Intriguing Position Battles At Orioles Spring TrainingPosted on February 13, 2014 by Stan 'The Fan' Charles
The reports that starting pitcher A.J. Burnett has signed a one-year, $16 million deal with the Phillies don't entirely rule out Burnett from ever pitching in orange and black. In fact, he might be the first guy the Baltimore Orioles try to acquire if the Phillies have a bad 2014 season and the O's are still in the race in July.
The Orioles have reportedly reached agreement on a three-year $5.75 million deal with Korean right-hander Suk-min Yoon, pending a physical, and Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana are two starters still available on the free-agent market. The sands are quickly running through the hourglass known as the offseason. Although I remain optimistic that Yoon and one of the other two top-tier guys could make their way into an O's uniform, I am a tad tired of being held hostage by the slow-as-molasses process.
So, for a change of pace, let's look at a couple of key battles that might shape up this spring, as well as the potential of one other position player addition and what it could do to the makeup of the 2014 Opening Day roster.
Backup Catcher: Steve Clevenger/Johnny Monell
Don't get me wrong -- neither of these guys is likely to end up as the No. 1 backstop in a post-Matt Wieters scenario in Baltimore. But both of these players were picked up since midseason, and the club has added potential future catching depth in David Frietas, the last installment of the trade of closer Jim Johnson to the A's.
As far as 2014 goes, the Orioles' most interesting catcher prospect will most likely start off at Double-A Bowie or Triple-A Norfolk. That name to remember is Michael Ohlman. The 2014 season will be one when either Ohlman surfaces as a legitimate threat to take over for Wieters or the club may have to acquire a major league guy in any trade for Wieters.
Although Monell is apparently a decent guy defensively, he is not a run producer of any note, and at 27, he probably isn't about to become one. But, like most of executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette's acquisitions, he has shown he can get on base, with a career .351 OBP in the minors.
Clevenger is a local guy, having played at Mount St. Joseph, and is the favorite going into camp. But his one season of extended big league play exposed that he also may not be much of offensive threat. He batted .201 with one home run and 16 RBIs in 215 plate appearances. But his minor league batting average and OBP are impressive -- .311 and .373 in 2,227 plate appearances.
Give the edge to Clevenger.
Second Base: Ryan Flaherty/Jemile Weeks/Jonathan Schoop/Emilio Bonifacio?
Currently, Bonifacio is not an Oriole. In fact, if I had to guess, I say he probably ends up a Yankee or a Dodger. But apparently O's manager Buck Showalter would love to add this guy, and perhaps the O's will obtain him -- if he clears waivers.
Bonifacio is a long shot, and so is the 22-year-old Schoop, who looked to be making a real impression last season when he suffered a stress fracture in his back, which limited him to 289 plate appearances along with a tiny cup of coffee in the big leagues. It's thought that Schoop may be the long-term guy at second, but for 2014, he'll most likely be the everyday guy at Triple-A Norfolk. By August, he may be pushing his way into the big league conversation.
That leaves Flaherty and Weeks. This job is Flaherty's to lose. But a dynamic spring by Weeks, who'll be trying to make his first impression a lasting one, could push him onto the big league roster. The situation is slightly complicated by two factors -- Flaherty could be needed at third base should Manny Machado not be healthy at the start of the season and Weeks may get a look as a super sub, where his versatility both in the infield and outfield could play into his ultimate role.
Give the edge to Flaherty
Designated Hitter/Left Field: Delmon Young/Nolan Reimold/David Lough
If Young comes into camp and is a decent citizen and produces, he'll more than likely get most of the at bats versus left-handed pitching. He has a career batting average of .303 against left-handers. But if Young gets on track and clicks with batting coach Jim Presley, who knows? It's not as if he'll turn into a total dog against right-handed pitching, as evidenced by a .274 career average.
Ideally, Young would produce to the level of 400-425 at bats as a designated hitter, and some combination of Wieters, Nick Markakis, Reimold and Flaherty would make up the rest.
A lot of people would also list left field as an uncertain position, but Lough looks to be ready to grab 400 at bats versus the righties, which could leave a healthy Reimold's best opportunity to play left field versus the right-handers in a platoon.
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The Orioles have reportedly reached agreement on a three-year, $5.75 million contract with Korean right-handed pitcher Suk-min Yoon.