Baltimore Orioles: Predicting the O's Opening Day Lineup
The Orioles have made some significant changes this offseason and the lineup on Opening Day 2012 will only slightly resemble that of 2011.
In early 2011, Brian Roberts was ready to put his injuries in the past and get a full season under his belt. Vladimir Guerrero started at DH and Derrek Lee was the first baseman. 2010 Most Valuable Oriole, Luke Scott, was patrolling left field.
Now, Roberts is trying again to stay healthy and is not guaranteed to be ready by April 6. Vlad and Derrek Lee are both looking for jobs and Luke Scott was non-tendered, only to take a job in the division as the new DH in Tampa.
Like the Orioles, the Twins don't have a true ace, so I'm going to go with history and say that Carl Pavano will start his second straight Opening Day for the Twins.
Here is a look at what Buck Showalter may write on the lineup card for April 6.
Endy Chavez, LF
I'll start off by saying that I don't think that Chavez is the true "starter" in left field, but the matchup against Pavano and lack of a leadoff hitter might help Chavez's playing time.
Nolan Reimold will likely get a larger share of starts in left field in 2012. He played well at the end of 2011 and Buck Showalter has already said that he hopes Reimold takes the job in March.
Chavez's inclusion in the lineup depends entirely on Brian Roberts. The Orioles have lacked a leadoff hitter and speed on the bases since Roberts' injuries, so the spot will be dictated by Roberts' progress. If he can start on Opening Day, he will hit first and Reimold will likely start in left field near the bottom of the batting order.
Nick Markakis, RF
Nick Markakis hit second for most of last year and will likely return there in 2012.
Markakis is coming back from surgery on his abdomen, but he is pushing to be ready by Opening Day. The Orioles will likely be careful with him in his return and he may need extended time in Sarasota if he can't get enough at bats. In that case, Reimold can start in right field.
No matter what happens, right field will be reserved for 2011 Gold Glove winner Nick Markakis. He is one of the most consistent hitters in the lineup and will get on base and drive in runs near the top of the order.
Adam Jones, CF
The third spot in the order is usually reserved for the most dynamic hitter in the lineup and that is Adam Jones.
Jones hits for average and power well, but struggles with his patience. This is the year that Jones needs to start drawing walks and maybe add stealing to his game to take the next leap in his progression. Those two attributes could catapult him into elite status, but for now, he is just an above average center fielder.
Mark Reynolds, 3B
Mark Reynolds has been known for two things in his career: power and strikeouts.
Reynolds flourished in his first season with the Orioles, hitting 37 home runs and "only" striking out 196 times, a career low. Reynolds led the team in OPS, which makes him the perfect cleanup hitter. Vladimir Guerrero, who hit fourth for most of 2011, was not able to drive in runs, only knocking in 63, but Reynolds led the team with 86 RBI and could break 100 for the second time in his career if he hits fourth.
The one question this offseason was where Reynolds would play. Reynolds was the worst fielding third baseman in 2011, but thrived when he was moved across the diamond to first base. Buck Showalter has said in the past that he is more comfortable with Reynolds at third because Chris Davis' arm injuries prevent him from moving across the diamond. Another option could be using Davis as a DH with Wilson Betemit at third.
Matt Wieters, C
I remember last offseason that Steven Goldman of Baseball Prospectus called Matt Wieters one of the most disappointing prospects of all time. He has some seriously high standards and very little patience apparently.
Wieters, who turned 25-years-old midseason, was one of the best all-around catchers in the majors in 2011. In just his second full season, Wieters was selected to the All-Star Game and became the first Orioles catcher to win the Gold Glove. He set career bests in games, home runs, slugging, strikeouts, walks, RBI, steals (he stole his first base) and pretty much any other statistic that you could think of. He should continue to get better offensively in 2012.
Behind the plate, Wieters was the best in the American League. He entirely deserved the Gold Glove as he threw out runners at a better rate than anyone in the league. He was also incredibly durable, tying Yadier Molina for the third most innings caught.
Wieters will play a much bigger role in the lineup in 2012 than he has in the past.
J.J. Hardy, SS
J.J. Hardy proved in 2011 that he is no longer injured and has regained his power stroke.
In his first season with the Orioles, Hardy set a career high in home runs with 30, which could have been higher if not for an early season oblique injury. Nevertheless, Hardy has a ton of power and will fit in nicely in the middle of the lineup, as opposed to the top or bottom like in 2011.
One of Hardy's most underrated qualities is his unbelievable defense. Hardy has an incredible arm that turned tough plays into easy outs. He was in the final three for a Gold Glove and, while he did lose, was entirely qualified.
Chris Davis, 1B
Chris Davis is currently penciled in as the first baseman for the Orioles, but that could easily change. He is not guaranteed a spot and will have to prove he is ready to finally live up to his potential to get it.
Davis fell out of favor in Texas after being touted as a power threat in his first couple of seasons. His career high in at bats is 391, so he has never really had a chance to play a full season. The opportunity is there in Baltimore and he better jump on it.
Davis' fate is partially linked to Betemit and Reynolds, but I'd expect him at first. He will be given another chance to show what he can do and the Orioles hope he'll come through.
Wilson Betemit, DH
The Orioles' most recent free agent signing has drawn serious criticism around the Twitter-verse for giving too many years to such a mediocre player, but I can't hate on how little they are paying him.
Betemit can be a solid bat at times and he is still only 30-years-old. He has never really been a legitimate starter in the league and will likely move around a lot in 2012, but for now, he is the DH.
Betemit won't hit a ton of home runs, but he has a solid career OBP and can hit for a pretty good average, so he could be a solid contributor.
Robert Andino, 2B
Robert Andino has not shown that he is an everyday player at second base because his offense isn't quite where it should be, but he is a great bench player and could provide great depth.
I don't expect Robert Andino to start at second for any other reason than that I don't think Roberts is healthy. I really hope he proves me wrong because Roberts can transform this offense, but Andino will do in case of emergency.
Tommy Hunter, SP
The Opening Day starter seemed to be set in stone since Jeremy Guthrie started three of the last four, but he is now on the Colorado Rockies, so the starter is very difficult to predict.
The rotation is pretty fluid right now because there will be a lot of competition in spring training, but an in-shape Tommy Hunter seems to have a good chance at starting the opener.
Hunter is still pretty young and is not really an ace, but he is the second most experienced pitcher expected to make the rotation and has a great track record. I doubt that Buck Showalter would start Wei-Yin Chen or Tsuyoshi Wada because they have never pitched in the majors.
The top alternatives to start are Chen, Jason Hammel, Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton, but I think that Hunter will take the hill.