Orioles Bubble Players: Two-week CheckpointPosted on March 14, 2014 by Paul Folkemer
With two weeks' worth of Grapefruit League games in the books and several cuts made from the Orioles' spring roster, let's take another look at the bubble players who are trying to win a spot with the O's on Opening Day. Several players' stock has risen or fallen since the last time we checked in March 6.
IF Jonathan Schoop: In my last installment, I pegged Schoop as a "Need To See More" player. Well, we've seen more, and it's been impressive. Schoop is sizzling at the plate, going 9-for-20 with four extra-base hits. At the start of spring, I figured it was a foregone conclusion that Schoop would start the year at Triple-A Norfolk for more seasoning (and he still could). But he's making a strong case to open the season as the Orioles' everyday second baseman, especially if Ryan Flaherty shifts to third base temporarily to fill in for the injured Manny Machado.
RHP Evan Meek: A one-time All-Star with the Pirates whose career nearly fell apart with a shoulder injury, Meek seems to be back to full health and in vintage form this spring. During three appearances through March 13, Meek has yet to allow a base runner, tossing four perfect innings with four strikeouts. His sharp spring and experience as a solid reliever could give him a leg up on the competition for a spot in the Orioles' bullpen.
RHP Josh Stinson: Another candidate for one of the Orioles' two or three open bullpen jobs, Stinson has delivered six innings without an earned run during four appearances, racking up seven strikeouts. Stinson is out of options, and the Orioles would likely prefer to hang on to him rather than risk losing him on waivers to another team. So far, he's doing everything he can to earn a spot on the team.
Honorable mention: Infielder Alex Gonzalez, who I spotlighted as one of the Birds making an early impression in my previous installment, continues to rake. Through March 13, he was 9-for-21 and tied with first baseman Chris Davis with a team-leading two home runs. Once an afterthought, Gonzalez is making a strong case to begin the year as the Birds' utility infielder, especially with Jemile Weeks and Alexi Casilla failing to distinguish themselves so far.
RHP Alfredo Aceves: Signed to a minor league deal as a potential bullpen piece, Aceves hasn't made a great first impression with the Orioles. He missed a few games to settle his visa issues in Mexico, and since his return, he hasn't looked sharp. Aceves has allowed five runs and seven hits in five innings, including a rough outing March 11 against his former team, the Red Sox, during which Sox batters hit for the cycle against him.
OF Delmon Young: Young, like Aceves, is a veteran with past on- and off-field troubles who is trying to make good with the Birds. But his bat has been missing in action. Young is batting .167 (4-for-24) with six strikeouts and no walks, and has lost ground to Steve Pearce in the competition to serve as a right-handed bench bat and platoon designated hitter.
NEED TO SEE MORE
C Steve Clevenger and Johnny Monell: I'm grouping Clevenger and Monell together because they're battling for the same spot -- a backup catcher behind starter Matt Wieters. Both have hit well this spring; Clevenger is 7-for-16 and Monell is 5-for-15, and each has a home run. But manager Buck Showalter has repeatedly said that the backup catcher job will be won with defense, not offense. Thus far, neither candidate has dazzled defensively, and Monell in particular has looked shaky. Both need to tighten up their fielding, or the O's could seek a more defensive-minded backup catcher from another organization.
IF Jemile Weeks: The Orioles are giving the newcomer Weeks plenty of chances to show what he can do, as he's been a frequent starter at the top of the lineup. Weeks is batting .158 (3-for-19), but he has shown patience at the plate by drawing five walks, tied with Nolan Reimold and Nelson Cruz for the team lead. Weeks is still in the competition for a utility infield spot, but he needs to take better swings and shore up his defense.
Note: The Orioles optioned right-handed pitcher Dylan Bundy to Double-A Bowie March 14, cutting the camp roster to 46. The transaction was essentially a paper move, as Bundy is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and did not participate in Grapefruit League games. Bundy will likely continue to work in side sessions in Sarasota, Fla., for another couple of months before he is cleared for game action in the minor leagues.
Linebacker Daryl Smith, a steal from the Ravens' 2013 free-agent class, has agreed to a four-year, $16.1 million contract with Baltimore March 14.