Baltimore Orioles: 8 Things Spring Training Has Taught Us About the Orioles

Alex SnyderContributor IIMarch 14, 2012

Baltimore Orioles: 8 Things Spring Training Has Taught Us About the Orioles

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    Spring training is a time when baseball is renewed. Fans are excited to see their teams play ball once again after the long winter, and the players are eager to get back on the diamond and succeed.

    Though it's still somewhat early, this year's spring training has already begun to shed a little bit of light on some of the Baltimore Orioles' positives and negatives heading into the 2012 regular season.

    Results in spring training are always hard to figure out. They could mean nothing, or they could mean everything. If you're an O's fan and remember Jake Fox's power surge last spring, you'll know what I mean. Deciphering spring training stats can be like trying to read a novel in binary code.

    Nevertheless, I'm going to attempt to do that for you with some of the more notable happenings thus far from the Orioles' 2012 spring training.

    Let's see how some things have been rolling this spring at Ed Smith Stadium.

There Are Plenty of Late-Inning Options

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    The O's bullpen has the potential to be pretty darn good this year, or pretty unreliable.

    Seems like that's how it is every year for the Birds.

    Even still, the team has a lot of guys vying for an Opening Day bullpen spot, and many of them are late-inning-type relievers. The kind of guys who throw one inning and are done for the night.

    Holdovers Jim Johnson and Kevin Gregg are joined by fireballer Matt Lindstrom (pictured), Luis Ayala and Darren O'Day. Then there's last season's late acquisition Pedro Strop, and even Alfredo Simon has some set-up and closing experience.

    That's seven guys right there, and only one of them is capable of pitching multiple innings. None of them are left-handed. Obviously, not all of them are making the 'pen.

    In a perfect world, they'd all provide some intense competition, and the Orioles brass would find a way to dump Gregg off on another team, opening up a slot for another worthy reliever. However, no one can be certain what will become of this team's relief corps until the final days of spring training.

    One thing's certain though: There's plenty of depth and competition in this department.

Jai Miller May Make the Opening Day Roster

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    Outfielder Jai Miller is tearing up opposing pitching this spring and may be making a case to force manager Buck Showalter's hand come April.

    Miller is out of options, so if the O's wanted to send him to the minors, they'd have to have him pass through waivers.

    However, he's batting .333 in 21 spring at-bats with a homer, four doubles and seven RBIs.

    As I mentioned before, Jake Fox proved to us that impressive spring stats could very well mean nothing come the regular season. But every once in a while, those impressive spring stats can translate into regular season success.

    Maybe Miller will be that guy. Maybe not. But he has to make the club in order to show us whether or not he is, and he's making a heck of a case so far.

    Keep an eye on him.

Japanese Pitchers Are Delicate

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    Back in 2009, pitcher Koji Uehara, who signed with the Orioles to make the transition from Japanese baseball to American baseball, had a tough time adjusting to the heat and rigors of the way baseball is played in the MLB.

    The same thing is happening to new Japanese signing Tsuyoshi Wada.

    Earlier in camp, Wada experienced some elbow discomfort in his left elbow, which is his pitching arm. He told the club, and they started to take it slow with him and giving him some injections.

    He claims that he experiences that discomfort during training camp every season, and whether that's true or not, he's taken longer than expected to recover and has yet to throw an inning during exhibition games.

    Hopefully he can recover soon and get ready in time for the season, because God knows the O's need as much good pitching as they can get. I'm sure every Orioles fan would love to see Wada make good on his two-year, $8.15 million contract.

Ryan Flaherty Could Be a "Nugget"

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    Rule V draft pick Ryan Flaherty is trying to make the club as a utility infielder, and he's having a pretty good showing so far.

    Through 19 at-bats, Flaherty is batting .316 with a double, a homer and five RBIs.

    Every decision-maker on the O's knows that this kid has a nice bat. But what he needs to prove is that he can handle playing second, third and short at an above-average caliber, because Showalter likes having solid defense, especially when it comes to his utility players and backups.

    If Brian Roberts isn't ready to go come April, Flaherty could have a straight shot onto the Opening Day roster as the utility player, with Robert Andino becoming the regular second baseman.

    But he'll have to beat out Matt Antonelli for that utility job.

    So far, so good for Flaherty. He could end up being what Showalter likes to refer to as a "nugget."

Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman Could Have Regained Their Velocity

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    If you're an Orioles fan, the woes of starting pitchers Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman are common knowledge to you.

    And a lot of you directly attribute their struggles to their lack of velocity, which is a just assessment.

    So here's the good news for all of us: Thus far this spring, Matusz and Tillman have both had welcomed increases in their fastball velocity.

    Everyone knows the story of how Matusz showed up to camp in 2011 out of shape before injuring himself, and then when he returned during the season, he wasn't the same. His fastball velocity topped out around 89 mph, and he couldn't locate his pitches as well.

    Now, Matusz has been averaging 91 to 92 mph this spring, and during his last start, one radar gun had him clocked at 94 mph. That's fantastic news for Matusz and for the Orioles.

    In Tillman's case, he has struggled to put up numbers at the major-league level and has since lost his "prospect" status. Over the last three seasons, his average fastball velocity has dropped. He averaged 92 mph in 2009, 90.2 mph in 2010, and just 89.3 mph during 2011, according to Steve Melewski of MASN Sports.

    But this past Sunday, Tillman reportedly maxed out at 94 mph, and if he can maintain that velocity while locating his pitches, he could soon have attention on his potential once again.

    Each pitcher has put up some good numbers so far this spring. It's obviously too early to declare that they've turned it around, but these early results definitely bring about hope.

Surgery for Jake Arrieta Seems Like a Smart Decision So Far

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    Having surgery to remove a bone spur from his pitching elbow may have been a smart decision on pitcher Jake Arrieta's part.

    The right-hander could always bring the heat, but he has topped out at 97 mph this spring, and with that kind of velocity combined with improved location, especially on his secondary pitches, he could be primed for a breakout season.

    On March 9, Arrieta threw two scoreless innings against the Tampa Bay Rays, and after the game told reporters that it was the best he's ever felt on a mound as a pro.

    "I feel like I could have thrown the whole game today. No soreness, no tightness, just an incredible feeling, really. I'm very happy where I am right now," he said.

    Of course, we'll have to see how he does throughout the rest of spring training to make a fair assessment, and the real results will come when the regular season does.

    For now, though, the velocity and quote from Arrieta are enough to salivate over for little while.

Zach Britton May Not Be Ready for Opening Day

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    The lefty that every Orioles fan is still excited about may not be able to pitch for the Orioles at the beginning of the 2012 season.

    Zach Britton had to deal with a sore left shoulder at the start of spring training, a pain that appeared out of nowhere for the young pitcher. He's been rehabbing and coming along without any setbacks, but is taking it a bit slower than originally expected.

    He still hasn't pitched in an exhibition game, but has begun throwing in simulated contests.

    This obviously puts him a bit behind the many other starters trying to earn a spot in the Opening Day rotation, and he may not have enough time to catch up at this point.

    Britton would still need to build his stamina and regain his location and use of his secondary pitches. While many expected him to easily make the rotation out of spring training, it isn't looking so great in that department now.

    I predict that Britton will need to spend some time at the Triple-A level to start the season in order to refine himself to the point of being able to pitch competitively at the major-league level, simply because he doesn't have time to catch up at this point.

    Nevertheless, I know Britton will be spending the majority of the season with the parent club, and I expect him to take some steps forward in his developmental process.

Brian Roberts May Be Able to Start the Season

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    Going into spring training, it was believed that second baseman Brian Roberts would not be able to participate in more strenuous activities, and therefore wouldn't be able to be the Orioles Opening Day leadoff hitter.

    Now, though, it seems as if Roberts is making strides towards a possible return. He started out slow, of course, and has gradually worked his way up.

    From simple sprints and games of catch to hitting in the batting cages to fielding drills and live batting practice, Roberts has been steadily testing his ability to perform without repercussions, and so far has been passing.

    The return of a healthy and productive Brian Roberts would do wonders for the Orioles offense, as they would have their catalyst back atop the order. Roberts was a doubles and stolen base machine before he suffered a concussion at the end of the 2010 season, and he hasn't been able to play consistently since.

    For a guy who many thought was facing the end of his career, Roberts is taking some small but encouraging steps towards his return. Orioles fans are happy to see him relatively healthy and making a full attempt at returning to the game to help his team.

    Though time may be running out for Roberts to break camp with the Birds, it's still possible, as he was never one who needed many spring at-bats to get ready for the season. And if he isn't ready by Opening Day, he could return later in the season.

    Any amount of playing time for Roberts would be great for him and for the O's.