Baltimore O's: A Position-by-Position Breakdown of the O's at Spring Training
With the start of spring training games coming up, teams and fans alike are excited to see the return of (somewhat) meaningful Major League Baseball games.
Teams use the time they're given during spring training to assess the rosters they have, and determine who deserves to be on the roster come Opening Day and who needs to spend some time in the minors or even be cut from the team.
And while the Baltimore Orioles have many of their decisions made for them, they still have some assessing to do. The team has made some moves in order to make a run at a second playoff appearance in the last three seasons, so they'll be looking to see how the roster takes shape this spring.
Let's take a look at the O's, position by position, and analyze how their roster is set up while also making some predictions in regard to the team's openings.
Starter: Matt Wieters
At catcher, the O's have a good starter and some quality depth.
Matt Wieters (pictured) has proven to be one of the better catchers in the league over the last few seasons, having won Gold Gloves in 2011 and 2012. And while critics may say his bat hasn't developed as many would have liked, he has a career batting average of .255 with 162-game averages of 21 homers and 81 RBI. Those are numbers any team would take from its catcher, especially one as good defensively as Wieters is.
Steve Clevenger, acquired midseason in 2013 from the Chicago Cubs, looks to win the backup catcher job. Clevenger looks like a solid backup option, with a career .311 batting average in eight minor league seasons.
Looking a little deeper, the O's have some potential prospects in the lower minors in Michael Ohlman and Chance Sisco, both of whom put up serious numbers last year.
Catcher is one of the O's strongest positions, both in quality and in depth.
Starter: Chris Davis
The Baltimore Orioles are fortunate enough to have one of the best first basemen in the league manning the position for them.
Chris Davis (pictured) led the majors in homers and RBI last season, with totals of 53 and 138, respectively, and was also one of three finalists for an AL Gold Glove. With a .286 batting average and .370 OBP last season, it's safe to say Davis is one of the O's best hitters, if not their best.
While Davis may not duplicate his numbers from 2013, he's probably easily a safe bet for 30 or 40 homers, at least, with 100 RBI and his batting average and OBP sitting around where they were last season, possibly a little lower.
Beyond Davis, though, the O's don't have much that's major-league ready.
Second baseman Ryan Flaherty can play first in a pinch, as can corner outfielder/DH Steve Pearce, but Pearce would have to make the squad in order to be available to do so. That figures to have gotten harder for him with the addition of Nelson Cruz, who is also a corner outfielder/DH.
But when you have one of the best first basemen in baseball, who needs a quality backup?
Likely Starter: Ryan Flaherty 75 percent
Potential Starter: Jemile Weeks 20 percent
Long Shot: Jonathan Schoop 5 percent
Second base is probably the O's weakest and least-determined position.
Ryan Flaherty (pictured) leads the group of candidates as he's the most experienced and has had the most success at the MLB level. Flaherty played good defense at second base for the O's last season, and while his batting average needs work (career .221 average) he has displayed the ability to hit for power pretty well (16 career homers in 399 career at-bats).
Beyond Flaherty, the O's have good depth, but the quality of said depth remains a question.
Alexi Casilla was brought back into the fold, but he figures to serve mostly as the utility infielder. Jemile Weeks was acquired from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for closer Jim Johnson, and while his rookie season of 2011 was fantastic, he has struggled to regain that form.
Prospect Jonathan Schoop likely needs a bit more time down at Triple-A to develop.
It's a safe bet to think that Flaherty will be the Orioles' starting second baseman to begin the year. However, if he doesn't perform up to par, there are plenty of viable options breathing down his neck.
Likely Starter (Due to Injury Recovery): Manny Machado 70 percent
Possible Starters: Ryan Flaherty 15%, Michael Almanzar 10 percent, Alexi Casilla 5 percent
The Birds have one of the brightest young players in all of baseball manning the hot corner for them.
Manny Machado (pictured) had quite the season in 2013, his first full season in the big leagues. Machado posted a .283 average, .314 OBP, 14 homers, 71 RBI and a ridiculous league-leading 51 doubles.
But his offense was second to the defensive display he put on, reminding some of us of Brooks Robinson while winning his first career Gold Glove award.
Unfortunately, Machado suffered a season-ending injury in September that required surgery, and while he may be ready for Opening Day, that possibility still remains to be seen.
If Machado isn't ready to play come March 31, the O's may opt to slide Flaherty over to third base until Machado returns and play Casilla or Weeks at second every day. Or they'll use Rule 5 pick Michael Almanzar at the hot corner and keep the rest of the infield intact.
Either way, the O's have options, and that's definitely a good thing when trying not to rush one of your young stars back from an injury. The O's would be wise to take their time with Manny and make sure he's fully healed before letting him play again.
Starter: J.J. Hardy
J.J. Hardy (pictured) has arguably been the best all-around shortstop the O's have had in a long time. Dare I say since the days of Cal Ripken, Jr. manning the position?
Hardy is the rare combination of a shortstop with power (homer totals of 30, 22 and 25 over the last three seasons and a Silver Slugger award in 2013) and fantastic defensive ability (back-to-back Gold Glove awards the last two years), and the only thing he doesn't do well is get on base (career .312 OBP).
As long as Hardy stays healthy, he'll be playing almost every day. Of course, he'll need the occasional day off, which is where the backups come into play.
Hardy's primary backup will likely be Casilla, who figures to be the utility infielder. Beyond Casilla, Flaherty could likely fill in if need be, but he wouldn't be the answer for more than a few games.
The O's are pretty well off at shortstop in 2014.
Likely Starter: David Lough 65 percent
Possible Starter: Nolan Reimold 25 percent
Long Shot: Delmon Young 10 percent
This position is a bit less stable than the others.
The O's dealt third baseman/DH Danny Valencia to the Kansas City Royals for outfielder David Lough (pictured), presumably with the idea that he would serve as the team's everyday left fielder based on executive VP of baseball operations Dan Duquette's comments to MASN Sports on the trade.
Lough seemingly will get a majority of the playing time in left while sitting every once in a while against tough lefties or to get other bats into the lineup, much like Nate McLouth did with the O's the last season and a half.
The O's also have candidates such as Nolan Reimold, Steve Pearce, Delmon Young and Henry Urrutia to fight for playing time, but they'd have to make their way onto the roster first, a task that seems to be tougher now that the O's have officially signed outfielder/DH Nelson Cruz, who also figures to see time in left.
In short, the O's have a plethora of legitimate options to man left field, but Lough probably will get the most playing time, with Cruz rotating out there every once in a while. That allows Reimold, Pearce and Young to provide quality depth on the bench or in the minors as well as gives Urrutia more time to develop in the minors.
Starter: Adam Jones
The Orioles have one of the best center fielders, and best overall players, in all of baseball in Adam Jones (pictured).
Jones can field, hit for average and power, drive in runs and even swipe a base. He's the face of the O's franchise, and for good reason.
Needless to say, he'll be in center field for nearly every inning of the season for the Birds, health permitting. He could see the occasional start at DH so that he can rest his legs, but outside of that, you likely won't see an Orioles lineup card without Jones' name on it.
Behind Jones, the O's don't really have a backup center fielder, and they don't really need to. Lough is capable of playing center, so if worst comes to worst the O's have an option to go to, and newcomer Weeks can play center if the worst gets even more terrible.
That's about the depth of center field for the O's. When you have Adam Jones, you don't really need quality center field depth.
Starter: Nick Markakis
Is Nick Markakis (pictured) a good player or an average one?
Based on Markakis' career, it's tough to say. He put up fantastic seasons early on and looked to develop into a .300-average, 25-to 30-homer guy, but has seemingly only regressed the last few years.
It's safe to question whether health has been a factor the last two years, as he got off to a hot start in 2012 but broke his wrist midseason. Then toward the end of the year suffered a broken hand due to being hit by a CC Sabathia fastball. Markakis again started hot in 2013, yet slowed down and again dealt with health issues but never hit the DL.
This spring, Markakis looks about 15-20 pounds bigger and seems to be moving around in a more natural and healthy way than he had been the last couple of springs, as MASN's Roch Kubatko points out and O's manager Buck Showalter is quoted as saying. Markakis may be primed for a big season, and the O's would surely welcome that.
Behind Markakis, the team doesn't really have a designated backup in right field. Markakis will be seeing almost all the action in right, and Cruz could be the primary candidate to back him up seeing as how Cruz spent most of his time with the Texas Rangers in right field. Lough could also play right field, as could Reimold, Pearce and Young should they make the roster.
Like left field, the O's are deep in candidates to man right.
Starter: Nelson Cruz
The Orioles just signed Nelson Cruz (pictured), and a DH situation which featured Reimold, Young, Urrutia and Pearce all battling for playing time turned into Cruz being the primary DH with the above-mentioned guys fighting for a bench spot.
Cruz adds serious pop to a lineup that led the majors in homers in 2013, making the team even more potent offensively. The right-handed slugger will likely slot into the fifth spot, just behind Jones and Davis and right in front of Hardy and Wieters.
Cruz could see some time in the corner outfield spots if Showalter wants to give other guys days off from playing defense every once in a while, so don't be surprised if Cruz isn't the DH every single day. However, he'll likely see the majority of his at-bats from that position.
Should Cruz get injured, the O's have plenty of options to use at DH in Reimold, Young, Urrutia and Pearce. Reimold has proven to be a good hitter when healthy, and Young has a track record of success both against lefties and in the postseason. Urrutia raked in the minors and the Arizona Fall League last year, and Pearce is a solid bench player who is a total gamer.
The O's don't lack in bats, making DH one of their stronger and deeper positions throughout the upper levels of the organization.
Probable Starters: Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris
Possible Starters: Kevin Gausman, Zach Britton, Suk-Min Yoon
Long Shots: Brian Matusz, T.J. McFarland
The Orioles have plenty of starting pitching candidates to go around. Tillman and Jimenez (pictured) are guaranteed a spot in the rotation, and Chen is pretty much a lock, while it would be surprising to see Gonzalez begin the year anywhere but the starting five. That leaves just the fifth spot up for grabs.
Norris has to be considered the favorite for the job, as the O's acquired him on July 31 last season just before the trade deadline. He finished out the season in the team's rotation, and looks to impress fans with a full season in the rotation, assuming he wins the job.
Gausman, a top prospect for the O's, showed flashed of brilliance last season in the rotation and the bullpen, but also struggled mightily at times, leading one to believe he may need more minor league time. And with Britton out of options, the O's are going to give him every chance this spring to earn a spot with the team, and that includes a crack at the starting rotation.
New signee Suk-Min Yoon will also get a crack at the rotation, but the O's just simply may not have room for him, plus they may need him more in their bullpen to help fill it out.
For Matusz and McFarland, though, it's a much tougher battle into the rotation. The O's have one of their left-handed bullpen arm, Troy Patton, serving a 25-game suspension at the start of the season, and as Matusz was a valuable left-handed bullpen arm for the team last year, it'll be even tougher for him to make his way out of it to start the 2014 season now that Patton will be gone for three and a half weeks. The same logic applis with McFarland, though he could even begin the season at Triple-A Norfolk.
Beyond these guys, the O's aren't exactly loaded with quality starters to help the club. But O's fans can expect to see Gausman getting starts some time this year, and possibly even right-handed prospect Mike Wright, though that's simply speculation of my own.
Bullpen Favorites: Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter, Ryan Webb, Darren O'Day, Suk-Min Yoon, Steve Johnson, Josh Stinson
Possible Bullpen Arms: T.J. McFarland, Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Kelvin De La Cruz
While the O's were pretty middle-of-the-pack with their bullpen in 2013, the 'pen isn't one of their biggest worries.
The O's do have some quality arms in their bullpen. As stated in the previous slide, Matusz will like be forced back into the bullpen to give the O's a left-handed option. Steve Johnson and Josh Stinson could both find their way into the bullpen, serving as long men and one-inning guys.
Yoon is more likely to reside in the 'pen than the rotation, and the O's probably need him in that role more than they do the rotation anyway. And right-hander Ryan Webb, who the O's signed to a two-year, $4.5 million deal this winter, has proven to be a good one-inning arm and will likely be used late in games.
Darren O'Day (pictured) will return to the set-up role he's thrived in the last two seasons for the Birds, and Tommy Hunter, a hard throwing righty, is the favorite to land the closer's job.
McFarland and Britton could find their way to the bullpen as well, with the O's needing lefty arms there after Patton's suspension. And the team added Brad Brach and Kelvin De La Cruz this winter to add bullpen depth, and Brach is a quality arm with some potential to really help the club.
Regardless of what the team decides, they have plenty of options to go with in terms of the bullpen.