The Orioles continued to stockpile organizational depth, announcing the signings of four players to minor league contracts Dec. 19.
The new additions are outfielder Xavier Paul, first baseman Chris Marrero, second baseman Ivan De Jesus Jr. and left-handed reliever Fabio Castillo. All but Castillo have prior major league experience.
Paul, who will turn 29 in February, is the most tenured big league veteran of the group, having played 335 games during parts of five seasons with the Dodgers, Pirates and Reds. He holds a career batting line of .254/.316/.376/.692 with 12 home runs and 71 RBIs. During the past two seasons, he served as a reserve outfielder for Cincinnati, and in 2013 batted .244 with a .741 OPS. He proved to be a useful bat off the bench, producing a .909 OPS in 36 plate appearances as a pinch hitter.
De Jesus, 26, hasn't played in the majors since 2012 but gives the O's additional depth at second base. A second-round draft pick by the Dodgers in 2005, De Jesus was part of the package sent to the Red Sox in 2012 as part of the Adrian Gonzalez/Josh Beckett/Carl Crawford mega-trade, though he went 0-for-8 with six strikeouts in a brief cup of coffee with Boston. De Jesus has a .205 average and .500 OPS in 80 career plate appearances in the bigs, and a .300/.371/.396/.767 batting line in the minors. He is the son of former major league shortstop Ivan De Jesus.
Marrero, 25, was once a highly regarded prospect -- a first-round draft pick of the Nationals in 2006 -- but hasn't developed as once hoped. During two stints in the bigs with Washington, Marrero amassed a .232 average and .528 OPS, and his minor league production hasn't been much better of late. Marrero declined to a .733 OPS with Triple-A Syracuse in 2013, prompting the Nats to cut ties with him.
Castillo, a 24-year-old from the Dominican Republic, spent the first seven years of his minor league career in the Texas Rangers' system before joining the Giants in 2013. He has yet to make his big league debut. Castillo has pitched to a 4.63 ERA during 251 minor league games, with an average of 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
Given the Orioles' current roster, these four players figure to be long shots to crack the Birds' Opening Day club and are likely initially destined for Triple-A Norfolk. Still, considering the rate at which the O's cycle through players throughout the season -- using 52 of them in 2013 -- it wouldn't be surprising if at least one member of this quartet makes an appearance with the major league club at some point in 2014.
Paul, in particular, could be useful as a pinch hitter or fourth outfielder, sort of similar to the role Chris Dickerson played in 2013. De Jesus is a dark-horse candidate for the vacant second base job and could compete during spring training with Ryan Flaherty and Jemile Weeks. And the O's might want to see whether Marrero, a right-handed hitter, could be a possible platoon player against southpaws. As for Castillo, he probably faces the longest odds of any of this group to earn significant time in the majors … but if he does, he'd become the first player in Orioles history with the name "Fabio." So there's something to look forward to, perhaps.