February is the worst month of the year for many reasons. One, it is cold and when you live in Maryland, where the weather seems to hate every single citizen, it is very cold and windy. There is also no baseball being played anywhere in the United States.
There is however one good thing about February: Spring Training camps open up.
It seems like almost every year, pitchers and catchers report earlier and earlier. By 2020, they will be reporting right after the World Series ends. Okay not really, but you get the point. With pitchers and catchers reporting, it allows for you to focus your attention away from the sports that are still playing actual games and focus on guys like Mark Hendrickson throwing 65 MPH sidearm pitches to catchers you will never know the name of. There is nothing quite like it.
At some point, they let the rest of the players come and work out. Not much longer after that, you have “actual” games. Granted, these games are usually unbearable after 5 innings because it features guys that are fighting for a spot in Bowie, for the most part.
My favorite thing to do during Spring Training is look out for who wins the annual Jake Fox Award for being the best at practice games. For those of you who do not know what that means, let me explain.
Flashback to 2011, a baseball player named Jake Fox came into Orioles camp. He played in 27 games, had an average of .297, hit 10 home runs and had 15 RBI’s. He then went back to being the mediocre AAAA player when the regular season came around. But man, were those 27 games of All-Star version Jake Fox fun!
Back to modern and must less depressing times. The Orioles are entering Spring Training facing a ton of questions. Will Manny Machado and Matt Wieters come back from their injuries and be the player they are suppose to be? Will Chris Davis hit above the Mendoza line? Will we survive without Nick Markakis? How do you replace the production of Nelson Cruz?
Let me, sort of, answer these questions for you right now. Machado and Wieters will be interesting cases entering spring, but should return to their normal levels of play once they are playing everyday. Chris Davis will have to hit better, for it is a contract year for him. The Orioles will survive without Nick Markakis; it will just be weird for a while. And finally, the answer to the lost production from Nelson Cruz can be solved with the players listed above: Manny Machado, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis.
This team is one that won 96 games last season. Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Matt Wieters missed quite a few of those games. Wieters hurt his elbow and went onto the DL on May 11th. Also on that day, Davis had just come back from a DL stint that started on April 27th. Four days later, Manny Machado made his season debut after having off season knee surgery. On June 30th, Machado started his five game suspension for getting in a fight with basically the whole Oakland Athletics team, meaning he would miss five more games, added onto the month missed at the beginning of the year. August 13th was a very hard day for Orioles fans. Matt Wieters had been transferred to the 60 day DL, ending his season and Manny Machado was placed on the 15 day DL for an injury that he occured the night before. September 12th was another hard day as Chris Davis was suspended 25 games for the use of amphetamines, meaning that the team was without all three players. And yes, they won 96 games and made it to the ALCS.
With all of the adversity that the Orioles faced in 2014, I truly believed that they saw it as an opportunity to better themselves and keep proving people wrong. If so, they rode that mentality to the ALCS, where they were unfortunately swept by the Kansas City Royals in four games.
To prove all of the naysayers wrong again, they will have to use the same mentality they have used for the last 3 season: do not care about what people think of your team. They will take that into Spring Training and only use it to better themselves.
Speaking of Spring Training, here are the players the Orioles will invite to the big league camp in 2015.
By the end of writing this, I will have mastered spelling “Tuiasosopo”. Also, Chaz Roe sounds like a Saturday Night Live cast member. The players that will have my attention the most are Hunter Harvey, J.P. Arencibia, Chris Parmelee and Nolan Reimold.
No, I am not focusing on Dariel Alvarez. If I wanted to see a baseball player strike out almost every at bat, I’d go watch Cardinals games when Mark Reynolds plays or Cubs games when Javier Baez plays.
Hunter Harvey is the most recognized name on this list because he is a top pitching prospect and is being looked at as being part of the future rotation that will one day feature Dylan Bundy. I am anxious to see how he reacts to Major League hitters. I still don’t see him going any farther than Frederick this season, which is just fine.
I am focusing on Arencibia and Parmelee for the same reason: they have a chance to be this year’s Delmon Young and make the team out of Spring after being a non roster invitee. I see Parmelee as having a bigger chance, but only because Chris Davis will miss the first game of the season, meaning you need a first baseman for the day. Arencibia has players like Caleb Joseph and Steve Clevenger infront of him, but being that he has more MLB experience, he could crack the Opening Day roster.
The only reason to focus on Nolan Reimold is to see how many innings he will appear in before getting that famous small injury that turns into a season ending one. I do not wish injury upon any player or find them funny in any way, but when it comes to Reimold, it just becomes repetitive to where you just look for it.
And now, to my prediction of the 25 man roster, featuring a suspension free Chris Davis and if Matt Wieters is ready on Opening Day.
Before you ask, yes, I have Ubaldo Jimenez in the bullpen.
As for the pitchers, the only competition I see is from Jason Garcia and Logan Verrett, the Rule 5 picks. The Orioles do love their Rule 5 picks, but I just do not see a way for them both of be on the team with an already solid bullpen, which is already leaving out T.J. McFarland. Being an Orioles fan and expecting no big offseason signing has led me to be excited to watch Wesley Wright pitch.
I am a big fan of Brad Brach, Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day and I believe they all will be great bullpen arms to prepare for Zach Britton in the 9th inning. Until I see more of Wright and what he brings, it will be more clear on what his position in the bullpen will me. And of course, Ubaldo Jimenez will be in the innings eater/down by a ton of runs guy. As for an opinion on the rotation, you have pretty much heard every single one you can so there is not much else to speculate about them.
The catchers are pretty much self explanatory, barring Wieters not being ready for Opening Day or Joseph struggling mighty in Spring.
The infielders are self explanatory as well, barring any crazy event. I am really looking for Jonathan Schoop to break out a little more and hope for a full season from Manny Machado, which has become a prayer more than anything. As for Chris Davis, he needs to hopefully find a happy medium between his 2013 and 2014 seasons. J.J. Hardy has been a joy to watch in Baltimore and I am glad his spot is secured on the team for a few more years.
And now, the outfield. The mecca of question marks for the Orioles. The land of platoons and switching around every single thing. Let us start with the constant: Adam Jones. You can pretty much expect the same thing from Jones that you have gotten for the last three seasons. And now, the rest.
For left field, a platoon of De Aza, Lough and Pearce will work fine. I see Pearce being the designated hitter more than really anyone on the team, besides Delmon Young, so he will not get as much play time in the outfield as much as De Aza and Lough. Being that both are left handed hitters, you probably will throw Pearce out there when a lefty is on the mound.
And for right field, a platoon of Travis Snider, Delmon Young and Steve Pearce will work well. You can also mix in David Lough if you really need to. The reason I have Delmon as a right field option and not a left field one is because he will ask to play right field in minor league Spring Training games on days off in March. This is a completely reasonable request for Young, who is more familiar with right field. Many of you know I am not Delmon Young’s biggest fan, mainly for his poor off the field decision he made in 2012, but you can not question his work ethic at all since coming to the Orioles. He knows that nothing is guaranteed here so he will fight for every opportunity to play, which he earned after a surprising 2014 campaign.
This team is a bowl of fruit that is not close to expiring, but is not far from it either. With the uncertainty of Matt Wieters and Chris Davis following the season, contract wise, you can possibly lose two big franchise players whose loss will have more impact than losing a 33 year old designated hitter and a 31 year old, coming off surgery, right fielder. You lose 25-30 HR power, solid defense and a strong middle of the order presence. Adam Jones, Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy can not be your saving graces, they need as much help as they can get, which you get from Wieters and Davis.
Being the overachieving bunch they are, they can win anything from 75 to 95 games. There is no real way to predict how the Orioles will do, just because they have beaten almost every projection about them for the last three seasons. Honestly, I can see this team making the postseason again. In a division with a lot of question marks, any big run can propel you to a playoff spot and a division title. The added factors of Boston and New York being big spenders just the division that much more interesting, along with the always lurking Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays.
The Orioles won the division by 12 games last season. 12! No other team in the division had 90 wins. Losing Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Matt Wieters for a good chunk of those games pretty much equals up to losing Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis for a whole season, based on my stupid optimistic thinking. Replacing 40 home runs will not be the hardest task when you get back two guys who are known for hitting them and having a solid batting average guy play a full season will be an added bonus.
The short version of all of this: I think the Orioles will be alright. They are a good team that overachieves and overcomes adversity better than anybody else in the league. With certain windows closing, they will just add that to the adversity list and try and propel themselves to a World Series title. Or, it could all go terribly and they are done by the All-Star break. That is exactly why you play the game.