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The 15: Questions For Orioles Spring Training

February 15, 2017
Orioles pitchers and catchers reported to Sarasota, Fla., for the start of spring training Feb. 13. In this month's 15, PressBox looks at 15 questions surrounding the Orioles as spring training begins.

1. Who will be the leadoff hitter?
Will the Orioles acquire someone from the outside? Or could it be a player who is already with the team? In the past, manager Buck Showalter has used some unusual leadoff hitters, Nick Markakis, Manny Machado and Adam Jones. Showalter has said he'd like to get Jones out of the leadoff spot, but unless he tries Hyun Soo Kim or newcomer Seth Smith, Jones might be back to batting first.
 
2. How much will Kim play against left-handers? 
During his first season in the United States, the South Korean left fielder rarely batted against left-handers and was hitless in 17 at-bats. Kim, who hit a robust .321 against right-handers, will receive plenty of opportunities to hit against lefties during spring training, though the stuff he'll see from them in the Grapefruit League will differ markedly from what he'll see in April. It's helpful to the Orioles that Kim has decided not to play in the World Baseball Classic because that will give him more reps against lefties.
 
3. How much will Mark Trumbo play the outfield?
Last season, Trumbo played 95 games in right field and, with the acquisition of Smith, he's likely to start there fewer than half that number this year. Trumbo has a good arm, but when he hit a major league-leading 47 home runs last season, he had the worst defensive WAR of his career, minus-2.1. He's not a bad first baseman, but the Orioles already have a good one, Chris Davis.
 
4. Who will get playing time when Jones, Machado and Jonathan Schoop are at the World Baseball Classic?
Depending on how well their teams perform in the WBC, Jones, Machado and Schoop could miss three weeks of spring training. Count on seeing a lot of non-roster infielder Johnny Giavotella at second base and Ryan Flaherty at third when Schoop and Machado aren't there. Robert Andino could also see time at second and third. Joey Rickard could use some time in center with Jones gone because the team needs a reliable backup.
 
5. How will Welington Castillo do behind the plate?
Chris Tillman has had Matt Wieters as his catcher through nearly all of his time with the Orioles, both in the majors and minors, and it will be interesting to see how well he does without Wieters closer Zach Britton's sinker is often difficult to catch, and Castillo will have to prove his reliability to Britton. Castillo tied for the National League lead with 10 passed balls last season, and that could be a concern.
 
6. Who will back up Castillo?
Caleb Joseph is the favorite to be Castillo's understudy, but Francisco Pena, who performed creditably while Joseph was out with a testicular injury last year, is out of options. Joseph has options remaining, and the Orioles may want to see if the 2016 season, when he didn't have a major league RBI, was an aberration. Defensive-minded Audry Perez is in camp as a non-roster catcher.
 
7. Who will get the final two bullpen spots?
Barring injuries, five relievers have secure spots: righties Brad Brach, Mychal Givens and Darren O'Day, and lefties Britton and Donnie Hart. Right-handers Logan Verrett, Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright, all of whom can start and relieve, have chances to make the club -- or at least see much time with the Orioles -- because they each have options remaining. Righty Oliver Drake and lefty T.J. McFarland don't have options remaining. The Orioles also re-signed Logan Ondrusek. He has an option, and at his best, the right-hander is effective against left-handers.
 
8. How will the Orioles' pitchers adapt to Roger McDowell?
McDowell, who replaces the acclaimed Dave Wallace as pitching coach, inherits a staff that was used to Wallace and his bullpen coach Dom Chiti. Wallace and Chiti are gone, and McDowell is teamed with former Orioles pitcher Alan Mills, who spent the last two seasons with the Double-A Bowie Baysox. Tillman will be working with his sixth pitching coach as an Oriole, Britton his fifth. That will be interesting.
 
9. Do the Rule 5 players have a legitimate chance to make the team?
One can, both can't. Left-handed hitting outfielder Aneury Tavarez hit well for Double-A Portland last season, but there may not be a spot for him. Outfielder Anthony Santander, who had a strong year in Class-A, is a raw player and can use seasoning. It's possible the Orioles put Santander, who's coming off shoulder surgery, on the disabled list, effectively redshirting him until 2018. The Rule 5 stipulations would stay in effect for next season.
 
10. Will Wade Miley have a strong spring?
Miley, who was acquired at the trading deadline from Seattle last July, had a rough start but some strong outings at the end of the season. The Orioles don't have another legitimate left-handed starter, and while spring stats aren't reliably predictive, Miley could help himself with some decent Grapefruit League outings.
 
11. What rookies should I watch for?
Christopher Lee, a left-hander who missed most of last season with Bowie, could help the team later this season. So could right-handed reliever Jesus Liranzo. The Orioles hope catcher Chance Sisco is ready later this season. He's scheduled to start with the Triple-A Norfolk Tides and work on his defense. Sisco is already accomplished offensively. Outfielder DJ Stewart, who won't be officially invited to major league spring training, may get some looks, and righty reliever Jimmy Yacabonis has intrigued the Orioles, too.
 
12. Is Trey Mancini Going north with the Orioles or to Norfolk?
Until Trumbo re-signed, Mancini had a good chance to start the season as the principal designated hitter, but there may not be a place for him. Mancini had three home runs in five September games last year after Steve Pearce was hurt, but there's a question whether he's ready to hit major league pitching. Mancini hit .280 in 125 games for Norfolk.
 
13. Whatever happened to Dariel Alvarez, Henry Urrutia and Christian Walker?
Alvarez and Walker will probably play often during the spring. Both are on the 40-man roster, and neither outfielder has much chance to break camp with the Orioles. Four years ago, outfielder Urrutia was a hot prospect, but after brief trials in 2013 and 2015, he's fallen out of favor with the organization, despite a .272 average in 34 major league games. Urrutia played in Bowie last year and hasn't received an invitation to major league camp. A Sarasota resident, Urrutia worked out at the Orioles facility during January's minicamp.
 
14. If I could attend only one spring training game, which should it be?
I would attend the March 7 game against the Dominican Republic's WBC team. Machado is scheduled to play for the Dominican, as are Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz. Often when you attend Grapefruit League games in Sarasota, the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays don't bring their boldface names. That won't be the case with the Dominican, which will be managed by former major league skipper Tony Pena, father of the Orioles' backup catcher.

15. I'd like to see the Orioles play on the road during spring training. Is there a recommendation?
If you'd like to see the Orioles on the road during the spring, be careful. The team doesn't usually bring many, if any, big names to road games. An exception may be March 24, when the Orioles play the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers, Fla. Showalter likes the Twins' facility and field, and if Jones or Machado is coming back from the WBC, it could be a good opportunity to get them on the field with the rest of the team. It's also a night game, of which there are few during the exhibition season.

Issue 230: February 2017