hopefully grow a lot this season, and that starts with putting up a nice spring training. I'm sure there are plenty of O's fans expecting a decent spring from Britton, and that is certainly a reasonable assumption.
What could put Britton in breakout territory is if he suddenly finds himself as a major league pitcher and really begins to put that potential together. That would not only be great for him, but for the team as well, as they'd have a reliable pitcher on the staff.
In my opinion, Britton seems like the best bet for that to happen to. He's a smart, hard-working young pitcher, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see him take a big step forward either this spring or during the regular season.
Pedro Strop; Relief Pitcher
If Pedro Strop pitches for the Birds like he did at the end of the 2011 season, the team would be crazy not to include him in their bullpen.
Strop was unbelievable after the O's acquired him late last season, and quickly forced himself into the role of setup man for closer Jim Johnson.
The funny thing is, Strop has always had the stuff and potential to even be considered for a closer's job, but the Texas Rangers just never really had a spot for him. So, he sat in their minor league system until the O's picked him off.
Assuming he can keep up what he was doing last season with the team, he'll be a great weapon for late in the game at Showalter's disposal.
I'm excited to see what Strop can do this year.
Jai Miller; Backup Outfielder
The Orioles brought Jai Miller over from Oakland to compete for a spot on the bench as a backup outfielder, and Miller will compete hard.
He's got some nice tools: speed, pop and a good glove. But he strikes out at Mark Reynolds rates, that just being in the minors.
If he can possibly cut that down a bit, he could be a great bench player for the O's, and he could also provide someone to be rotated into the DH slot, as well as spelling the other outfielders of a day off from the field.
Miller could end up making things complicated for Showalter at the end of spring training. Make sure he's at least on your radar.
Darren O'Day; Relief Pitcher
Darren O'Day could end up being quite a steal from the Texas Rangers.
The submarine-style relief pitcher had a phenomenal 2010 season and really helped the Rangers reach their first World Series appearance. But he had some injury problems in 2011 and didn't really pitch consistently or effectively.
However, if those injuries are behind O'Day and he can regain his 2010 form, then he could help out the Orioles' bullpen immensely.
O'Day would have to be my "return to form" pick of all the players the Orioles have. That is, the player who I think has the best chance of returning to the form he showed at an earlier point in his career.
Watch out for him this spring. He'll be out to win a spot, and if he's healthy, I'm sure he will.
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