SARASOTA, Fla. -- With third baseman Manny Machado now all but officially declared out of the Opening Day lineup, the Orioles have another window of opportunity -- one they'd obviously rather not have to deal with, but nevertheless one that could have a lasting effect on the regular-season roster.
Machado's absence has opened up the possibility that Alex Gonzalez, who was little more than an afterthought when added to the invite list for spring training, could open the season as the Orioles' third baseman. Such an opportunity would also put the veteran Gonzalez in good position to fill the utility infielder role once Machado is cleared to play. Manager Buck Showalter's other option is Ryan Flaherty, who is just about guaranteed to be in the lineup at either second or third base.
Gonzalez has presented himself well, to borrow a favorite Showalter expression. Flaherty has done nothing this spring to discourage those who think he can develop into an everyday player who hits 20-25 home runs per season in addition to providing sound defense. Jemile Weeks is another second base candidate, and it remains to be seen whether the minor league option he has left will come into play.
Showalter has yet to commit to the makeup of his roster, still trying to decide between 12 and 13 pitchers. With a lineup that will require little, if any, platooning, the extra bench player almost becomes a luxury. It appears that Nelson Cruz is guaranteed at least partial time in the outfield, most likely leaving Nolan Reimold, Delmon Young and Steve Pearce to determine who gets the spot as a right-handed designated hitter.
Reliever Troy Patton's 25-game suspension to open the season has created a similar window of opportunity on the pitching staff. How Zach Britton fares coming out of the bullpen will likely determine Patton's role for the last five months of the season.
For the last few springs, one of the most intriguing players in the Orioles' camp has been Caleb Joseph. He shows up every year wearing his catching gear, goes to the minor leagues and swings a productive bat, then is left off the 40-man roster, ignored by other teams during the Rule 5 draft and invited back to the big league camp. The knock against Joseph has been his defense, but given the relative scarcity of good defensive catchers among regulars in the big leagues, you'd think he might warrant a look as somebody's backup/part-time designated hitter.
Joseph was behind the plate during the Orioles' 2-1 win against a Yankees junior varsity team March 15, and it was good to see that Showalter took notice of how he presented himself (there's that phrase again). I've got to think that sooner or later, some team is going to give this guy a chance to prove whether he can hit big league pitching.
Because if there's one thing we've learned through the years, it's that if you can hit in the big leagues, a team will find a place for you in the lineup.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com.
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