Orioles Bubble Players: One-week Checkpoint

Posted on March 06, 2014 by Paul Folkemer

There's no shortage of potential Opening Day roster spots up for grabs for the Orioles this spring. As many as nine openings, mostly in the bullpen and on the bench, are undetermined at this point, and manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles' front office are taking a close look at which players distinguish themselves during exhibition play. After the Birds' first week of Grapefruit League play -- which included six games before their March 6 contest was rained out -- let's take a look at bubble players whose stock rose or fell in the early goings.

MAKING AN EARLY IMPRESSION

RHP Eddie Gamboa: Technically, Gamboa might not count as a bubble player, because he has practically no chance of cracking the Orioles' Opening Day roster regardless of how well he pitches. Still, he's been impressive. He's worked three games in relief (the only O's pitcher to make more than two appearances thus far) and has flummoxed hitters with his knuckler, pitching two scoreless innings with three strikeouts. Wherever he ultimately starts the season, Gamboa's continued conversion to a knuckleballer will be interesting to follow.

IF Alex Gonzalez: The 37-year-old Gonzalez is now with his sixth organization since 2009, and is coming off a horrific season with the Brewers during which he posted a .433 OPS in 118 plate appearances. He's off to a hot start this spring, going 5-for-11 and tied for the team lead in hits. When camp started, Gonzalez seemed like a long shot to make the team, but if third baseman Manny Machado isn't ready to start the season on time, the O's could use the veteran Gonzalez as a short-term fill-in.

RHP Brock Huntzinger: I'll admit that I knew almost nothing about Huntzinger at the start of camp and figured he was a random minor league roster filler. But he's placed himself firmly on the Orioles' radar with two outstanding relief appearances, including a March 4 game during which he struck out the side in the ninth. Once a promising Red Sox prospect before injuries set him back, Huntzinger could find a place with the Birds soon, but perhaps not on Opening Day.

OF Francisco Peguero: This could be the most important spring training of Peguero's career, because he's out of options. He's risen to the challenge thus far, getting a couple of big hits and showing quality defense in a bid to win a fourth or fifth outfielder role. Peguero is one of the few players who has appeared in all six of the Orioles' exhibition games, with others including Steve Pearce, Xavier Paul and Cord Phelps. Maybe Showalter has a fondness for players whose last names begin with P.

STUMBLING OUT OF THE GATE

RHP Edgmer Escalona: Escalona made one appearance -- a one-inning, five-run implosion March 1 -- and then was shut down with shoulder inflammation, which is expected to sideline him for at least three weeks. The injury all but eliminates Escalona for a shot at a bullpen role on Opening Day.

OF Xavier Paul: Paul is tied for the team lead with four RBIs, but if he wants any chance of making the team as an extra outfielder, he needs to clean up his defense. So far, Paul has struggled with the leather. On one play, he pulled up tentatively near the wall and let a catchable ball drop in for a double. Then, March 5, he dropped a fly ball for a three-base error that led to a multi-run Twins rally. Paul looks like a long shot to make the team if he doesn't improve defensively.

OF Nolan Reimold: The perpetually snakebitten Reimold has suffered from more bad luck this spring, as he missed a couple of games after getting food poisoning. When he has played, Reimold's bat has looked slow. He's 1-for-9 so far, although he has drawn a team-leading three walks. After Reimold's many injury-plagued and/or ineffective seasons, the Orioles' patience with him won't last forever.

NEED TO SEE MORE

Technically, every player belongs in the need-to-see-more category. It's silly to draw conclusions about players based on a sample size of 3-4 games, often against non-major league quality competition (although that hasn't stopped me from writing an article about it). But here are two players who have had their early ups and downs.

LHP Zach Britton: Britton was so-so during his first outing, but improved during his second, working two scoreless innings March 5 and showing an improved sinker. He was forced to leave the game after taking a comebacker off his right hand, but the injury does not appear to be serious. That's good news for Britton, an out-of-options pitcher looking for one final chance to stick with the Birds. He can't afford to miss significant time during the spring.

2B Jonathan Schoop: Schoop has been an all-or-nothing player so far. He's 4-for-8 with four strikeouts -- so in every at bat he's either gotten a hit or failed to make contact. Schoop has roped some solid hits, including two doubles, but during the March 4 game against the Yankees, he twice struck out on three pitches, looking overanxious at the plate. The O's will most likely give Schoop more seasoning at Triple-A Norfolk at the start of the season, but as the Birds' top-ranked position prospect, he bears watching this spring.

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