It's coming down to the wire in Baltimore Orioles camp, as key position battles will be determined in the coming week.
While most position decisions are no-brainers, being filled by a majority of the "core" of the Orioles, there are a few positions yet to be set in stone.
Candidates for key positions include veterans and prospects alike, so it will be a tough decision as to whether executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter want known production from veterans or upside from the younger guys.
Here are some positions battles that will conclude with a winner emerging in the coming days.
David Lough vs. Nolan Reimold
It seems the Baltimore Orioles got exactly what they wanted out of the trade that sent third baseman Danny Valencia to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for outfielder David Lough this past offseason.
Lough has been very steady this spring, batting for an average of .290 and an on-base percentage of .333 over the course of 11 games played and 31 at-bats. He is also slugging for a quality .452 and has collected two triples and one double thus far.
Not only could Lough win the job as the starting left fielder for the birds, but he is also a prime candidate to bat leadoff. He has collected four stolen bases so far and has displayed impressive speed.
Per MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko, Lough has his teammates and coaches in awe of his speed already:
"It was fun watching Lough run," Showalter said. "(Jonathan) Schoop said, 'He runs like a cheetah.' As soon as he hit it, Jonathan was sitting next to me and he said, 'Watch him run. He's a cheetah."
Fellow outfielder Nolan Reimold is proving capable of swinging the lumber as well, as the righty is batting for a competent .257 average and has drawn seven walks over the course of 35 at-bats to boost his on-base percentage to a stellar .381.
Despite showing off above-average on-base skills, Reimold is slugging for a meager .343, which is 61 points lower than the AL average (.404) from the 2013 season.
While both hitters have shown solid hitting skills, in particular in getting on-base, Lough separates himself with his above-average glove and ability to collect extra bases with his speed.
Winner: David Lough
No. 5 Starting Pitcher
Bud Norris vs. Kevin Gausman
Acquired last summer in a trade that sent outfielder L.J. Hoes and left-handed pitcher Josh Hader to the Houston Astros, right-handed starter Bud Norris entered spring training with something to prove.
In nine games started for the Orioles in 2013, Norris pitched to an ERA of 4.80 and allowed baserunners at an alarming rate, with a WHIP of 1.678.
The Orioles' key decision-makers are hoping that Norris' first few starts with the birds were just the effect of growing pains from pitching in the AL East.
Up to this point in spring training, Norris is doing a good job of putting last year's woes behind him. The end-of-the-rotation candidate is pitching much more like a front-of-the-rotation guy. In fact, through four spring training starts and 11.2 innings pitched, Norris is pitching to an ERA of just 2.31 and is striking out more than a batter per inning, with 13 strikeouts so far.
Make no mistake about it, Kevin Gausman—the fourth overall selection in the 2012 MLB draft—wants to be considered heavily for a spot with the major league club.
Per MASNsports.com's Steve Melewski, Gausman is willing to be placed in any role that the club sees fit in order to make the team.
"Trying to put some pressure on them and I want to break camp with the team, that's my goal," Gausman said. "In what role, that is up to them. I think I've shown I can pitch out of the 'pen. There are some things I don't control."
Despite only starting two spring training games and making appearances in two others, Gausman holds a 2.45 ERA and has limited opposing hitters to an average of just .179.
Gausman has also shown pinpoint control, walking only four batters through 11 innings pitched.
While Gausman's spring certainly has warranted him a spot on the 25-man roster, Duquette and company will likely send Gausman down to Triple-A Norfolk to start the season in order to hone mechanics further and build up confidence. The club will then most likely bring him up to the major league level relatively quickly once room has been cleared by injury or poor performance.
Winner: Bud Norris
Ryan Flaherty vs. Jonathan Schoop vs. Jemile Weeks
During this past offseason, the talk amongst the Orioles community was that second baseman Ryan Flaherty was the odds-on favorite to be the starting second baseman for the 2014 season.
The picture became a little bit less clear with the offseason trade that sent closer Jim Johnson to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for second baseman Jemile Weeks, and even more hazy with the breakout spring performance of the Baltimore Orioles' top hitting prospect, second baseman Jonathan Schoop.
Throughout 16 spring games played so far, Flaherty has done his best to hold off his fellow candidates.
Over a solid exposure of 42 at-bats in spring training, Flaherty is hitting for an excellent triple slash line of .310/.362/.571. He is displaying the power we all know he is capable of by collecting seven extra base hits, good for two homers and five doubles.
While Flaherty still needs to cut down on his strikeout rate (10 in 42 at-bats), having an on-base percentage over 50 points higher than his batting average seems to be a step in the right direction.
The Orioles' young superstar third baseman Manny Machado will be placed on the 15-day disabled list as he is still rehabbing from offseason knee surgery, so Flaherty will most likely shift over to the hot corner to start the season until Machado is 100 percent healthy.
If that scenario comes to be, Flaherty would be removed from the starting second baseman conversation for now and would be re-evaluated for it later against the next two candidates once Machado returns to action.
Jonathan Schoop is having one heck of a spring training and is providing a lot of excitement for Baltimore Orioles fans in a usually dull time of the year in baseball.
Schoop's spring numbers suggest that he has been very aggressive in his approach. The young second-base prospect has struck out in nearly a third of his at-bats (11 in 35), but is slugging a ridiculous .686.
Schoop has collected two homers and seven RBI thus far in spring training.
On the other hand, newly-acquired second baseman Jemile Weeks is not having a very memorable spring.
The switch-hitting speedster has provided little positive reinforcement to his case of winning the second base job. He's stolen seven bases in 16 games, but has performed terribly elsewhere.
Weeks currently holds a triple slash line of .143/.295/.171. While the six walks account for a somewhat respectable on-base percentage, his batting average and slugging percentage do not even make a case for him to be a utility infielder for the major league club.
Injuries and performances that have varied from great to poor have opened up opportunities for both Ryan Flaherty and Jonathan Schoop to start on Opening Day.
Winner: Jonathan Schoop
All spring training statistics courtesy of MLB.com.
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