Today is the first workout for pitchers, catchers, and any position players that report early. By this time next week everybody will be in camp and the preparation for the season will really begin. As we enter spring training, here are five things to watch for before opening day.
1. Who wins the 5th starters role?
Its assumed that the starting five will be some combination of Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen, Justin Duchscherer, and Jake Arrieta but Chris Tillman and Zach Britton will try to make that decision difficult. If theres an injury or somebody really under performs, one of Tillman or Britton will look to take advantage of that situation. The most susceptible to those are Arrieta and Duchscherer. Best case scenario is everyone stays healthy and we have some depth at AAA Norfolk to start the year.
2. Who will be left out of the bullpen?
The biggest competition will probably be who makes up the last three spots in the opening day bullpen. Koji Uehara, Kevin Gregg, Mike Gonzalez, and Jim Johnson are all but assured to make the team. Clay Rapada, Mark Hendrickson, Troy Patton, Pedro Viola, and some others will battle it out for the second lefties spot. The other two spots will come down to Jason Berken, Jeremy Accardo, Rick VandenHurk, rule 5 pick Adrian Rosario, David Riske, Ryan Drese, or Chorye Spoone. Berken is coming off a labrum injury and VandenHurk is out of options. My prediction for the final three spots is Rapada, Accardo, and VandenHurk with Berken starting the year either on the disabled list or in AAA to prove hes healthy.
3. Who wins the backup catchers role?
We can discern that the decision is between Craig Tatum and Jake Fox. Tatum was the back up for most of last season and hit surprisingly well in a small sample size. Unfortunately he only threw out two of 25 base stealers and wasn’t as much help defensively as the O’s figured he would be. Fox would provide considerably more power and a nice pinch hit option late in games but he has limited experience at the position and is more of a third/first baseman. That could also work to his advantage as he could be plugged in at other positions as well. I’d prefer to have Fox as the back up but they could also keep both on the roster, which brings us to the next question.
4. Who wins the last spot on the bench?
All of the every day positions are already decided before spring training even starts and we can be sure that Cesar Izturis will make the team as a utility infielder. The back up catcher will own a spot, as will the fourth outfielder (between Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold). That leaves one last spot with alot of possibilities. Jake Fox could be an option if he doesn’t win the back up catchers role. If Nolan Reimold loses the fourth outfielders spot he could stay on as a bat off the bench and fill in at first base occasionally, but I don’t think the O’s would waste him on the bench. Robert Andino showed Buck Showalter a little something at the end of the 2010 season and is the running. Brendan Harris was brought over in the JJ Hardy trade but I see him starting at AAA. He just doesn’t hit or field well enough. Or maybe someone from the minors like Ryan Adams, Josh Bell, or Matt Angle really surprises and takes a spot. If theres an injury Randy Winn could be a serviceable fourth outfielder as well. I’d go with Andino to start the year but wouldn’t hesitate to swap him out for a hot hand in the minors if Bell or Adams are hitting well.
5. Who wins the fourth outfielders spot?
Barring a trade, which isn’t out of the question since the Orioles signed Randy Winn to a minor league deal, the fourth outfielder will either be Felix Pie or Nolan Reimold. Pie is the early favorite since he can play all three outfield spots, and well. He also showed more during the 2010 season to think he could reach his potential. Reimold is looking to rebound from a horrendous 2010 campaign after achilles surgery lingered and personal problems bothered him. He has alot of potential with his bat but hes fielding isn’t good at all. He was a good platoon option for left field and DH before the Orioles signed Vladimir Guerrero but now he has to fight even harder for a spot. If he wins the job who plays center field when Adam Jones gets hurt or needs a day off? Thats why I think Pie would really have to play himself out of the role or injure himself again. They both could make the team if the O’s are ok with Reimold not getting many at bats as a pinch hitter/extra reserve, but I think they want him to get as many at bats as possible to prove that 2010 was a fluke.
The good news is that spring is finally here and baseball is just around the corner.