The 10 Most Important Orioles Storylines to Follow
So far, so good for the Baltimore Orioles in spring training, as their 5-1 win over the Yankees on Monday improved their spring record to 3-0. This record obviously doesn't mean much, if anything, but it is at least nice to see the O's playing well as they prepare for the long haul.
Coming off their first playoff appearance since 1997, the Orioles will have more eyes on them than usual, as they will be expected to live up to the fans' and media's expectations.
With injured players returning, young players rising and players battling for roster spots, there are plenty of storylines to follow for the O's. Here are the 10 most important Orioles storylines to follow for spring training and the early season.
He's back. Well, at least for now.
The oft-injured second baseman hasn't played a full season since 2009 and only appeared in 17 games in 2012. If he can make it through spring training healthy, the 35-year-old is slated to start at second for the O's in 2013.
Roberts looked good in Monday's exhibition game against the Yankees, going 2-for-2 with a couple doubles. If Roberts can be the player he was back in the mid-2000s, the Orioles and their fans will be ecstatic.
Sadly, the veteran's better days are probably behind him.
If Roberts can get back to hitting doubles and being a solid, steady second baseman, that would be a win for the O's.
Unlike Brian Roberts, who struggled in his few appearances in 2012, Nolan Reimold was on a tear in the 16-game spell he had before he was injured.
In those 16 games, the powerful righty, who was batting leadoff, hit five homers, averaged .313 and was arguably the team's April MVP.
The 29-year-old is 0-for-5 so far in spring training; however, that doesn't mean anything. A healthy and effective Reimold could add the power to the lineup that the Orioles lost when they didn't re-sign Mark Reynolds.
Hopefully, Reimold's neck problems are behind him.
Which JJ Hardy Will We See?
In 2012, JJ Hardy was exceptional in the field. At shortstop, there weren't any better and Hardy deserved the Gold Glove that he won.
At the plate, however, Hardy was a disappointment.
After a stellar 2011, hitting 30 homers, driving in 80 and averaging .269 in only 129 games, the 30-year-old struggled in 2012. In 158 games, Hardy only managed to hit 22 homers, with 68 RBI and a .238 average.
If Hardy can manage to rebound to what he's capable of, he could perhaps be one of the Orioles' greatest assets, on the field and at the plate.
Who's Batting Where?
Re-signing Nate McLouth and adding Roberts, Reimold and Nick Markakis back into the Orioles' lineup has given Buck Showalter an interesting dilemma when it comes to choosing a leadoff hitter, as all four have a solid argument.
Besides the cluster at the top, there a few other decisions Showalter must contemplate.
Is JJ Hardy going to be moved down? Is Manny Machado going to be moved up? Should the speed be kept at the top or should it be more evenly distributed?
Whatever the final solution, it will be interesting to see the Orioles' Opening Day batting order.
The Battle for the Rotation
To say there's a lot of competition for the Orioles' last rotation spot is an understatement.
The top four spots in the O's rotation are pretty much secured, as Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez should be safe. However, there are roughly 10 pitchers gunning for that fifth spot.
Newly signed former all-star Jair Jurrjens may have a slight edge in the competition, as he is the most experienced, but if he doesn't show signs of improvement from his horrible 2012, young talent—including Zach Britton, Steve Johnson and last year's Opening Day starter, Jake Arrieta—could easily steal the role.
When Will We See Wada?
One pitcher who isn't going to win a spot in the rotation out of spring training is Tsuyoshi Wada.
The 32-year-old Japanese lefty was originally thought to be the bigger of the two signings out of Asia for the O's in last year's offseason, the other signing be Chen. However, a torn ligament in his pitching elbow required Tommy John surgery and Wada's 2012 season was limited to five spring training innings.
Wada was able to throw from a mound Monday, but he isn't expected to be ready to pitch in the majors until May.
A Large Number of Players for a Few Bench Spots
There's only one bench player whose job is completely safe, and that's backup catcher Taylor Teagarden. Wilson Betemit's job as part-time DH and part-time bench player is also pretty safe. Every other player must win their way onto the roster in spring training.
One thing that will give any fringe player an advantage in making the Orioles roster is versatility. The ability to play both outfield and infield effectively may be the difference between getting on the O's roster or being in the minors.
Two of the favorites to win the final roster spots are Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla. Their spring training performance could determine who becomes the Orioles' go-to utility player.
Chris Davis at First
Chris Davis can hit, there's not much doubt about that.
Fielding, however, is a question.
With the departure of Reynolds, Davis will be the Orioles' everyday first baseman if he can handle the fielding duties.
Despite a solid fielding percentage at first, it's the plays the 26-year-old couldn't make that were noticeable. Davis didn't help his fellow infielders or his pitchers with his ability, or lack thereof, to pick throws out of the dirt.
Davis is determined to be a reliable first baseman and is putting in the work he needs in spring training, so hopefully his fielding improves.
Machado's First Full Season
Machado's performance last year, both offensively and defensively, was impressive. His call-up helped fuel the Orioles to their playoff run.
Now that's he's coming into his first full season, expectations will be high.
Still, if Machado does struggle, it would be understandable. He's only 20, he completely skipped Triple-A and now that's he's had a decent amount of major league at-bats, his scouting report will be well known.
Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman
It's safe to say the Orioles plan to build their future rotation around their last two first round picks, Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.
The O's and their fans got a sneak preview last year when Bundy was called up late in the season and made a couple of relief appearances after dominating in the minors.
Gausman, on the other hand, has only pitched 15 professional innings since leaving LSU.
Neither should make the rotation out of spring training, and both will likely either start in Double-A or Triple-A. Come August, however, given they perform up to expectations, they could be helping the Orioles push for another playoff birth.