Saturday is a big day for baseball fans. On Saturday afternoon, pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training and baseball will be back. O's fans are wondering many things, such as who will emerge in the rotation, how top prospect Matt Wieters will fare against big-league pitching and how new acquisitions such as OF Felix Pie, P Rich Hill, P Koji Uehara and P Mark Hendrickson will do.
Who to watch for
C Matt Wieters: We all know him. 27 homers, 91 RBI, .355 in his first season as a professional baseball player, good enough to win Minor League Player of the Year. Will he live up to the hype? Barring a monstrous Spring Training stint, the O's will put Wieters in Triple-A Norfolk and move him along based on his performance there. If Opening Day was today, Gregg Zaun would catch Jeremy Guthrie and Matt Wieters would likely catch Chris Tillman - in Triple A. Watch out how does in his stint and if he impresses manager Dave Trembley.
P Koji Uehara: In the offseason, Japanese product and starting pitcher Koji Uehara signed a two year contract with the O's. In the last few seasons in Japan, he has primarily been a reliever. However, since the O's are desperate for pitching, Uehara will right away be in the rotation. He'll even be the No. 2 pitcher and may face A.J. Burnett and the New York Yankees in his first start. Watch to see if Koji can handle the hype or if he is just a bust who is all hype.
2B/3B Ty Wigginton: O's fans appear excited with the Ty Wigginton signing. He's a power bat on the bench. In 2008 with the Houston Astros, he hit 23 home runs. What can he prove in the spring? What will he prove is his primary position? Can he squeeze a starting spot and force someone to the bench? Watch to see how Wigginton does not only offensively, but defensively, to prove to MacPhail, Dave Trembley and the fans what position we'll see him occupying throughout the season.
Prospect dark horse
P Wilfrido Perez: The O's have a 40-man roster full of bright options. One not many know: Wilfrido Perez. He is not a dominating presence, but can flat-out pitch. He has a Ramon Ortiz like figure, at 6'0" tall and just 145 pounds. With the Bowie Baysox last year, the Nagua, Dominican Republic native was 2-4 with a 2.41 ERA, mostly in relief. At 24, he is prospect material and it wouldn't surprise me if he made the 25-man roster. The O's have a rather deep bullpen, but the more, the merrier.
P David Pauley: Weeks ago, the Orioles made a very little talked about move by trading reliever Randor Bierd to the Red Sox for 25-year old right-hander David Pauley. When given the opportunity to struggle last year, Pauley did so, going 0-1 with an 11.68 ERA. However, he went 14-4 with a 2.55 ERA for Triple A Pawtucket and was brought up in a hurry to the Red Sox and faced the likes of the Angels, Yankees, Rays and Orioles, all very potent lineups. Watch out for Pauley to make an impact in the bullpen or possibly in the back end of the rotation.
P David Hernandez: Last year, the O's farm system had some great young arms. Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman being the most known. But lets not forget David Hernandez. With Double A Bowie, Hernandez was 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA and 166 strikeouts in 141 innings. He's in the future of the rotation and could be a solid No. 4 or No. 5 in 2010. But he could be a late callup to the bullpen this year and maybe even make the 25 man roster as an occasional reliever. Watch out for Dave.
Matt Albers: Last year, Matthew James Albers was a pleasant surprise. After finishing 3-11 with Houston, he was 3-3 with a 3.49 ERA with the O's out of the bullpen. However, on June 25th against the Chicago Cubs, he left with an injury—and never returned. He opted for surgery and sat out the rest of the season, which made the O's pay. While Albers didn't have incredible numbers, he was a dependable two inning reliever and set it up for Jim Johnson and George Sherrill.
George Sherrill: Last year, George Sherrill was the O's lone All Star. In the All Star Game at Yankee Stadium, he dominated. However, it wasn't a sign of things to come after the break. He posted a 6.59 ERA after the break and even landed on the DL on August 17th, and didn't return until September 14th. Sherrill is now healthy and signed a one year, $2.7M contract. The O's overused him. He tossed 53 1/3 innings in '08. His previous career high was 45 2/3.
Jim Johnson: Last year, Jim Johnson was one of the O's only bright spots on the hill. Out of the bullpen, he pitched 68-2/3 innings, allowing just 54 hits and zero home runs. He, too, got hurt, missing all of September. Johnson isn't expected to be the same when he gets back. It will be very telling what we see from J.J. in the spring. "It's wear and tear, inflammation, little stuff here and there," he said.
Chris Ray: In 2005, 2006 and 2007, Chris Ray was the only name the O's had in the bullpen. Last year, he didn't throw a pitch. He posted a 2.66 ERA in '05, 33 saves in '06 and 16 saves in '07. Ray will return in 2009 and provide stability in the back end of the 'pen. If Sherrill struggles like he did to close 2008, Ray may assume the closer role. Who knows? He may return to his 2006 self.
Jeremy Guthrie: In 2008, Jeremy Guthrie was the only consistent O's pitcher. He led the AL in quality starts for a rather long period of time until leaving a Tampa Bay start with an injury. He was obviously bothered by the work load. Up to the start he hurt himself in, he had 183 2/3 innings in just his second full season in baseball. Guthrie is fully healthy now, but it won't be easy, as it always is not in the American League East.
Adam Jones: I think I speak for all Orioles fans when I say it was a joy watching Adam Jones grow up as a ballplayer throughout the year. His defense became solid, his power came along, his maturity improved and he proved to be a great clubhouse player for the O's. Jones hit .270 with nine home runs and 57 RBI in his first full season, at 22. His discipline at the plate wasn't good (108 K's, 23 BB's), but it improved as the season progressed and if a power burst comes along for Jones, he could be an All Star.
Out of Options
Rich Hill, LHP: If the season started today, Rich Hill would start as the third pitcher in the rotation. The 28-year old Boston, Massachusetts native was 1-0 with a 4.12 ERA in 2008 for the Chicago Cubs, disappointing coming off an 11-8 season in which he struck out 183. Hill's control problems hurt him, as he walked 18 in just over 19 innings. He was clearly hampered by injuries and hopefully, he's healthy. Hill was acquired by the O's for a PTBNL, which turned out to be Brian Burres. If Hill doesn't make the 25-man roster, he's out of options.
Felix Pie, LF: The O's seem to love trading to the Cubs—at least this offseason. The O's acquired former Cub top prospect Felix Pie for Garrett Olson and Henry Williamson. Pie, 24, would round out an incredibly talented outfield that boasts three potential Gold Glovers and All Stars. Pie has as much talent as Jones and Nick Markakis, but just has to put it together. He now has a chance to, as the O's left fielder. Should he not make it, he too, is out of options.
Closer: Chris Ray vs. George Sherrill. All the position battles the O's have involve pitching. The lineup is all but set. The closer role, is not even close to set. The O's may never have a definite closer. George Sherrill is coming off an All Star campaign in which he saved 31 games. Chris Ray is coming off an injury which forced him to miss all of 2008. However, Ray has showed he has what it takes to be a closer—and an effective one. In 2006 and 2007, he saved a combined 50 games and a 3.40 ERA. I think Sherrill will again be affected by the wear-and-tear of being a closer, and will be forced out of the job and move back to the set up role. Ray will be the closer.
Fourth and fifth spots in the rotation: Mark Hendrickson vs. David Pauley vs. Danys Baez vs. Chris Waters vs. Hayden Penn vs. Matt Albers. Lot of contestants, I know. Let's get down to it. Mark Hendrickson was a bad move. Move him to the 'pen. Danys Baez needs to get out of Baltimore as soon as possible. Hayden Penn has horrible injury troubles and Matt Albers is coming off a devastating injury. Let's give the fourth spot to David Pauley and fifth spot to Chris Waters. Will they be the futures of the O's pitching-wise? Absolutely not. But they will have to do for now.
Five Burning Questions:
- When Will Matt Wieters Arrive? The O's made a very good move in getting Gregg Zaun. He is experienced and proven. He might even be a good backstop until the Matt Wieters era begins in Baltimore. He appears about as ready as a prospect can possibly be, but Andy MacPhail says the O's will take the Evan Longoria approach, which means they will put Wieters in Triple-A and see how he progresses for the Norfolk Tides.
- How Good Is Koji Uehara? Very. But does that mean he will succeed in Major League Baseball? Maybe, maybe not. His projections say he will do very typical in the majors (10-9, 4.46). On YouTube, there is even a video of Uehara striking out home run king Barry Bonds in the World Baseball Classic - three times! Uehara may not be the next Dice-K, but he'll look like Dice-K compared to past Oriole No. 2 starters.
- Will Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta Make The Majors This Year As Callups? Yes and No. Tillman will, as he is starting in Triple A and even provoked thought to Andy MacPhail that he deserved a call up last year. Arrieta won't because he is starting at Double A. It's very simple. Andy MacPhail wants to take a very 'play it safe' approach with his prospects. He doesn't allow prospects to skip a level, and let's hope it works. Arrieta will be in the Orioles staff in 2010, take my word for it.
- What Happens With Radhames Liz? O's fans who have kept track of the minors in recent years love Radhames Liz. As a result, they were very disappointed last year. Liz, a fireballing right hander, went 6-6 with a dismal 6.72 ERA and had big problems with control. With Arrieta, Tillman, Bergesen and Hernandez climbing through the system, it's likely Liz will spend his entire career as a set up man. Expect that trend to begin this year.
- With Pie In Left, What Happens To Nolan Reimold? Honestly, I've believed all along Reimold was a career Minor League player. He's another draft pick before MacPhail that will utterly fail in the majors. Now, maybe I'm wrong, but we've seen it before: Garrett Olson, Radhames Liz, Bob McCrory, Hayden Penn, Eli Whiteside, etc. I like Reimold, but Pie has it all. He won't bring the power Reimold can, but his defense, speed and athleticism are far better.
A lot can change by Opening Day, but here's what's ideal.
C: Gregg Zaun
1B: Aubrey Huff
2B: Brian Roberts
3B: Melvin Mora
SS: Cesar Izturis
LF: Felix Pie
CF: Adam Jones
RF: Nick Markakis
DH: Ty Wigginton (since CC Sabathia, a lefty, is facing us Opening Day).
C: Robby Hammock
IF: Ryan Freel
IF: Oscar Salazar
OF: Luke Scott
1. Jeremy Guthrie
2. Koji Uehara
3. Rich Hill
4. David Pauley
5. Chris Waters
Closer: Chris Ray
8th Inning: George Sherrill
7th/8th Inning: Jim Johnson
7th Inning: Radhames Liz
6th Inning: Wilfrido Perez
RH Specialist: Alfredo Simon
Long Relief: Dennis Sarfate
Now, I'm not in charge. As much as I know about statistics and logical breakdowns, for all I know, Rich Hill is hurt. But that's what I would do - as an outsider.
Four Deep Depth Chart
Catcher: Gregg Zaun, Robby Hammock, Matt Wieters, Adam Donachie
First base: Aubrey Huff, Ty Wigginton, Chris Gomez, Gregg Zaun
Second base: Brian Roberts, Ryan Freel, Ty Wigginton, Cesar Izturis
3rd base: Melvin Mora, Ty Wigginton, Ryan Freel, Chris Gomez
Shortstop: Cesar Izturis, Ty Wigginton, Ryan Freel, Chris Gomez
Left field: Felix Pie, Luke Scott, Lou Montanez, Nolan Reimold
Center field: Adam Jones, Felix Pie, Nolan Reimold, Lou Montanez
Right field: Nick Markakis, Felix Pie, Nolan Reimold, Lou Montanez
Designated hitter: Aubrey Huff, Luke Scott, Lou Montanez, Melvin Mora
1. Chris Tillman
2. John Parrish
3. David Hernandez
4. Brad Bergesen
I put Tillman first because he is a top priority within the system. The O's are doing everything they can to see what he can do. At they same time, they don't want to rush him. He's 21 years old.
I put Parrish second because he actually got some experience last season as a starter, but it's going to be tough for Parrish to make the active roster. Should one of the five starters on the initial rotation struggle or get hurt, Parrish may get the call.
Hernandez and Bergesen will both be in the Triple-A Norfolk rotation at the beginning of the year and I would not be surprised if each got a taste of the Major Leagues next year.
1. Andy Mitchell
2. Brad Hennessey
3. Alberto Castillo
4. Fredy Deza
I put Mitchell first because his side winding delivery will likely bring back memories of Chad Bradford, and MacPhail loved Bradford. Also, Hennessey, Castillo and Deza will likely be the sixth, seventh, and eighth inning men for Norfolk.
They will all likely get a taste of the majors. This year, MacPhail is trying to get the young kids as much experience needed to carry away some success headed into the future.
2B: Brian Roberts, S
RF: Nick Markakis, L
3B: Melvin Mora, R
1B: Aubrey Huff, L
DH: Luke Scott, L
CF: Adam Jones, R
LF: Felix Pie, L
C: Gregg Zaun, S
SS: Cesar Izturis, S
2B: Brian Roberts, S
RF: Nick Markakis, L
3B: Melvin Mora, R
1B: Aubrey Huff, L
DH: Ty Wigginton, R
CF: Adam Jones, R
LF: Felix Pie, L
C: Gregg Zaun, S
SS: Cesar Izturis, S
Quick Hits and Projections
- The O's will have a tough time deciding on who the pitchers are on the 25-man roster. On Saturday, 37 pitchers and eight catchers will arrive.
- Expect Adam Jones to experience a power breakout. Last year, he hit just nine. I'm expecting him to hit anywhere from 16 to 24 jacks this year.
- Nick Markakis earned a six-year/$66.1M extension in the offseason. Expect him to again produce with his arm (15 assists is my guess) and I expect a near 100 RBI year and .300 year. Hopefully, the voters will get it right and vote him into the All Star Game.
- The O's made the right decision trading Miguel Tejada!
- In his first full season, Felix Pie will hit .269 with 7 homers, 50 RBI and 18 stolen bases.
- Matt Wieters will be an Oriole by May 15.
- The O's acquired another Japanese player Ryohei Takana. Takana was teammates with Matt Wieters in the Hawaiian Winter League, where Takana was 4-1 with a 3.02 ERA.
- The O's lost in the Looper sweepstakes, but maybe it's all for the best, considering Looper was mediocre, at best in the NL Central. He would get shelled in the AL East.
- Rich Hill is re-united with Rick Kranitz, who coached Hill for the Triple A Iowa Cubs in 2005 and 2006 when he was a combined 6-1 with a 2.51 ERA, 227 strikeouts and a mere 35 walks in 165 innings.
Final outlook and record prediction: That's all, folks. I think, in the end, the O's improve and move towards a brighter future. I see the O's having a seven game improvement. That's right, I put the O's and improvement in the same sentence. I just did. In all seriousness, I see Baltimore finishing 76-86.