Spring training is a great time of year. Baseball is back, fans are eager and players are pumped up to get the action going.
The baseball preseason is not only a time for players and teams to get their bodies back into the swing of things (no pun intended), but also a time for the team's coaches and upper management to weed out certain question marks. Most of the time, those question marks surround a vacancy somewhere on the team and the organization has multiple candidates available to fill that role.
The Baltimore Orioles are no exception. They've got a few holes on the field, in their bullpen and in their rotation. They've also got an abundance of capable candidates.
There's plenty of spring training left to go, so nothing is set just yet, especially considering only some of the candidates have seen real action. Still, let's take a look at how things are shaping up so far.
With Brian Roberts (pictured) being injured most of the last three seasons, the team has not guaranteed him the starting second baseman job this spring, leaving the position up for grabs.
Of course, Roberts hasn't helped himself at all by being injury-prone, but that's hardly his fault.
Roberts is looking to reclaim his job and show the team that he can not only remain healthy, but that he can also play at a level that would justify the team keeping him on the field. He's 35 years old now, so it would be a stretch to expect him to be able to play at the same level he did before his multiple severe injuries.
Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla are Roberts' main competition. The O's love Flaherty's make-up, and after finishing the season strong in 2012, he looks to unseat the longtime Orioles starter and become the next fixture at second base for the team.
Casilla, on the other hand, was brought in from the Minnesota Twins, and for what he lacks with the bat, he makes up for in defense and fantastic speed on the basepaths. He could be worth keeping on the roster as a pinch-runner and utility player alone.
As of now, I think that if Roberts stays healthy, he'll be the starting second baseman on Opening Day. Seniority and a track record mean a whole lot to manager Buck Showalter.
However, Flaherty will be ready to take Roberts' spot at a moment's notice, and I believe that will happen if Roberts can't prove he's healthy this spring.
Zach Britton, Jair Jurrjens (pictured), and Brian Matusz have all had solid starts this spring, and if the decision were needed to be made today, Showalter would have quite the tough time figuring it out.
At this point, though, I believe that Jurrjens has the edge, and here's why.
Jurrjens has had the most success at the major league level of anyone on the team battling it out for the fifth starter slot. He was so good at one point, the O's were considering a deal with the Atlanta Braves involving Jurrjens and Orioles star center fielder Adam Jones.
However, injuries slowed Jurrjens down over the last year-and-a-half. His fastball velocity dipped, and when he was healthy he just wasn't nearly as effective as he had been in the past.
So this spring is more so about Jurrjens proving that he's healthy and ready to go than it is about him proving he can pitch. And during his start the other day, he was touching 93 and 94 mph with his fastball, a speed he hadn't hit since the first half of the 2011 season when he was breaking out with an ERA under 3.00.
As long as Jurrjens keeps throwing heat, proves he's healthy and stays effective, he'll receive the team's blessing by the end of spring training.
With most of the bullpen set, there's only one or two available spots that pitchers are trying to claim.
Essentially, the final two spots are for a lefty and whatever starter doesn't make the rotation but still has a worthy spring.
Brian Matusz (pictured) is currently the favorite to be the team's second bullpen lefty on Opening Day should he not make the rotation. His strong finish in that role last year puts him in prime position to recapture it.
The second spot will likely go to Steve Johnson, Tommy Hunter or Jake Arrieta, since they've all had at least some success at the major league level and all pitched there last season.
In the end, I believe Johnson will grab the spot and eventually work his way into the rotation. He was very impressive at the major league level last season with a 4-0 record and a 2.11 ERA over 38.1 innings.
This kind of goes along with the second baseman thing. The winner of the second base job will greatly affect who takes the utility infielder spot.
Should Brian Roberts stay healthy and prove he can still play, it'll be a close call between Ryan Flaherty (pictured) and Alexi Casilla. I believe Flaherty will edge out Casilla in that case because of his higher ceiling and stronger bat, coupled with the fact that he can play a reliable corner outfield if need be.
Should Roberts re-injure himself or prove himself ineffective, Flaherty will likely win the starting role, leaving the utility slot open for Casilla. With Casilla's solid glovework and good base-running ability, he makes for any team's prototypical utility guy.
Regardless, the O's have some pretty reliable internal options and should be fine with whatever happens.