Last week I projected what I thought would be the pitching staff as the Orioles come north on March 31st. And I want to thank you the readers of my hot garbage for expressing your opinion on the matter. We (the BSR staff) received a ton of response and for that we thank you.
Today I will be projecting the position players. This shouldn’t be rocket science as there seems to be only a couple open spots available at print time. But with injuries in spring and possible players still out there to be had, it’s only an early projection.
Matt Wieters – “Jesus in Cleats” is the best defensive catcher in the American League and his durability over his time in the big leagues is undeniable. His leadership with the pitching staff is also something that is overlooked by many Orioles fans. Maybe it’s because his hitting has left many thinking he’s not worth the type of dough he will command in two years (FA). But he has hit over 20 hr’s the past three seasons and has played in an average of 140 games per season over his time with the Orioles. Johnny Bench he might not be, but there’s not more than 3 other receivers in the game you would take over Wiets right now.
Steve Clevenger – This former Pig Town resident became an Oriole last year (along with Scott Feldman) in the Jake Arrieta/Pete Strop for deal. Only played in 4 games last year, but I expect him to play more this year as Buck gives Wieters more days off. Very good defensive catcher, but his bat is well below average.
First Base: Chris Davis – Crush had a year only players dream about last year. Played in 160 games, while posting 53 dongs to go along with 138 RBI’s. Add in his ungodly .634 Slugging and 1.004 OPS and you can see why I think he got the shaft finishing 3rd in the MVP voting. But that was last year and now it’s time for him to show the doubters it wasn’t a fluke. Remember folks, he did hit 33 homers in only 139 games in 2012. So I expect somewhere in the middle of that, maybe something like 40 hr’s with over 100 RBI’s this year. He did K 199 times last year, but he still hit .286 overall. Defensively was much better than anyone thought only committing 6 errors in 1420 chances in his 155 games at first base. Even was a finalist for the Gold Glove.
Second Base: Ryan Flaherty – “Flash” as he known around the clubhouse has come along way since he was a Rule-5 player in 2012. Last year he hit .224 in 271 AB’s, but did have 10 hr’s. Of course, he was prone to the K’s (62). This year he comes to camp with the assurance of not only making the team, but probably is the front-runner for the starting 2nd base position. With B-Rob in Pinstripes, the Orioles now have to decide who will be their 2nd baseman going forward. Flaherty can play all 4 of the infield positions and also has played some OF which makes him a perfect utility guy. But unless Weeks or Schoop shine in the spring, expect to see Flash taking pre-inning grounders from Davis come March 31st.
Shortstop: J.J. Hardy – My son Jackson’s favorite player has been a model of consistency since former GM Andy MacPhail fleeced him from the Twins in 2011. Hardy has 77 HR’s in his three seasons with the Orioles and has won a Gold Glove twice (’12,’13). He also made the AL All Star team last year. But it’s consistent his defense and unflappable personality that makes this him a team favorite with both players and management. That is why extending his current dea (FA after ’13 season) could be as important as extending Davis/Wiets.
Third Base: Manny Machado – Manny has become one of the most popular players not only in the Charm City, but nationally as his stock is pointing up. Even a late season injury that looked gruesome at the time, has almost fully healed and he’s expected to be in the lineup come the 31st of March. I won’t bore you with how great this 21-year-old has been in just his first two big league seasons, but I will tell you he’s only scratching the surface. That being said, I think the Orioles management might want to take a look closely at what the Angels are doing with their young phenom (Mike Trout) and what the Rays did with Evan Longoria in regards to locking them up with long-term deals. This dude is going to be a star for years to come and letting him get to Free agency would be a travesty.
Others: second basemen Jemile Weeks was the player the Orioles received in the Jim Johnson trade. Because of the trade and because he has some nice speed (something the club lacks) I expect him to make the roster as a utility player. That is unless second base prospect Jonathan Schoop blows up in the spring and plays himself on the 25 man roster. I don’t see that happening, but if it does it only strengths an already potent lineup. Third baseman Michael Almanzar is a Rule-5-guy, so unless he makes the roster he would have to pass through waivers to stay with the Orioles in AAA.
Left Field: David Lough – Lough was traded to the Orioles this offseason for Danny Valencia. I for one think the Orioles will be judged as the winner in this deal, but Lough will have to prove me right. The reason I like this guy is he gives the Orioles a solid compliment to the other left field possibility in Nolan Reimold. Although he (Lough) hits from the left side of the plate, his numbers vs. lefties are pretty good. Overall he hit .286 in 335 plate appearances for the Royals last year and had 5 HR’s and 33 RBI’s. Good defender whose throwing arm is above average.
Centerfield: Adam Jones – The San Diego native had his best year as a professional last year playing in 160 games while hitting .285 with a career high 33 HR’s and 108 RBI’s. He even found time to steal 14 bases and by the way won his third Gold Glove (’09, ’12, ’13). As the unofficial captain of the USS Oriole, Jones is always stand up when talking about not only his performances/struggles as well as being the mouth piece for the team during tough times. I look for Jones to try to take some more pitches this season as his pitch’s per AB was an abysmal 4.1 last year.
Right Field: Nick Markakis – Let’s be totally honest here. Markakis was not healthy last year, right? It’s the only explanation I can come up with on why his decline in production was so staggering after the All Star break last year. A career low .271 average for a career .292 hitter to go along with the lack of power (10 HR’s and a career low 24 doubles) has to be injury related, right? I’m one to believe that Markakis (if fully healthy) bounces back big time this season and has a solid to spectacular year. And it would be a good time to post that type of year as he becomes a FA after the season. Will probably be the lead off hitter on the club too.
Others: Left fielder Nolan Reimold — what an enigma this guy is. Signs of promise every year only to have his season cut short due to injuries time after time. You though Roberts was a china doll. Reimold makes B-Rob look like Cal Ripken with his injury past. That is why the Orioles traded for Lough and unless Reimold makes it through the whole season (and performs well) I see this the last season in the Orange and Black for him. Steve Pearce is also a “guy” in the mix, but to me he screams 4-A type player. Meaning too good for AAA, but just can’t hack it in the Bigs.
Nelson Cruz – Well I’ll be damned. Mr. Peter Angelos took my advice and got those 84-year-old arms longer. Not only did the usually squeaking Orioles sign a FA pitcher to a 4 year $50 mil contract, but signed Cruz to a team friendly 1 year $8mil contract. I know the elephant in the room is the fact that Cruz was suspended last year 50 games after testing positive for PED’s. I get it. But if this guy can fit in that tight Orioles clubhouse and hits 25-30 bombs this year (clean), I’m good with the signing. Because again, who does it hurt? It’s not your money.
Henry Urrutia – I’m a fan, but not sure he finds a spot on the 25 man roster now that Cruz is in the fold. He does hit left-handed, but I think some everyday AB’s at Norfolk will only help this Cuban defector. He also needs to work on his outfield skills as the Orioles could be in the market for not only a right fielder, but a left fielder as well next off-season. He is probably the best left-handed DH candidate the club has. But they could play Reimold in left and DH Lough which would leave Urrutia out of the mix.
Others: (R) DH – Delmon Young signed a minor league deal with the Orioles this past offseason, but with the signing of Cruz it will take a monster spring and an injury for Young to make it north with the club. He did play all 3 OF positions last year in Philadelphia/Tampa Bay.
(L) OF/DH –Francisco Peguero was singed by the club in the off-season and entering last year MLB.com rated him as the No. 98 prospect overall and tabbed him as the Giants 5th best prospect. He also would need to turn into Barry Bonds this spring to see the bigs, but it does strengthen the Orioles depth in the minor leagues.