On the eve of Easter weekend and just about one week from Opening Day, there’s not a better time to start projecting which Orioles will make that hacky orange carpet trot in front of nearly 50,000 hammered fans April 5th at Camden Yards.
I understand Buck’s Birds actually open the season in that dump known as the “Trop“, but for me the real Opening Day will happen three days later in “The House Cal Built“.
And as I was doing the “research” in the attempt to predict who will be on the 25-man roster, something dawned on me.
This has to be the first season in my recent memory where there are only two spots available to be had on the roster. And the only reason it’s even two is because Wilson Betemit did his best RG3 impression and will be out a minimum of 8 weeks (should be longer) with a grade 2/3 tear of his right PCL.
Here’s the way I’m shaping up this O’s roster come April 2nd in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Jason Hammel- Staff “ace”, until Kevin Gausman is brought up in late June.
Wei-Yan Chen- Only lefty in the rotation. Wore down late in the season, but was probably the most consistent starter.
Miguel Gonzalez- Another Dandy Dan pick up who might have been the staff’s best pitcher in the playoffs.
Chris Tillman- My man crush of the staff has some lingering abdominal issues that might send him to the disabled list to the open the season. If so, look for Zach Britton to get his opportunity again with the O’s.
Jake Arrieta- Wins the 5th starter spot with an above average spring. If he struggles (I expect it), its very possible to see Brian Matusz getting his starts come May.
Brian Matusz- Could also be a candidate to replace Arrieta when he struggles as he was given a legit chance in the spring and flourished. But he was dominant in the lefty reliever role late last season, into the playoff run.
Tommy Hunter- My sleeper to succeed closer Jim Johnson if the Orioles decide to deal him (I would). “Big Game” Hunter can get it up to 100 miles per hour on occasions and also has starting experience.
Darren O’Day- Another man crush here as the submarine Australian – who’s wife is a “10″ by the way - was Mariano Rivera-like last year. I don’t expect him to have the same absurd numbers, but he’s as solid as anyone in late inning situations.
Pedro Strop- Old crooked hat was dominating until one weekend in early September last year vs. the Yankees in New York. He seemed to lose it and with that Buck lost confidence in him. I expect him to pitch with more confidence this year especially after his positive experience in the WBC.
Luis Ayala- Makes me nervous every time he pitches. Maybe it’s because I think I could hit his mediocre stuff, but his numbers don’t lie. A couple teams have inquired about him and the Orioles said they were open to a trade, so he could be moved before the season opens to make room for a guy I talk about down the page a bit.
Troy Patton- His stuff is absurd. Problem is he always seems like he’s less than 100%. But when he’s right, he is one of the best lefty specialists in the American League.
Jim Johnson- 50 saves, last year. Best closer in the game, last year. I’m focusing on “last year” because that’s all that is to me. Look, I love JJ and his sinking fastball is un-hittable when it’s on. But in my opinion I thought/still think the Orioles should look to trade him as his value will never be higher. Show me the last closer to post JJ’s numbers and I’ll show you a guy who loses his closer role the following season. Just saying…
That gives Buck 12 arms to start the season. Normally that would be fine as there are typically more off days in April. But this year it’s different as the Orioles only have two scheduled off days so I could see him keeping another arm. If that’s the case, look for Rule 5 lefty, T.J. McFarland to make the squad.
Position Players: Infielders
Matt Wieters- Jesus in Cleats is killing it so far in Spring Training. Five homers in limited AB’s proves to me he is ready to make that leap from great defensive catcher to best overall catcher in the game status. Buster Posey watch out. Backup Taylor Teagarden is the perfect compliment to Wieters. Just a winner who when healthy can provide some huge hits when Buck gives Wieters a blow.
Chris Davis- The “deputy” is poised to have a monster season IF he doesn’t struggle defensively as he takes over full-time at 1st base. He led the Orioles with 33 bombs last year and worked extremely hard in the off-season on his defense. Pencil him in as your five-hitter.
Brian Roberts- This has the makings of being something inspiring if B-Rob can get back to his 2005 type form. I’m not expecting that, but if he can play 80-100 games it could change this team from a 75 win team into a 85 win and playoff pushing team. I do think Buck should bat him 9th to lessen the pressure early on. Plus, in the American League, the leadoff hitter rarely leads off an inning after the 1st. Backup Alexi Casilla is an outstanding defensive player with a pop gun bat. Ryan Flaherty was good in spot duties last year, but unless Roberts is injured, starts his season in Norfolk.
J.J. Hardy- Another solid season from this veteran last year, although his batting average was below his normal status. But he did win a Gold Glove and although it looks like he can barely get it to first on throws, no one in the infield (expect Manny) is better at picking it. The Orioles are very thin on backups at SS, but of course Manny Machado could fill in if needed.
Manny Machado- Speaking of the devil, Manny will be entering his first full season in the big leagues with an enormous amount of pressure to duplicate what he did during his call up last year. I don’t expect him to go Mike Trout, but I do expect him to play Gold Glove defense and hit around .265 with 15-20 bombs and 70 RBI’s. The sky is the limit for this stud.
Nolan Reimold- What an enigma. This guy was carrying the club last year in April as they got off to that hot start. He was killing the ball to all fields and his glove was a surprise as well. But like Roberts, injuries have derailed this guys career from the jump. But if he can play 80-100 games like Roberts, the Orioles will be in great shape.
Nate McLouth- The Orioles “huge” off-season move was to resign this former All-Star. Another Dandy Dan scrap heap find, played his way into a new deal when CC Sabathia ended Nick Markakis’ year in mid September. From then on into the playoffs, McLouth kept coming up with big hit after big hit and now could be the 4th outfielder/DH vs. righties this team will need.
Nick Markakis- One of my favorite guys on the team, but just hasn’t lived up to that deal he received a couple years ago. Of course, Adam Jones now is the highest paid Oriole and deservedly so after last season. But Markakis is the Orioles best overall hitter and much more consistent, IMO. If he can stay healthy (already hurt this spring) and Buck decides to put him back in the leadoff spot, he could be up for come back player of the year.
Adam Jones- @SimplyAJ10 is a crowd favorite and the captain of the team. Of course he struggled mightily in the playoffs last year, but who didn’t? His performance during the year was nothing short of an MVP-type season and he did collect another Gold Glove. He should increase his homerun totals, but I would rather see him swing at less off the plate sliders and hit the cutoff man once in a while.
So, if you add it up that leaves the two spots open (if Buck decides to go with 12 pitchers). Here are my two choices for those spots.
Conor Jackson- This former Arizona Diamondback was one of the hottest prospects just a couple years ago as he was the 19th overall selection in the 2003 draft. During the 2009 season, he contracted Valley Fever and lost 35 pounds and was fatigued to the point of exhaustion. After bouncing around from team to team the past couple years, he was invited as a non-roster guaranteed player to the Orioles. His versatility (can play both corner INF and OF positions) and opposite field power provides Buck with an interesting decision. He has been killing it this spring and seems to have gained all of his strength back. Steve Pearce has been great this spring as well, but he, along with Lew Ford seem like 4A players. Meaning he’s just not good enough to be a consistent contributor in the ‘bigs, but dominates in the minors.
Ryan Flaherty- Can play multiple positions and with the un-certainty of Roberts, could provide Buck with another bat off the bench. Flaherty can hit, but his fielding isn’t exactly conjuring memories of Robbie Alomar, Jr.
Opening Day Lineup:
Jabby Burns is a diehard #OrangeKoolAid drinker and contributor to BaltimoreSportsReport.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JabbyBurns.