Orioles-Nation » Zach Britton http://orioles-nation.com Tue, 23 Dec 2014 16:00:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 Orioles Nation delivers Orioles minor league information you can't get anywhere else. From going to games to discussions with scouts, the ON Staff brings you news, scouting reports, and more from around the Orioles minor leagues, and frequently discusses the current happenings with the big league club. Orioles-Nation no Orioles-Nation LRinker@gmail.com LRinker@gmail.com (Orioles-Nation) Orioles Nation Orioles-Nation » Zach Britton http://orioles-nation.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/ON-Logo.png http://orioles-nation.com Baltimore, Maryland Weekly Alternatives to Nick Markakis http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/18/alternatives-nick-markakis/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/18/alternatives-nick-markakis/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 13:00:09 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15181 Staff Writer Luke Jackson overviews the Orioles options to replace Nick Markakis in right field

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Nick Markakis and the Orioles are reportedly discussing a four-year deal, and the two parties will almost certainly come to agreement to keep Markakis in Baltimore for the foreseeable future. By the time you read this, the ink might be dry on his contract. But I wanted to write about some alternatives on the free agent and trade markets that potentially provide better value. The free agent targets I wrote about were Alex Rios, Nori Aoki and Colby Rasmus; the trade targets were Justin Upton, Matt Joyce and Marlon Byrd.

Alex Rios

Rios, who will play 2015 at age 34, is set to play the twelfth year of a big league career that has led him to Toronto, Chicago and Texas. It seemed like a good bet that the Rangers would pick up his ’15 option after he hit .280/.315/.457 (108 OPS+) in nearly 200 plate appearances in 2013 after his trade to Texas. However, Rios’s power cratered in 2014 (.398 SLG with four homers) and Texas opted not to bring him back.

Rios has mashed lefties throughout his career, and his splits have become more exaggerated in recent years. Rios hit .313/.365/.524 against lefties in 2013 and .325/.353/.545 in 2014, while his numbers against right-handers have tanked. Rios’s agent, Scott Boras, may very well receive calls about his client’s willingness to at least sit against selected right-handers, if not a strict platoon.

The Orioles, meantime, are right-handed heavy as it is. Manny Machado, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, Steve Pearce, Jonathan Schoop and perhaps Caleb Joseph are all likely to receive plenty of at-bats next year. The Orioles might prefer a left-handed bat for right field, although if that right-hander can hit both pitchers well, it doesn’t necessarily matter what side of the plate he hits from. But Rios has shown in recent years that he struggles with arm-side pitching, and his likely role on a first division team – mash lefties, pick your spots against right-handers – sounds an awful lot like what Pearce’s role in 2015 may be.

Nori Aoki

Aoki has become something of a favorite among baseball fans on the Internet due to his adventurous routes to batted balls in right field. He came to the States in 2012 and hit .288/.355/.433 (109 OPS+) with Milwaukee. While he’s maintained his contact and on-base skills the past two years, the power vanished, totaling a .366 SLG and nine dingers. He only hit one homer with Kansas City in ’14, but that can at least be partially explained away by Kauffman Stadium. Aoki will play 2015 as a 33-year-old.

Aoki actually has reverse splits in his three years in the bigs; .273/.346/.380 against right-handers vs. .319/.371/.405 against lefties. Aoki’s plate coverage really helps him against lefties. He’s known to poke pitches on the outer half to the opposite field against arm-side pitching, but he’s also able to barrel up fastballs on the inner half. He could be the pest atop the order that the Orioles didn’t have last year, beating out infield hits and fouling off everything.

Aoki would be a sensible alternative to Markakis. The O’s would get their left-handed bat that hangs in against arm-side pitching, gets on base and never strikes out. Aoki is searching for a three-year deal; could he be had for two?

Colby Rasmus

Rasmus was once a highly touted prospect in the Cardinals’ system before actualizing those talents in 2010, hitting .276/.361./498 as a 23-year-old in St. Louis. After that, he was dumped by St. Louis, showed flashes of brilliance for the Jays in between strikeouts and injuries, and was unceremoniously benched during his final month in Toronto. In three full years with the Blue Jays, Rasmus hit .240/.304/.444 (103 OPS+).

While Rasmus can play center field, he might find some interest from teams looking for platoon bats in a corner. He can’t hit lefties, but will display quite a bit of pop off right-handers, sporting a .208 ISO off them for his career. He’s always had a ton of raw power, but as he explained in this lengthy Q&A, he’s had trouble finding the right situation to harness his talent.

Rasmus would fit in as a left-handed bat for Buck Showalter’s lineup against right-handed pitchers, with someone like Pearce or some unnamed right-handed hitter filling in against a lefty. However, at 28, Rasmus is probably still looking to find a situation in which he can prove himself to be a viable everyday center fielder; he might not be willing to accept part-time duty.

Justin Upton

With the Braves sending Jason Heyward to St. Louis for Shelby Miller (four years of control left) and a pitching prospect in Tyrell Jenkins, it’s possible that new president John Hart is signaling that the Braves will enter at least a brief rebuild in preparation for their new stadium. Enter Upton, who has one year left before free agency. Upton, the number one overall pick by Arizona in the monster 2005 draft, will play most of next year at 27 years of age.

Upton is a .274/.354/.476 career hitter and hit .270/.342/.491 (132 OPS+) last year while playing half his games in a pitcher’s park. He hits both pitchers, though he murders lefties. He could move back to his natural position of right field. He could provide needed right-handed power should Cruz leave. Showalter could go Jones – Davis – Upton in the middle of his lineup. The one year, $14.5 million commitment wouldn’t be an issue. Upton would fit like a glove.

Ah, but the acquisition cost. The Braves might want to continue to remodel their Julio Teheran-led rotation. Teheran will likely be joined by Miller and Alex Wood. But Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang will depart via free agency and uncertain futures remain for Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen due to a visit from Tommy John. The Orioles, though, probably can’t provide the young pitching the Braves covet. Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey aren’t going anywhere. The next tier of pitching talent in the pipeline includes guys like Zach Davies, Tim Berry, Mike Wright and Stephen Tarpley, all of whom have their merits but can’t headline a package for a player like Upton. Dan Duquette cashed in two of his pitching chips in Josh Hader and Eduardo Rodriguez at the trade deadline each of the past two years.

Like the Cardinals trading for Heyward, the chief piece would have to come off the big league team, and it wouldn’t be Kevin Gausman. Among team-controlled pitchers the Braves might be interested in include Miguel Gonzalez (three arb-eligible years remaining) and Zach Britton (four arb-eligible years). Gonzalez would fit into a remade Atlanta rotation, but he’ll be 31 in May. (Miller, at 24, has upside.) Britton, meantime, could perhaps be the multi-inning relief ace he was with the Orioles for the first six weeks of the season. That would keep Britton’s arbitration awards down, as well. But all in all, not a great match here.

Matt Joyce

Joyce, 30, is part of a glut of outfielders in Tampa Bay along with Wil Myers, Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier and David DeJesus. He has one year of arbitration left, valued at $4.9 million by MLB Trade Rumors. With the Rays looking to trim payroll, Joyce and DeJesus might be on the way out, but Joyce profiles better in right than DeJesus. Joyce is strictly a platoon guy. He’s useless against lefties, but very useful against righties (.261/.356/.463 for his career). Joyce’s skill-set should be able to found on the free agent market without sacrificing talent from the farm.

Marlon Byrd

Everything must go in Philadelphia, and Byrd figures to be a player who’s drawing attention on the trade market, if only because he possesses right handed power. Byrd, who will play most of 2015 at age 37, has one year left on his deal at $8 million with an $8 million club option for 2016. He hit .264/.312/.445 (109 OPS+) with 25 homers last year after a .291/.336/.511 line in 2013. He hits against both pitchers. Marlon Byrd isn’t sexy at all, but he’ll provide some team with nice value next year. Joe Jordan, now with the Phillies as director of player development, knows the O’s system well from his time as scouting director. He’d surely be of assistance in picking out some trade targets from the system.

Outside of Upton – who may or may not be available – pretty thin market for corner guys, right? Beyond the emotional attachment to Markakis, it makes some sense why the Orioles would want to invest in Markakis. His contact skills and ability to spray the ball from line to line could be placed at a premium in this high strikeout era. Plus, his durability and ability to hit lefties helps in the era of seven and eight-man bullpens. In this free agent market, four years for Markakis isn’t crazy.

With that being said, walking away from an over-30 veteran is typically not a move that teams regret. Markakis is a corner guy with a .396 slugging average over the past three years, covering 1,881 plate appearances. He’s not the right fielder his reputation would suggest – he gets terrific reads and jumps on batted balls, but he lacks range. And as we’ve seen, a player is super durable until he’s not, with Prince Fielder the latest example.

In the end, whether it’s Markakis or any other contract, no expenditure occurs within a vacuum. Sometimes the best thing is to move on and maintain flexibility for a rainy day. The absence of a $50 million deal with Markakis would give the Orioles some breathing room to explore extensions with younger players on the team like Manny Machado and Gausman. It also gives them some more coin on the free agent market the next few years. The Orioles have nine players set to become free agents this time next year, and a better value in right field now may mean more money to spend later. Catcher, first base and the rotation will all likely need to be addressed, among other spots.

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The Baltimore Orioles should trade a starter or two http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/15/baltimore-orioles-trade-starter-two/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/15/baltimore-orioles-trade-starter-two/#comments Sat, 15 Nov 2014 12:00:54 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15175 The Baltimore Orioles have starting pitching in excess these days. Because of that, General Manager Dan Duquette should seriously look into trading one or two of them for useful pieces for the offense.

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The Baltimore Orioles and Manager Buck Showalter used just seven different pitchers throughout the 2014 season to start a game. T.J. McFarland made just one start while the other six (Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, Kevin Gausman and Ubaldo Jimenez) all made at least 20 starts.

A far cry from the 14 they used during the 2013 season, the 12 they used in 2012, or the 12 they used in 2011. Stat nerds (I am, in fact, a stat nerd), hardcore or casual fans and scouts alike can all conclude that Showalter used the fewest number of starters in a single season since he took the team over because the team has a roster full of quality arms for the rotation – call me captain obvious.

The way the rotation performed this season makes the Ubaldo Jimenez signing look pretty pointless now, but hindsight being what it is the organization wasn’t sure just how ready Kevin Gausman would be and what they would truly get out of what they had. There was an idea, which lent itself to optimism, but no one really knew.

With three-fifths of the rotation due for raises through arbitration, it’s time the question is asked who is expendable in a trade to save some money for free agency or extensions, and who should be locked up to a long-term deal.

According to MLB Trade Rumors, Bud Norris could see a bump in salary to $8.7 million. Chris Tillman is predicted to earn $5.4 million through arbitration and Miguel Gonzalez is predicted to earn $3.7 million. Zach Britton, who proved to be one of the most effective closers in baseball, is expected to earn $3.2 million.

Would it be prudent to find a suitor for Norris, Gonzalez and possibly Jimenez (if anyone will take him) to welcome Britton back into the rotation, as well as make room for Dylan Bundy?

I am not suggesting the team trade away all three, but trading away two of the three could be a smart move for the organization. There is plenty of depth to fill holes if an injury occurs with the likes of T.J. McFarland, Tim Berry, Mike Wright and even Zach Davies.

Trading Jimenez alone could save the organization upwards of $12.5 million towards the 2015 payroll, which is already projected to come close to $110 million without any free agent acquisitions. Packaging up Norris and Gonzalez could save roughly the same amount.

Over a dozen organizations will be looking to upgrade their starting rotations this offseason. Whichever organizations strikeout in free agency could be ripe for the picking by Dan Duquette.

The Colorado Rockies will be desperate to patch up their starting rotation and have already stated a willingness to trade Carlos Gonzalez in the right deal.

Catcher/outfielder Evan Gattis is reportedly being made available by the Atlanta Braves, as well as possibly Justin Upton, as an apparent rebuilding project gets underway so they can take a leaner, cheaper team into their new stadium when it’s ready.

Texas Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels recently signed a new contract with the club. The Rangers are one of just a few teams that are borderline contender if healthy and have a need to beef up their rotation. Elvis Andrus is on the block and a change of scenery could do him well.

Then, of course, there are countless teams that have bad contracts of their own they may be willing to ship to the Orioles in exchange for Jimenez.

Fact is, Duquette has plenty of options this winter to pick up a useful piece or two for the offense and bullpen without having to break the bank, once again. It all starts with trading a starter or two.

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Baltimore Orioles 2014 Season Review and Off Season Preview http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/03/orioles-2014-season-review-season-preview/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/11/03/orioles-2014-season-review-season-preview/#comments Mon, 03 Nov 2014 15:32:38 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15164 Staff Writer Alex Conway gives his review on the 2014 season and his preview for the Off Season.

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Baseball, reduced to its simplest form, is about adjustment to failure. This is true on the individual and the team level. As the old axiom goes, a hall of fame hitter fails seven out of ten times. At the team level, only one team can truly succeed a year. Winning the World Series is the ultimate goal and the only one that matters. The Orioles failed in achieving that goal. However, their season was still captivating, surprising, and impressive. The Baltimore Orioles won 96 regular season games, winning the AL East crown (first since 1997) by an astronomical 12 games, and made it to the brink of the fall classic. They did so unexpectedly and in unpredictable ways.

Overall, the success for the Orioles in 2014 came from a model of consistency. The team never lost more than four in a row, and after June 1st never lost more than three in row, and that only happened twice. On the flipside, the team never won more than five games in a row. They built their winning record by stacking up wins and limiting losses. This is how successful teams coast to division victories in mid-September.

My 2014 season preview said the keys to a successful Orioles season would include big seasons from Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, and Chris Davis. Wieters played 26 games, Machado 82, and Davis 127 dismal ones. None of those players were key cogs in the Orioles run to 96 wins, instead, the team was lead by a pitching staff who had five starters with below league average ERAs. Often overlooked, those five starters did not include the most expensive starter Ubaldo Jimenez who started bad, got worse, and ended up winning the AL East clinching game. Not to mention the bullpen, which started with the ever shaky Tommy Hunter closing out games and ended up revealing Zach Britton as one of the best relief pitchers in baseball.

Surprises are what carried the offense as well. Nelson Cruz, nominated Most Valuable Oriole by the local beat reporters, was signed at the last minute for a relative pittance. He carried the offense at times and put up one his best offensive seasons ever. And Steve Pearce, the first or second most valuable Oriole depending on which version of Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is your particular cup of tea, led the way filling in for Chris Davis at times and finding a way into the lineup all over the place at all other times. Pearce was released by the club during the season, brought back, given a chance, and in that chance more than doubled his career home run total.

The question now is how will the Orioles and their players adjust to their failure to give themselves another shot in 2015 at the ultimate goal. First, the key players that will hit free agency are Nelson Cruz, trade acquisition and slider wizard Andrew Miller, pinch hitting guru Delmon Young, and Nick Markakis–if the reports of the Orioles declining his option are accurate. Cruz and Markakis were everyday starters in 2014 and Miller made a solid bullpen an elite one. All three present holes the Orioles will have to fill in order to be contenders once again in 2015.

The Starting Rotation

By the end of the season, the Orioles rotation consisted of Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, and Miguel Gonzalez. All five are now under contract with the Orioles for next season. The rotation also included Ubaldo Jimenez at points throughout the season, but he was eventually replaced due to his abysmal performance and brought back in September in order to give some starters a bit of extra rest. Those five that ended the season all posted ERA+s of over 100 (100 is league average, over 100 is above, under is below). Also, remarkably, none of those five ever lost anytime to severe injury (even if I accused Chris Tillman of being injured). The only starter to suffer a major injury was Jimenez and that one seemed to aid more than hinder the team. Jimenez will, in all likelihood, be back with the Orioles in 2015 and that leaves at the very least six potential candidates for the starting rotation. Not to mention possible candidates in the minors beating down the doors over the course of the season.

The only way to get better here is for either the arms to continue to develop or to acquire better pitchers. All of the Orioles starters, save for Gausman, are essentially mid to back end of the rotation guys. Gausman has the chance to take the next step to becoming a frontline starter, but he has not done it yet and no other pitcher on the Orioles has the talent to make that leap. On their own, they are all useful pieces for any team, put together they are found wanting. A trade could be in the works, either Gonzalez or Norris makes sense as a trade candidate. Gonzalez was rumored to be on the trade block in July and he is, in my estimation, the worst of the bunch. Norris is going into his third year of arbitration and only getting more expensive. Packaged with something else, it is possible they could net a better starter and further fill out the rotation. Short of adding new starters, which does not seem to be a priority based on the early reporting, if the Orioles are to have a better rotation in 2015 they will have to hope for growth from Gausman, and possibly Bundy later in the year, and hope for the same consistent level of play from the other four or five starters.

The Bullpen

The Bullpen was a strong point for the Orioles in 2014. Britton, O’Day, and Hunter (after he gave up closing) were all key cogs from the beginning. The addition of the magical Andrew Miller and the surprising Brad Brach made a solid bullpen an elite one. Britton, O’Day, and Brach all figure to be back in 2015 for marginal prices. Tommy Hunter is in arbitration and only getting more expensive and could be a place to save some money if the Orioles find his set of skills not worthy of five million dollars. It will be interesting to see which way the Orioles go with Hunter.

Miller is a free agent and will be an expesive one at that. He is going to get three to four years and he will likely reach ten million dollars in average annual value. Paying relievers that kind of money is never something I am for, but watching Miller makes me reconsider that stance. Relievers can be finicky and fluky year to year, but Miller is so dominating that it is hard to see him losing effectiveness. But, then again, it is hard to see it for a lot of guys, and then they lose it, and then the team is on the hook for three more years.

Brian Matusz, a stalwart in the pen, is likely gone in my estimation. He will make upwards of four million dollars in arbiration and can only get lefties out, the Orioles should and probably will pass on that. To get better, the Orioles will have to maintain a solid depth of options. While a few people stayed in the bullpen the whole year, the key to good bullpen is being able to remove the bad quickly and find something to fill in. Duquette has seemed very adept at acquiring depth. The interesting story will be if he tries to go after a more expensive toy for the pen.

The Infield

The infield for the Orioles saw by far the most turmoil of any unit on the team. At catcher, Matt Wieters in all likelihood will be back in 2015. This is his last year under contract with the Orioles and it should make for an interesting year. Matt Wieters was crushing the ball when he went under the knife for Tommy John Surgery and is expected to be back in full health by opening day. In the catching turmoil of 2014, the Orioles found themselves a backup capable in all facets of catching in Caleb Joseph and I would expect him to backup Wieters in 2015.

First Base was a mix of Chris Davis and Steve Pearce in 2014 and in 2015 I would expect Davis back, but the Orioles may decide otherwise again if they want to save money to plug in elsewhere. I think there is a good chance that Davis will be much better in 2015, but in an expensive final year the Orioles may see what they can get for him on the open market. Second base is likely the domain of Jonathan Schoop going into 2015. He hit for some power, showed slight improvement with the bat, and displayed an excellent glove. If Schoop can put up a .250/.300/.450 line (something of which I believe he is definitely capable of), he could be one of the best second baseman in baseball. Hardy, who recently signed a three year extension, will be the shortstop. To be more valuable in 2015, he needs to play more and hit for more power, something that may be hard for an aging shortstop. Lastly, third base will be Manny Machado who, as of now, is predicted to be ready for Opening Day after yet another knee injury.

Any improvement or growth in 2015 will come from health and development from within. All of the starters at these positions are major league players and talented ones at that. All of them need to stay healthy and–save for J.J. Hardy–need to continue their developmental processes and become better major leaguers.

The Outfield

The Outfield for the Orioles was consistent in 2015. Adam Jones in center, Nick Markakis in right, and a slew of designated hitters in left. The addition of Alejandro De Aza in August was a good pick up and solidified a better defender in left. Going into 2015, the outfield could be destined for massive change. Nick Markakis will hit the free agent market and while all signs point to both sides wanting a deal, stranger things have happened than Markakis getting more money for another team in what will likely be his last contract. Markakis is currently an average player. He can hit and he can work a count, but he cannot hit for much power. His glove and arm are both fundamentally solid and he makes the play whenever he gets to the ball, but getting to the ball is the problem.

His relatively high OBP makes him a good fit for the Orioles who lack in that skill severely. However, he will be expensive and the Orioles have some other options. I am unwilling to discount his leadership role on the team. I do think that plays an important role, I simply do not know how much he will be worth keeping. Nelson Cruz manned left field for much of 2014 and he will be seeking a big multi year deal which the Orioles seem unwilling to do. Cruz is getting older and has had leg injury issues in the past. However, after hitting 40 home runs in 2014, someone is going to pay him, it’ll just be a matter of who.

As of now, the Orioles have some options for left as well. De Aza played extremely well in his short time and is relatively cheap. Steve Pearce as well needs a new home if Chris Davis remains an Oriole. A left field platoon may make some sense and be inexpensive. Dariel Alvarez also makes some sense in either left or right field, however he is unproven and had some struggles at AAA to end 2014.

Any improvement in the outfield in 2015 will have to come defensively. No one will replace Cruz’s 2014 production, likely not even Nelson Cruz. A solid platoon with two good defenders (such as De Aza and Pearce) could make up some of the difference. Adam Jones will play center, hit .280, 30 home runs, and play solid defense and Nick Markakis (if resigned) will likely be the same old Nick. Not much improvement could come from the outfield in my mind.

The Overall Offseason

This offseason will be intriguing. The Orioles could essentially stand pat and try it again in 2015. It will be expensive to keep the big three of their free agents and I do not expect them to do so. The key for the 2015 Orioles will be replacing Nelson Cruz and Steve Pearce’s production and improving their starting rotation. Even if both of them return, they are unlikely to produce at the same level they did in 2015. One way to make up that production is the fact that Wieters, Davis, and Machado were injured, suspended, or bad for large portions of the season. If they all remain in the lineup and remain productive in 2015, they will likely recoup some of the losses sustained.

The other way to improve is to bolster the starting staff with more talented pitchers. The Orioles need Gausman to take another step forward in 2015. Furthermore, the acquisition of another frontline starter would greatly boost the overall quality of the staff. That, however, seems unlikely. Those pitchers are old, expensive, and the Orioles have avoided acquiring one in the past. A trade could be feasible, but the Orioles system is light and removing from one part of your team to heal another may be self-defeating. The other scenario is that Dylan Bundy can be healthy and productive in 2015, a tall task as of now. Bundy has the talent to be a frontline starter and if him and Gausman can actualize their potential, the starting rotation looks much more formidable. This offseason could be one of great turnover, or not, depending which way Duquette and Showalter want to take the team.

If they want to be good again in 2015 they must adjust to their failures of 2014.

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Baltimore Orioles MLB Trade Deadline Reaction and Analysis http://orioles-nation.com/2014/07/31/orioles-trade-deadline-reaction-analysis/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/07/31/orioles-trade-deadline-reaction-analysis/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 21:46:36 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15089 The Baltimore Orioles acquired the premium left-handed reliever they were seeking, but did they give up too much to get their man?

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The Baltimore Orioles acquired lefty reliever Andrew Miller from the Boston Red Sox for left-handed starter Eduardo Rodriguez. Miller has posted a 2.34 ERA for the Red Sox out of the bullpen this year, has a 40.6 percent strike out rate and a 7.7 percent walk rate.  Miller, a free agent after this season, was largely believed to be the best available bullpen arm on the market. According to reports from the local Orioles beat writers, the biggest asset the team was looking to acquire was a lefty that could get both left handed hitters and right handed hitters out which Miller is extremely adept at doing. Rodriguez, who has spent parts of the last two seasons at AA, currently has a 4.79 ERA with a 19.1 percent strike out rate and a 9.5 percent walk rate for the Baysox. The 21-year-old Rodriguez has been struggling all season as he has dealt with injuries and ineffective performance.

Andrew Miller is an excellent reliever and gives the Orioles a 1-2-3 punch that not many other bullpens can match with Darren O’Day and Zach Britton. His arsenal consists of a 93 MPH fast ball , an 81 MPH slider and a 84 MPH change up. He primarily throws the fast ball and slider and will mix in the change to right handed hitters. According to fWAR, Miller has been the 12th best reliever in the all of baseball this year, which is actually better than both O’Day and Britton. He has an above average ground ball rate and the 5th best strike out rate of all relievers. On top of that, unlike Brian Matusz, Miller can get both lefties and righties out as he has held both under a .200 batting average this year. Furthermore, Miller has been a quality reliever for the past three seasons and fantastic in the last two.  Buck will use both Miller and O’Day interchangeably based on rest and match-ups, he will be a great tool for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs.

Eduardo Rodriguez was largely considered the Orioles third or fourth best prospect coming into the season. With the graduation of Gausman, he was second or third. He has struggled at AA this year and has had injuries keep him sidelined. Rodriguez has a 91 to 93 MPH fast ball with a slider and  a change up that are considered average. The Venezuelan lefty was signed by the Orioles on the international market and has solidly worked his way up the minors. Still young, Rodriguez has the potential to be a mid to back-end of the rotation starter.

As far as the deal itself is concerned, Miller was the best relief pitcher on the market and the deadline always seems to increase the price of relievers. There are two reasons for this. High quality relievers are hard to find and relievers are more important in the playoffs than they are in the regular season. This is also for two reasons, as relievers will pitch a larger percentage of innings in the playoffs than they normally would in the regular season, and those playoff innings will be high leverage innings.

Rodriguez is a good prospect and a decently high price to pay for a reliever. However, the Orioles depth in the minors is in pitching, regardless of Bundy’s lackluster performance during his rehab so far or Hunter Harvey‘s strained flexor mass. The deal did not surprise me in that I assumed any deal the Orioles would make would involve Rodriguez. Yet, for solely a reliever the price seems steep, even for one of Miller’s quality. Miller certainly makes the Orioles a better team right now, but Rodriguez is a quality arm and was the 61st ranked prospect going into 2014 according to Baseball Prospectus. I would not say the Orioles outright won this trade, but I would not say they lost it either. It makes the team better now and mortgages a piece of the future.

When it comes to baseball trade deadline strategy, baseball is about winning championships. It is not prospect fantasy camp where all you do is trade away talent at the major league level for prospects in a never ending cycle of never thinking about now. In that sense, Dan Duquette is a fine General Manager. He constantly tinkers. In each and every one of his seasons the 40-man roster has been better. I would take the 40-man of this year’s Orioles over the 2012 and 2013 rosters. With that being said, Duquette seems to target the 20 to 40 roster spots, or maybe the 15 to 4o roster spots, instead of the top end of the roster. He attempts to improve the team through depth and trying to hit a home run on a cheap deal.

In the grand scheme of things, Andrew Miller does not make the Orioles world series favorites. In fact, even before and especially after the deadline, the Orioles will not be favored in a playoff series against any of the AL teams currently set to the make the playoffs. The Orioles already have a 75 percent chance to the make the playoffs and a 51.4 percent chance to win the division. Andrew Miller improves those odds marginally, if at all. The team is currently playing it’s best baseball during the hardest part of the schedule. Therefore, why trade for Andrew Miller when the playoffs are in sight and the division crown not far behind that? Why attack the minor league depth for marginal help in the regular season and and maybe a little more help in the playoffs?

That is why I have been calling for a strategy of either do nothing or do something big. Jon Lester would have made a difference for the Orioles with Lester-Gausman-Tillman making a nice 1-2-3 in a playoff series.  Maybe Gausman would have had to go in the deal to get Lester, we will never know. However, the point is that something big improves their chances to win a world series or even a playoff series. A middling move like trading for Andrew Miller does not overwhelmingly improve their chances. Therefore, doing nothing made more sense now than it has in the past for the Orioles. This would have allowed the team to continue to build depth and create a more sustainable farm system. Anything can happen in a short series in the playoffs, but having better players usually helps. The Orioles did not add much and gave up some nice upside to do it, not exactly the kind of win now move that the team needed to make and gave up too much for a move that will not help in the long run. I like the player, I do not like the move.

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ON Mailbag: 7/21 – 7/27 http://orioles-nation.com/2014/07/27/mailbag-721-727/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/07/27/mailbag-721-727/#comments Sun, 27 Jul 2014 15:50:03 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15079 Questions submitted to Orioles Nation for the week of 7/21 - 7/27. Topics include Majors, Minors, Transactions, etc.

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Welcome to the Orioles Nation Mailbag. If you have future questions, you can submit them here:

All major league questions answered by Alex Conway.
All minor league questions answered by Tucker Blair.

Have Michael Ohlman and David Freitas hit a wall at AA?
Frietas is a non-prospect for me. I do not see anything impact. fringe to average tools across the board.
Ohlman is dealing with the wall. His bat is not this bad, but he has failed to make adjustments as quickly at AA. I just watched him hit BP this weekend. The swing is no different than last year, still showing a clean path and minimal noise. His bat speed might only be average, but the ball just is not falling in during games. He hits a lot of ground balls directly to the second basemen or shortstop. I don’t think Ohlman is an impact prospect, but I think the bat is better than currently displaying.

– Tucker Blair

With Delmon Young, Nelson Cruz, and Nick Markakis impending free agents, could Steve Pearce go into 2015 Spring Training with a starting job at one of the corner outfield positions?
Steve Pearce has been great to date this season and I wrote up him up here. He has changed his stance to fully maximize his swing. However, he has been struggling of late putting up some ugly at bats. The league is adjusting to Pearce and he will have to adjust back to be a successful major league player. Going into 2015, as you say the Orioles are losing two corner outfielders to free agency and with Pearce having one more arbitration year left, he is definitely the current favorite in the organization. There are also minor league players such as Dariel Alvarez and Henry Urrutia that could also possibly fight for a major league spot. The last two months of the season are going to reveal a lot about Steve Pearce and whether or not he is best suited to being a bench/platoon bat or handed a full time starting job. I do not feel certain either way about it, but it is not very often that 30 year old players find the talent to transform into starters.

– Alex Conway

Wynston Sawyer took a big step back offensively in his first year with Frederick, and his playing time figures to be usurped by Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns next season. Is his time as an Oriole farmhand coming to an end? At least as a starter?
Unfortunately, I think so. Sawyer has some underlying skills, with average raw power and he calls a good game. The footwork behind the plate really never improved to the level I hoped. With no real progression now in his time with Frederick, Wynns and Sisco are breathing down his neck and are better prospects at this time. Wynns is underrated; that guy can play defense. Sisco is obviously the better prospect in the long-term, but he is someone that will obviously get the first crack at Frederick. I don’t envision them moving him to Bowie, as Ohlman likely plays another season there next year.

– Tucker Blair

Is the rumor true that if Hector Veloz goes back to Aberdeen for the fourth season next year, he will be eligible for a seat on Aberdeen’s town council? #VOTEHECTOR2016
#TeamHector
Hector has poor plate discipline and the hit tool is poor, but four years in Aberdeen is brutal. Hopefully he is with Delmarva all year next season.

– Tucker Blair

Who is better going forward? Darren O’Day or Zach Britton?
First, as most know, they have both been fantastic and are a lethal one two combo out of the bullpen. Going forward this season though I’ll take O’Day by a hair. They both have their faults but O’Day’s abilities to get strikeouts and keep the ball in the ball park are both critical talents for a reliever. Britton has both of those tools, but he has already shown that when he gets tired he can leave his sinker up and then it comes down to measuring how far the ball went. I’ll take O’Day, but both have been great and have not shown any signs of slowing down.

– Aex Conway

What the heck happened to Jimmy Yacabonis when he went to Frederick? I realize there is a talent jump but you go from basically being unhittable and impossible to score on to just throwing batting practice for the other team. I know he has some control issues, but it seems like he left his talent in Delmarva when he was packing his suitcase for Frederick.
Baseballing is hard! Seriously though, the jump from Low-A to High-A is a bastard. Yacabonis is just facing better talent and the ball flies in Harry Grove Stadium. Command issues in Delmarva do not get nearly as exposed like they do in Frederick. Yacabonis will be fine, and I think he will settle down and put up results at Frederick. However, that first initial jump to a level can be a terrifying experience.

– Tucker Blair

Carlos Villanueva was a very solid swing-man from 2011-2013. This year, he’s sporting a 5.98 ERA, thanks to a .368 BABIP/12.3 hits per 9. His peripherals suggest this is his best season of his career (3.58 FIP, 0.9 HR/9, 3.00 K/BB). Could he be a buy-low trade target for the Orioles, as a starter or reliever?
I like him as a solid buy-low guy as you say. He has been bad this year, but that is probably due to some bad luck. I would not expect much because he has also given up a nearly 23% line drive rate which is very high so he is getting barreled pretty consistently which many peripheral statistics fail to show. However, he is getting batters to swing about 3% more on his pitches in and out of the zone, but hitters are making about 3% more contact, so he isn’t missing more bats than he normally does. I would not expect much from him, but he could a bullpen arm/spot starter that can possibly give the Orioles solid value down the stretch and they would have to give up next to nothing for him.

– Alex Conway

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The Orioles Treading Water http://orioles-nation.com/2014/06/25/orioles-treading-water/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/06/25/orioles-treading-water/#comments Wed, 25 Jun 2014 12:00:22 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15023 Staff Writers Lance Rinker and Alex Conway discussed the Orioles season over this past weekend in a back and forth discussion

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Staff Writers Lance Rinker and Alex Conway discussed the Orioles season over this past weekend in a back and forth discussion. Topics include the Orioles standing in the American League, the current construction of the roster, and the future of the team going forward in 2014 and beyond. 

The majority of teams in baseball are all within a small handful of games within each other for the lead in their respective divisions, the Orioles included. However, while the Orioles are currently just 2 1/2 games back of Toronto for the A.L. East Division lead it feels like they’ve simply been treading water this first half of the season. Part of that reason is due to the fact that they have yet to sustain any real success on offense or in their rotation at the same time. Either the starting pitching goes on a stellar run or the offense does. How long do you think they stay in the playoff race playing this way and do you think they will eventually have success with both at the same time and go on a run?

–Lance Rinker

This season has been very similar to last season thus far. Good enough to be frustrating. The 2013 Orioles never put together a winning streak longer than five games, it seems as if the 2014 version will have a similar fate. It is hard to determine if this is who the true Orioles are or are not. The question can be answered in one of two ways in my mind. One being that this is who the Orioles are, an inconsistent, talented, yet flawed team that is not going to turn in a long winning streak and build a nice buffer between themselves and .500. Or two, the offense and pitching have both shown they can put up good enough results to win and the by the sheer length of the baseball season the Orioles are bound to have both humming at the same time and make a real run at the playoffs. The answer to the question, as in most issues in life, probably rests between those two lines of thinking. I believe there are a couple of things the team could do right now to put themselves in a better position for the playoffs, but what are your thoughts?

–Alex Conway

I believe that without the team either going on a run of seven to 10 victories in a row, like the Royals have recently enjoyed, then they will have to rely on the slow and steady method. What I mean by that is winning three out of every four series they play the rest of the way. If they can’t do one or the other then we’re looking at an 82 to 84 win season most likely. The team has certainly had some surprising performances so far this year though. Nelson Cruz looks like he could bring back a quality prospect at the deadline if the team finds themselves farther back than they’d like and Nick Markakis is making a case for the Orioles to seriously consider bringing him back on a three or four year deal for around $12 million per year. We’ve also had some very disappointing performances. I’m convinced Chris Tillman is nursing some sort of minor injury or is dealing with some soreness in his shoulder.

What sticks out in your mind as far as individual performances go?

–Lance Rinker

Yeah, winning series and maintaining a high quality of play (rather than banking on a win streak here and there) is going to be the path to the playoffs for the Orioles in all likelihood. I think an interesting side note thus far is how abysmal the offense has been at home, bottom five in most offensive statistical categories, and how great it has been on the road, number one in most areas. You would expect both to regress to the mean somewhat, especially the home offensive numbers because Camden Yards is a historically hitter friendly ball park. If they can maintain even 80% of the numbers of what they put up on the road and bring up their home numbers it should mean good things for the team’s overall record.

As far as individual performances go the ones you mentioned clearly stand out. I would also mention that Adam Jones has been great so far and is on his way to putting up his highest WAR season ever. The defensive numbers have been better for him to date this year (obligatory small sample size warning) and he has been raking since May 1st. He is on his way to another 30 home run season. For pitchers on the good side, how can people not be ecstatic with Zach Britton? He is pure filth right now, if a ball gets out of the infield it is shocking. On the bad side, I would say Manny Macahdo continues to disappoint. I know he is coming off of an injury, but he has been pretty bad at the plate since the second half of last season and he has yet to show an adjustment at the plate to return to his first half of 2013 level. Also, Chris Davis has been disappointing. He has put up decent numbers, but the shift is killing him and he seems to be unable or unwilling to hit the ball the other way, which he did with ferocity and frequency last season.

What do you think the Orioles should do with some of their bad performers and how, if at all, should they change up the roster to make the team better?

–Alex Conway

Zach Britton has been lights out and I’m happy that we didn’t sell low on him last season at the deadline. You’re right about Machado and even Davis to an extent. If Machado wasn’t so talented on defense then I’d say give him some time in Triple-A to clear his head, but that’s not going to happen unless he pulls a Chuck Knoblauch. With that said, part of Machado’s issue is BABIP related (.259 as of this writing) and the other part is the breaking pitches. Davis also has some BABIP issues, though not quite as much as Machado, and I also believe he’s trying to do too much to carry the offense.

As far as other bad performers. Other than ditching Flaherty for either Lombardozzi or Schoop it’s going to be difficult to do much at second base. There isn’t that top prospect at a key position waiting in the wings that is also ready. I was wildly in favor of the team signing Stephen Drew if he were willing to play second base, which he said late in the offseason he would be willing to do, but that ship has sailed. The Orioles are pretty much stuck with what they have at second base. As far as left field is concerned, they could upgrade there by trading for a guy like Seth Smith from the San Diego Padres or Ben Revere of the Philadelphia Phillies – two players on non-contending teams that shouldn’t cost a whole lot to acquire. Without Bundy ready it’s also difficult to do much shuffling around with the rotation outside of keeping Gausman in and trying to figure out how to put Chris Tillman or Ubaldo Jimenez on the DL.

If the Orioles are still hovering around .500 once we near the trade deadline, do you think they should sell off pieces such as Cruz and Norris?

–Lance Rinker

Yeah, Friday night withstanding, Britton has been a revelation in the bullpen. I think some of the options in AAA may actually benefit the Orioles rather than attempting to make a trade. Ivan De Jesus Jr. and/or Jemile Weeks could definitely provide more offense–both have around a .400 OBP at Norfolk–than the team is getting from second base currently. Neither of them are as good defensively as Schoop or Flaherty, but the holes at the bottom of the lineup kill the offensive production. Furthermore, Steve Clevenger should be with the big club and be the starting catcher. His arm is not great, but neither is Hundley’s or Joseph’s, and his ability with the bat far out classes both of them. Also, I think even someone like Brett Wallace and/or Quintin Berry could provide some left handed pop off the bench of which they have none right now. I am surprised by the lack of tinkering DD has done with the bottom end of the roster to date this year. There are some viable options at Norfolk and the offense runs a lot smoother when the 7-8-9 hitters aren’t automatic outs.

As far as selling goes, I have been pondering about that a lot lately. It has to be hard for a GM to decide that it is time to start peeling off pieces. Even if the Orioles do not make a run this season and make the playoffs, the 2015 team has a decent outlook with everyone able to return other than Hardy and Cruz, and probably Markakis. However, this team was pretty fortunate in 2012, spun its wheels in 2013, and looks to be doing much of the same thus far in 2014. I think a lot fans always like the idea of scrapping the team for prospects, but it is hard thing to commit to when so much can go wrong in the rebuilding process. I doubt they sell off any pieces, but the next month and half is going to decide a lot.

–Alex Conway

I’m a fan of Weeks. I think that his combination of speed and slap singles hitting could really benefit the bottom of the order offensively. Like you said, what good does it do having guys hitting 7-8-9 that are fairly easy outs. Weeks could certainly help change the complexion of the offense a bit and I feel that having Flaherty come off the bench and play that super-utility role is better suited for his particular skill set and talent level anyway. When it comes to catching, I agree – Clevenger should be up with the big league club and he certainly earned his place on the roster. I can’t help but wonder if Buck and Dan are waiting for Joseph’s power potential to come around. He’s been extremely unlucky with the bat so far, carrying a .170 BABIP, but he is walking at a nearly 9 percent clip. I’m not really sure Brett Wallace has a place on the big league roster while Steve Pearce and Delmon Young are here. If Young weren’t on the roster than I think Wallace would have gotten a shot by now, but other than a left-handed bat off the bench with some pop there’s really no place for him.

Do you think that Markakis wouldn’t be worth bringing back next season? I think he would be under a three-year deal for upwards of $12 million a year, but I wouldn’t go any higher. If he’s not back than who replaces him?

–Lance Rinker

Yeah those are all good points which is probably why no move has been made. I guess I’m just anxious to see some new faces and at least have a little hope to not have some automatic outs at the bottom of the lineup every game. I’m still unsure why Delmon Young is on the roster, but yet here he is. Both Schoop and Joseph homered today, which is good for them and hopefully both of them can start a little hot streak and add a little threat to the bottom of the lineup.

Looking at any deal with Nick Markakis is a twofold proposition. First, you have to determine if the money is going to good use. A $12 million contract per annum is something like a 2 WAR player on the free agent market. Nick is now projected by most systems to be around a 2 WAR player this year and he has been great at racking up singles at the top of the lineup. I have wrote about his lack of power and I still believe that makes him a liability. I doubt going forward into his age 31 season Nick is going to be much better than he is this year. I think your deal parameters are probably something close to what he could fetch on the market and I also think he would really like to stay in Baltimore. It is a fair deal probably, but would not end up as a great deal for the Orioles. Second, you have to, as you point out, figure out who replaces him. That starts with internal candidates which my best guess would be Henry Urrutia, Dariel Alvarez, or possibly even David Lough. Nothing stands out there. Next would be free agents to wit I don’t see the Orioles being able to grab and pay someone significantly better than Markakis. I thought this past off season the Orioles would go after Brian Roberts, but they did not, so I do not expect some sentimental contract negotiation from DD. I think the deal you outline would be an okay move for the Orioles, not great value, but a decent deal for a decent player.

–Alex Conway

 

 

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Quality of opponents matters for Baltimore Orioles pitching staff http://orioles-nation.com/2014/06/22/quality-opponents-matters-baltimore-orioles-pitching-staff/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/06/22/quality-opponents-matters-baltimore-orioles-pitching-staff/#comments Sun, 22 Jun 2014 22:05:00 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=15017 The average OPS (On-base plus slugging) in baseball, through June 21, is .708 but the average OPS in the American League is .714 and it’s just .701 in the National League. Why this is important is because it gives us a measure of the overall quality of hitters in each league, including the state of offensive talent across baseball (somewhat).

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The average OPS (On-base plus slugging) in baseball, through June 21, is .708 but the average OPS in the American League is .714 and it’s just .701 in the National League. Why this is important is because it gives us a measure of the overall quality of hitters in each league, including the state of offensive talent across baseball (somewhat). What it is also useful for is measuring just how much of a pitcher’s performance is related to them facing a murderers row of hitters more often than not, or if they are simply not very good right now or at all.

Baseball Prospectus has a statistic called oppOPS (opponents OPS) which is useful for measuring the average quality of opponents hitters and pitchers have faced throughout the course of a season or career. They have another statistics labeled PPF which is centered around 100 and represents the percentage of run scoring that was influenced by the mix of ballparks the pitcher pitched in. Anything over 100 illustrates the percentage above normal run scoring was influenced and the opposite is true.

It would be fair to state Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Tommy Hunter, and even Miguel Gonzalez to a lesser extent have been having horrible or troubling seasons. The flip side of that is most would agree that Bud Norris and Wei-Yin Chen are having a decent season so far and pitchers like Ryan Webb, Darren O’Day, and Zach Britton have been crushing the competition.

The chart below (stats through June 21) helps break down and illustrate the quality of hitters each pitcher, with a minimum of 20 innings pitched, on the team has faced to this point in the season and where they rank at in that regard, as well as how much pitching in their mix of ballparks has influenced the number of runs scored or not scored.

Name IP ERA FIP oppOPS (min. 20 IP) Rank (out of 356 Pitchers) PPF
Kevin Gausman 23 2.74 3.17 .767 1 98
Bud Norris 87 3.62 4.47 .730 31 102
Ryan Webb 32.2 2.48 2.68 .728 36 101
Ubaldo Jimenez 81.2 4.63 4.76 .724 71 102
Chris Tillman 84 4.82 4.61 .721 87 102
Darren O’Day 31 1.45 3.28 .720 93 102
T.J. McFarland 21.2 3.32 3.68 .717 112 99
Tommy Hunter 23 5.48 4.47 .716 116 102
Miguel Gonzalez 63.1 4.41 4.72 .706 208 102
Wei-Yin Chen 83.1 3.78 3.86 .702 239 100
Brian Matusz 26 4.15 5.16 .693 283 102
Zach Britton 38.1 1.64 3.26 .690 298 101

 

Britton has had a ton of praise heaped on him since he took over the closer’s role from Hunter, and was being praised for his general work out of the bullpen before that, but you can see he hasn’t been facing much stiff competition. He’s near the bottom of the ranks in baseball for quality of opponents faced, which makes it difficult to accurately judge his dominating performances.

Fans have been calling for Jimenez and Tillman to be placed on the disabled list or moved to the bullpen in message boards and on social media for their struggles. As you can see though, they are near the top of the ranks in baseball for facing some pretty challenging hitters and offenses overall. Additionally, they have also spent most of their time pitching in hitter friendly ballparks, as have the majority of Orioles pitchers.

Looking over the statistics for the Orioles pitching staff in conjunction with the statistics of the overall quality of hitters faced we’re able to at least make a determination of whose performance is possibly for real, for better or worse, and whose we should be a bit more patient with.

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Major League Players of the Month – May http://orioles-nation.com/2014/06/01/major-league-players-month-may/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/06/01/major-league-players-month-may/#comments Sun, 01 Jun 2014 15:12:41 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=14944 Nelson Cruz and Zach Britton lead the way for the O's as they battled through the Month of May.

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Position Player of the Month – Nelson Cruz

339/.388/.748,13 HR, 27 RBI

While others were considered, the answer to this one was obvious. Nelson Cruz continues to be the dominant force in the Orioles offense. He nearly received the honors in April and he somehow outdid himself in May. He now has the Orioles record for RBIs through May with 51 and he has knocked in nearly a quarter of the Orioles total runs to date. He is hitting the ball hard everywhere on the field. Without Nelson Cruz the Orioles would be in dire straights.

Starting Pitcher of the Month – Ubaldo Jimenez

3.12 ERA, 9.87 K/9, 3.63 BB/9

I considered handing no one this award, but Jimenez has been pretty good this month. He has struck out 26.9% of batters faced this month and while he does continue to rack up the walks he only gave up 28 hits in 34.2 innings allowing him to limit the damage. His inconsistency from game to game continues to plague his overall line, but which Orioles starting pitcher couldn’t you say that about?

Relief Pitcher of the MonthZach Britton

0.63 ERA, 14.1 IP, 5.7 K/9, 8 H

Zach Britton gets the tab once again. Darren O’Day was considered, but Britton continues to shine. Now in the “closer” role, Britton continues to be great. He has given up some hits finally, but the ground balls continue to come. He blew one save, but it was on a cheap swinging bunt infield hit. Britton has been the best pitcher period on the Orioles so far this year and he continued his dominance into May.

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Orioles Notes – A Defense of Adam Jones http://orioles-nation.com/2014/05/09/orioles-notes-defense-adam-jones/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/05/09/orioles-notes-defense-adam-jones/#comments Fri, 09 May 2014 16:00:17 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=14838 Staff Writer Alex Conway gives his weekly notes on the Orioles

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Staff writer Alex Conway runs his weekly notes post on all of his thoughts about the past week of Orioles Baseball.

Baseball is weird. Sweep the Pirates in a double header, feel great about the team, lose 2 out 3 to the hapless Twins pitching staff, all is lost, sweep the Rays, here comes the World Series. The seemingly horrendous at bats the Orioles were having against the Twins switched to much better at bats against the Rays as they were able to chase the starters early, especially David Price. The Orioles have a decent shot at an extended winning streak with Houston coming into town before the Tigers arrive on Monday. Although, predicting game to game outcomes in baseball is getting more and more pointless.  Onto the notes…

Adam Jones

Adam Jones is roundly criticized on on a nightly basis by the Orioles fan base and media. He is attacked for being undisciplined at the plate  and in the outfield for his errors. He is accused of being unfocused, lazy, and overconfident. Fans focus on his flaws rather than his skills. I believe Adam Jones is unappreciated in his greatness as an Oriole. He has molded himself into one of the most productive outfielders in the Major Leagues, especially when you consider that his position is center field which is a premium position.

Adam Jones started his Orioles career in 2008. Beginning in 2008 he has had fWAR seasons of 1.6, 1.6, 2.5, 2.5, 4.4, and 4.3. According to fWAR, since 2008 he has been the 15th most valuable center fielder in major league baseball out of 64 qualified players. Since 2012, when he reached his career peak, he has been the 4th best center fielder in the major leagues and the second best in the American League only behind Mike Trout. Also, since 2012, he has been the 10th most valuable overall outfielder in all of baseball. Since 2008 he has the second most homeruns for a center fielder and since 2012 he has the most. He is a top flight outfielder playing in the most important position in the outfield.

Defensively, he does show some inconsistency. The advanced defensive metrics peg him somewhere around average to below average in the field. (By the way, even though its a small sample size, he has posted a positive UZR thus far this season). Watching the games he seems average with the glove. The mistakes are frustrating, but he makes up for them with some good plays. He’s far from the worst fielding center fielder. And,for what its worth (not much) he has won three gold gloves, so people in the industry seem to like his defensive skills.

Basically, Adam Jones is a great position player and a supreme talent. It would be great if he started walking 10-15% of the time, but that’s not the kind of player he is. Also, what happens to him if he tried to do that? If he took away his aggressiveness at the plate? Its hard to argue that a batter can simply increase their plate discipline without losing any other skills. His power might fall, his average might fall. Its too reductive to assume an increase in walk rate would lead to no decrease at all in any other part of his game. So enjoy Adam Jones for what he is now, one of the best outfielders in baseball.

Zach Britton

Britton has been simply amazing this year and a joy to watch work. He is getting ground balls at a higher rate than any other reliever in the league at 83.9% of the time. This is backed up by the lowest fly ball rate, 7.1%, and the second lowest line drive rate at 8.9%. Britton’s swinging strike rate is double what it was when he was a starter. He has been far and away the best pitcher on the Orioles to date this season. It’s hard to know what would happen if Britton was transitioned back to a starting and the bullpen needs him right now, but Dan and Buck have to at least be considering the transition at some point down the road.

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Minor League Players of the Month: April http://orioles-nation.com/2014/05/01/minor-league-players-month-april/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/05/01/minor-league-players-month-april/#comments Thu, 01 May 2014 11:05:53 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=14809 Hunter Harvey has quickly reminded everyone that he is one of the best prospects in baseball.

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Position Player of the Week – Dariel Alvarez, OF (AA, Bowie)

.361/.370/.567 (35/97) with 11 2B, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 SB

Alvarez has been a pleasant surprise this season. He was playing RF last season and I pegged him as average. In 2014, Alvarez has played CF and it is quite amazing how different he looks. The glove plays average in CF, but average is significant in terms of value. An average defensive CF is worth more than an average RF, considering what a player needs to cover at the position. He has a plus-plus arm as well, which plays tremendously from CF. With the bat, the biggest difference is he shortened the swing. Last year, his swing was elongated and his hands would drift. That is not happening anymore and the swing is generally more fluid. He is still more of a free swinger, as indicated by the 2/6 BB/K ratio. Teams will start to make some adjustments on Alvarez, but this is exactly the start the O’s hoped for out of the Cuban.

Starting Pitcher of the WeekHunter Harvey, RHP (A, Delmarva)

26.0 IP, 14 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 13 BB, 29 K

Scouting and evaluation are primarily what we focus on at ON, making it an easy decision to give Harvey the award. He has quickly ascended in the prospect world, and the Orioles have to be ecstatic with the development so far. The change needs refinement, but Hunter Harvey is a very talented prospect and has some sack on the mound. I have nothing else to add besides this tweet below, where my buddy Wittmann absolutely crushed it.

Relief Pitcher of the WeekJason Gurka, LHP (AA, Bowie)

16.1 IP, 10 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 14 K

Here is a pitcher that gets overlooked often, mainly because the Orioles have a plethora of lefties currently ahead of him on the depth chart. With Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Troy Patton, Chris Jones and formerly Michael Belfiore ahead of him – it clearly has become a struggle to envision a role for Gurka at the next level. But do not let that discourage your thoughts on him.

Gurka runs his fastball low 90’s with some sink on it, and will miss bats with this pitch. His hard slurve comes off his good plane and can devour lefties. He needs to use the change more against right-handed hitters for success, but it has gotten the job done against them so far at Bowie. I think his ceiling is likely a LOOGY, but I would like to get another expanded look on him against some right-handed hitters before sealing that mark on Gurka.

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Major League Players of the Month: April http://orioles-nation.com/2014/05/01/major-league-players-month-april/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/05/01/major-league-players-month-april/#comments Thu, 01 May 2014 11:00:46 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=14810 Zach Britton has been one of the most pleasant surprises for the Orioles

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Position Player of the MonthMatt Wieters

.338/.370/.554 (25/74) with 4 2B, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 5 BB, 14 K

This decision really came down to two players, the other being Nelson Cruz. However, I chose Matt Wieters simply because of the way he has been doing it. Wieters has been a revelation to date this season as he continues to crush right handed pitching like he never has before. He has shown power, patience, and an ability to make strong contact. I reviewed Wieters’ early season success and detailed the reason why he has been better from the left side here.

Pitcher of the MonthZach Britton, LHP

1.17 ERA, 5.87 K/9, 2.93 BB/9

This decision was simple. Britton has been simply fantastic, and as the starters struggle to finish games, Britton has come in to bridge the starters to the back end of the bullpen. He has been used in multiple innings or in high leverage situations. While his strikeout and walk rates are not fantastic, it has not mattered. Zach Britton’s sinker has given him a strong weapon with an astounding 80% ground ball rate. Not only has this led to ground balls, he has been getting swings and misses as well. He has a higher whiff rate and a larger amount of  total whiffs than he ever had as a starter. His stuff is real and it is effective out of the bullpen

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ON Mailbag 4/21 – 4/27 http://orioles-nation.com/2014/04/27/mailbag-421-427/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/04/27/mailbag-421-427/#comments Sun, 27 Apr 2014 16:07:47 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=14787 Questions submitted to Orioles Nation for the Weekly Mailbag for the week of 4/21 - 4/27. Topics include Majors, Minors, Transactions, etc.

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Welcome to the Orioles Nation Mailbag. If you have future questions, you can submit them here:

All major league questions answered by Alex Conway.
All minor league questions answered by Tucker Blair.

Tucker,
Seems as though Parker Bridwell is still struggling with consistency. Any idea if Orioles are thinking of putting him in relief and just focus on a couple of pitches.

The most maddening player in the Orioles’ entire system. I love Parker’s arsenal and overall ability. There is no denying his talent. However, he has certainly struggled to find consistency. I have now seen two of his starts on the year, and have reports from the others.

Over at Baseball Prospectus ($$), I wrote my thoughts on his first start. He has improved mechanics; keeps himself compact and has good drive with a solid arm action. I also heard that Bridwell has kept himself more composed on the mound, and I can agree with this. The problem has always been consistency, as stated in your question. I have his fastball 93-94 mph, 91-93 mph, and heard one of his road starts he was sitting 87-90 mph. Obviously, that is a tremendous amount of inconsistency. The power curve and change are also inconsistent. One start, his curve was flashing plus and showing great depth. The next start is was loopy and the change was the pitch showing well.

My overall thoughts on Bridwell stay the same though. Keep him in the rotation for now. Allow him to continue as a starter at Frederick, and the Orioles can move him to the bullpen in the next year or two once he gets to AA. He will grow more as a pitcher by sticking in a rotation and battling through a lineup three times a night. In the long run, I do think Bridwell ends up as a reliever, and he could be a damn good one.

– Tucker Blair

Troy Patton will soon be back. Who’s the odd man out to make room for him?
An interesting roster question and one that I was surprised the Orioles put themselves in when they tendered him a contract. I figured Patton a candidate for non-tendering in the Offseason. In the current Bullpen, no lefty makes sense to get rid of; Zach Britton and Brian Matusz are key pieces of the bullpen. Out of the righties, Josh Stinson is the only that makes sense. Tommy Hunter, Darren O’Day, and Ryan Webb aren’t leaving. However, Stinson has no options remaining so he would have to be exposed to waivers if the Orioles decided to send him down for Patton. Also, Stinson serves as the mop up long man, something Patton cannot pull off. The other option is going with an 8 man bullpen. Buck has stated multiple times that he would go with a 13 man staff. However, with Chris Davis now on the DL, I do not see that being in the near future even with Manny coming back. The only other option is that they DFA Patton and hope he sneaks by waivers and stash him in AAA. My best guess is that the Orioles DFA Stinson and add Patton.

– Alex Conway

Baseball Prospectus released a new PECOTA Takes on Prospects this week, and the highest Orioles prospect in the rankings not named Gausman was Wynston Sawyer, who I’d never even heard of before. Did PECOTA find a diamond in the rough, or is this just some statistical fluke?

This is an interesting topic and one that I am surprised has not received more buzz. I have reached out to Andrew Koo over at Baseball Prospectus to provide an answer on this, and BP will be running a second article to look at some of the discrepancies and flaws that might be tied into the projection system.

Speaking of Wynston Sawyer, I do think this is more of a statistical fluke than a diamond in the rough; and that is not a knock on Sawyer by any means. Baseball is certainly not easy, which is why Sawyer as a top 50 productive prospect was eye-raising. He does a few things well, such as barreling the ball and plate discipline, but the power has not always been present in-game and the defense is inconsistent. I think the main flaw being targeted here is how Sawyer went from 2 to 8 HR from 2012-2013. He slugged .284 in that first season in the SALLY. It’s a large jump number-wise. More on this topic will come along shortly, and I will certainly pass it along.

– Tucker Blair

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Orioles Notes 4/17 to 4/24 http://orioles-nation.com/2014/04/25/major-league-notes/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/04/25/major-league-notes/#comments Fri, 25 Apr 2014 11:00:04 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=14782 Staff Writer Alex Conway gives his observations from the past week of Orioles baseball

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I am going to run a weekly notes post on all of the thoughts that rattle around in my head when watching the Orioles during the week.

 

If you had a choice, which Orioles pitcher would you pick to get an out right now? There is no obvious answer in my mind. Every starter and reliever seems to be struggling in their most recent appearance(s). I might pick Zach Britton, which continues to boggle the mind after past years. Anyways…on to the notes.

Adam Jones

Jones has displayed some of the most disparate game to game at bats. One game, he will foul off pitches, take the count full, and try to drive the ball. The next game, like against Brett Cecil on Tuesday, he will swing over three straight sliders and will look like someone who has never seen a breaking ball before. He has had his ups and downs thus far this season. His 4.7% walk rate is right in line with his career averages, but his K-rate is 23.3%–nearly 4% over his career mark. He has a similar batting line all around except for the lack of power thus far. His SLG is only .393 with a paltry .111 ISO (Last year it was .208). His line drives and flyballs are up, which is a good sign for him making decent contact. That backed up by a 4.9% HR/FB rate means that the extra base hits should begin piling up soon. The K% is worrisome, but the underlying numbers call for some regression to the mean in a positive sense. If he can turn it around soon, it will be a great boon for the Offense. One interesting side note, Adam has yet to hit an extra base hit at home this season.

Chris Davis

Davis has had a hard time replicating his crazy power numbers from last season thus far, just like Jones. However, unlike Jones, Davis is making up for it other ways. Davis’ OBP is .379 which is UP from .370 last season even though his batting average is 40 points down from where it was in 2013. In fact, against right handed pitchers, Chris Davis is walking  in 18% of his plate appearances, up 5% from last year; and even his left handed walk rate is 2% up from last season. The added patience is great for Davis especially, because if you’re watching his at-bats closely, pitchers are trying to get him to swing at pitches in and them finish him off low and away. He has done a good job of making pitchers earn their strikeouts. All of his batted ball rates look good, except for his HR/FB% which is only 10.5% (which is not really that low for most hitters) down from an astronomical 29.6% last year and a career rate of 22.1%. The home runs will come, sooner rather than later.

Nelson Cruz

WOW is all that can really be said about Cruz’s start to the season. He’s sporting a .424 wOBA, .301 ISO, and a 171 wRC+. If you don’t know what those acronyms mean (check out the ON library) he is top 10 in the majors in all them. Simply put, he hass been one of the best hitters in baseball to this point in the season. Furthermore, Cruz has a walk rate of 12% which is 4% higher than his career average and his strikeout rate is 16.9% which is nearly 6% lower than his career mark. He has had consistently fantastic at bats through the first three weeks of the season. However, for a 33 year old to suddenly walk at a much higher rate and strikeout at a much lower rate is very surprising and something I would not necessarily expect to continue. His BAPIP is in line with his batting average, but his Line Drive rate is low and his HR/FB% is very high. It will be interesting to see how long Cruz can maintain this early season performance and if he has truly changed his approach. Interesting side note, even though Cruz has been the best hitter on the team, he has not been the most valuable according to WAR. Why? Defense. I’ll just leave this here if you want my thoughts on the subject.

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ON Mailbag 4/7 – 4/13 http://orioles-nation.com/2014/04/13/mailbag-47-413/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/04/13/mailbag-47-413/#comments Sun, 13 Apr 2014 15:37:58 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=14731 Questions submitted to Orioles Nation for the Weekly Mailbag for the week of 4/7 - 4/13. Topics include Majors, Minors, Transactions, etc.

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Welcome to the Orioles Nation Mailbag. If you have future questions, you can submit them here:

All major league questions answered by Alex Conway.
All minor league questions answered by Tucker Blair.

If this JJ Hardy injury situation becomes long term, what do you feel will be Buck and DD’s solution? Would they bring Weeks up to play second and move Schoop to short? This would leave nobody on the bench with any defensive skill until Manny gets healthy and takes over for Flaherty. Are there any options outside the organization?
Hardy finally got into some game action last night, but we saw the consequences of what having Hardy and Machado out of the lineup can lead to. Furthermore, back issues are always of concern. They tend to linger and not heal quickly. Also, while maintaining good health with the Orioles, Hardy has had his own injury issues in the past. Therefore, if the situation were to creep up again, the backup plan is very important. Weeks is the most likely option, with Schoop and/or Flaherty playing shortstop and Weeks at second base. Schoop has spent the majority of his playing time in the minors at shortstop, so the transition should not be overly onerous on him. Other options would be one of the other utility infielders Duquette picked up in the offseason. One of Cord Phelps or David Adams may receive the call if they play themselves into it down in Norfolk. Steve Lombardozzi is obviously an option as well. As far as outside of the organization options, I doubt any of significance would be brought in to fill the void. If Duquette felt he needed to add someone, he’d simply scour the waiver wire as he typically does. — Alex Conway

Buck Britton seems to be off to a great start. Has he put himself on the radar to be a utility option for the big club? Or will he just be an organizational minor leaguer no matter how he performs?
The older brother of Zach Britton is heading into his seventh season in the Orioles’ minor league system. I like Buck, but he is an organization player at best. The swing is short, compact, and he barrels up the ball. However, there is just not enough going on for it to work at the major league level. Fringe power and average bat speed will hold him back against higher competition. He is an example of a really strong organization player though, as he can play multiple positions such as third and second base. Also, keep in mind that Buck has now seen the competition at AA for an extensive period of time. If he ever cracks the big leagues, it will most likely be as a depth call-up with another club. — Tucker Blair

Tucker, who is the most surprising player you have seen so far in 2014?
Dariel Alvarez – Looks decent in Center Field, where he has primarily played for the Baysox. He has a plus arm already, and it looks like he has shook off the rust and was making solid reads when I saw him. The bat still has some holes in it, but he shortened the swing and was making hard contact in the games I saw. Still way early, but there was progress from last year. — Tucker Blair

Hello, I would like to know why Tucker forgot his radar gun for the Keys game on 4/8/14. Thank you.
Thank you for reaching out. This is a serious issue and the ON staff promises it will be resolved as soon as possible. Have a good day.

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Baltimore Orioles 2014 Season Preview http://orioles-nation.com/2014/03/30/baltimore-orioles-2014-season-preview/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/03/30/baltimore-orioles-2014-season-preview/#comments Sun, 30 Mar 2014 14:00:41 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=14678 Staff Writer Alex Conway previews the 2014 Orioles season and predicts a final record.

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Delmarva Shorebirds 2014 Season Preview
Frederick Keys 2014 Season Preview
Bowie Baysox 2014 Season Preview

It’s here…it’s finally here. After months of waiting, opining, conjecturing, prognosticating, and speculating – Opening Day is upon us. The off-season ended with a bang after months of rumors and tease with the signings of Suk-Min Yoon, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Nelson Cruz. Some familiar faces are gone. Some new faces are hoping to become familiar. The best positional prospect in the organization will be on the Opening Day roster, the best pitching prospect not too far behind.  However, now it’s time to look forward. With that in mind here is the 2014 Season Preview.

First Base: Chris Davis

The only issue surrounding Chris Davis is one of regression. He had such a stellar 2013 season that everyone everywhere is questioning whether he can replicate that performance. My favorite Chris Davis stat from last season is that he had a .348 ISO (Isolated Power, which measures a hitter’s ability to hit for extra bases); the next highest .ISO was Miguel Cabrera at .288. It is unlikely Chris Davis can produce at that rate again. However, he has had a great spring power-wise and all reports are that he is locked in once again. Chris Davis will be the starting first baseman all season long.

Second Base: Jonathan Schoop, Ryan Flaherty 

Flaherty will see plenty of playing time in 2014, especially with Machado out early.

Flaherty will see plenty of playing time in 2014, especially with Machado out early.

Second Base has been a thorn in the side of the Orioles for a couple of seasons now. Injuries and poor performance have given some of the worst production in the league at the position over the past couple of seasons. Going into spring training Ryan Flaherty had the hold on the job, however with Manny Machado going on the DL and Johnathan Schoop raking, the picture has become murkier. Schoop is going to be on the Opening Day roster and will play while he is on the big club. The return of Machado may send Schoop back down, but for now he is in the picture. Expect a platoon between Schoop, Flaherty, and utility man Steve Lombardozzi between second and third base with two playing and one riding the pine each game.

Third Base: Manny Machado, Ryan Flaherty, Johnathan Schoop

The job is Manny’s when he returns. However, until that happens, Flaherty and Schoop will switch off with Steve Lombardozzi possibly pitching in. When Manny returns, the concerns for third base go way down. Manny had an excellent first season batting, with some troubles in the second half, and an all-time great defensive season. The Platinum Glove award winner has a stranglehold on third base.

Shortstop: J.J. Hardy

The steady rock that is J.J. Hardy returns for another year. The only question surrounding the shortstop is that of extension talk. Hardy remains great with the glove and a great value with the bat at his position. Hardy will play another 150+ games at shortstop (hopefully).

Left Field: David Lough, Nelson Cruz

Another position on the field that has been one of consternation for Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter is Left Field. Two new candidates will look to fill the position this season. Trade acquisition David Lough looks to be the starter against Right Handed Pitchers and a late-inning defensive replacement. Lough has top-end speed, plays plus defense, and has a decent bat. It Nelson Cruz appears will be patrolling Left Field against Left Handed Pitchers against my strongly held wishes. Cruz has a high strikeout rate, low walk rate, and lots of power with the bat and a bad game defensively. Cruz and Lough will split the games with Lough playing a majority of the time at the position.

Center Field: Adam Jones

Jonesy returns as the face of the team. Everyone knows the kind of player Adam Jones is.  Fans and some media personality love to complain about the defects in his game, however he still stands out on the field and in the batter’s box. Jones will be the everyday centerfielder.

Right Field: Nick Markakis

Can Nick Markakis rebound in his contract year?

Can Nick Markakis rebound in his contract year?

2014’s highest paid Oriole, Nick Markakis, will look to rebound in what is effectively the last season of his contract. Markakis has had to deal with injuries and the Orioles have had to deal with ineffectiveness for multiple years running. Markakis, after a long overdue healthy off-season, has put on muscle and reports from Spring Training are great. He will play right field every day.

Catcher: Matt Wieters

Matt Wieters’ defensive game has never been better. His offensive game has clear holes. Wieters is unlikely to turn into Joe Mauer, but a better season at the plate is definitely a possibility. Wieters will be the starting catcher.

Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz, Delmon Young

Delmon Young will be the designated hitter versus left handed pitchers and that is his sole role on the team. He can and should produce in that role. Young however does not have a strong hold on that role. Steve Pearce has a shot at surpassing Young if Young underperforms. Nelson Cruz will be the DH versus right handed pitchers and basically has no threat on the roster for that role.

Bench: Steve Lombardozzi, Steve Pearce, and Steve Clevenger

The three Steves will comprise the bench starting the season. Expect lots of turnover amongst these positions as Dan Duquette has been known to manipulate the bottom end of the roster like crazy. Lombardozzi will be the utility man, Steve Pearce the 4th outfielder, and Clevenger the backup catcher.

Starting Rotation: Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris

The starting rotation was pretty mediocre last season and if the Orioles hope to win more than 85 games this year it will have to be better. Veterans have been added and the depth is actually quality depth this season. Opening Day starter Chris Tillman will look to cement his status as a solid big league pitcher coming off an “all-star” season. Ubaldo Jimenez, the number two starter, will try to capture and hold onto whatever allowed him to produce at such a high level last season. If Jimenez can be the pitcher he was in 2013 for 2014, the Orioles rotation looks a whole lot better. Wei-Yin Chen will try to stay healthy and try to figure out the seventh inning this season, other than that, Chen is who he is. Gonzalez continues to produce and continues to amaze in his ability to get outs, nothing different should be expected this season. Bud Norris has a tenuous hold on the fifth spot in the rotation with Kevin Gausman and others nipping at his heels. Norris concerns me, but he has put up a solid spring and will have time to cement his role as the fifth starter. The rotation as a whole should be better and if a couple of things break right, could be very good.

Bullpen: Tommy Hunter, Darren O’Day, Ryan Webb, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Evan Meek, Josh Stinson 

Josh Stinson secured one of the final bullpen spots. Can he hold it all season?

Josh Stinson secured one of the final bullpen spots. Can he hold it all season?

The bullpen also disappointed last season. The magic of the 2012 team was held up on the bullpen preforming great in the late and close high leverage situations. The 2013 season was a different story in similar situations. Tommy Hunter looks to replace bullpen stalwart Jim Johnson as the closer. Expect Buck to have a quicker hook with Hunter than he did with Johnson if Hunter consistently falters in the ninth. O’Day, Webb, and Matusz are solid locks to be on the roster all season long and should be effective relief pitchers. Britton, Meek, and Stinson earned their spots in Spring Training and could lose them just as quick. Solid bullpen depth at Norfolk should mean that if any one of those three under-performs, they have a quick ticket off the roster. The bullpen, in my mind, is the weakest section of the team with a lot of unknowns remaining—as most bullpens have. The bullpen could be great, it could be awful, and the volatility of relief pitchers creates a hard situation to predict.

Season Prediction:

Obviously, all of these predictions and previews are based upon a lack of injuries—a risky assumption. Also obviously, predicting a record for a 162 game baseball season is relatively foolhardy. Regardless of those two facts, The Orioles can contend for the division and the playoffs if three things happen. One, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters need to produce better than they did last season at the plate. Two, Manny Machado and Chris Davis cannot regress greatly. Three, the starters are able to stay in games longer and the bullpen is able to perform well late and close. If those three things happen, the Orioles will be contenders. I predict a season record of 88-74 (+/- 5), wildcard contender, and possible playoff team.

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ON Mailbag 3/10 – 3/16 http://orioles-nation.com/2014/03/16/mailbag-310-316/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/03/16/mailbag-310-316/#comments Sun, 16 Mar 2014 15:58:45 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=14609 Questions submitted to Orioles Nation for the Weekly Mailbag for the week of 3/10 - 3/16. Topics include Majors, Minors, Transactions, etc.

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Welcome to the Orioles Nation Mailbag. If you have future questions, you can submit them here:

All major league questions answered by Alex Conway.
All minor league questions answered by Tucker Blair.

We had a lot of questions this week. We will get to the rest for next week.

Would you trade Zach Britton for Josh Vitters? 

Zach Britton

I am usually not one for trade speculation, but I thought this one was interesting. The Cubs have a glut of infield prospects and a dearth of pitching prospects so it is definitely possible they would consider making this move. Zach Britton is out of options and even though he has been playing well this spring, at some point he may falter and then the Orioles will have a tough choice to make. Vitters has struggled mightily in his short time in the majors. His short 2012 stint was putrid. He was a formerly highly rated prospect and put up some good numbers in the hitter friendly PCL. If this deal were to happen right now, I would say no. Britton has shown some promise coming out of the bullpen this Spring and Vitters has severe drawbacks to his game. Maybe, down the line, and especially if a J.J. Hardy extension does not come to fruition, I would consider it further. I do not think either team right now is in a rush to deal either player.

What do you make of the Orioles using Zach Britton for one inning on two day’s rest? Could the Orioles be thinking about using him as a reliever?
I think that is definitely the case. At this point I think the plan is to essentially “Matusz” him and relegate him to the bullpen to see if they can squeeze out any bit of value. With no options and basically no possibility of making it through waivers, the Orioles have to do whatever they can to keep Britton on the 25 man roster. And with the current roster construction, that is likely to be in the bullpen. I think it is possible that a trade occurs, but it is hard to give away a hard throwing lefty sinker baller at what essentially is his lowest value. So for now, Britton will be a reliever but he has a shot of cracking the rotation if others falter due to injury or poor performance.

What do you expect from Zach Davies this year?
The small-framed righty has really gotten my attention over the past few years. While he does not have any pitches that are plus, he does have a well-rounded arsenal with potential solid-average pitches (fastball, curveball, slider, changeup). The pitchability, command and control are all plus and he could be a solid starter in the back-end of a major league rotation one day. He is most likely starting 2014 in AA-Bowie, and it will be his first true test. It may be a tough go-around for him, but Davies is a smart dude and I think he should be just fine. He will have to keep the ball down especially, as the more advanced hitters in AA will tear up pitches left over the zone. Check out this interview with Zach from this off-season.

Daniel Ayers

Daniel Ayers

How has last years pick Daniel Ayers performed? 
Ayers did not have a good season statistically in 2013, but who cares about stats in the Gulf Coast League. They are useless. What I care more about is what I see and hear. Ayers’ name has repeatedly been mentioned to me since he was selected in the 25th round. He has a legitimate arsenal with a potential solid-average fastball, plus curveball and a changeup with some room for growth. Unfortunately, I did not get to see him down in Sarasota last week, but he is a guy to keep an eye on for 2014. Hopefully we see him in Delmarva or Aberdeen at some point. I personally think he is a reliever all the way, but I am sure the Orioles will stretch him out a little bit, because why not?

Could Alex Gonzalez earn the back-up infielder spot on the team over Alexi Casilla?
I had thought this spring that Casilla would eventually be on the opening day roster for multiple reasons. One, he can play multiple infield positions well. Versatility is a highly underrated and underpaid talent. Two, he was on the team last year. Three, he is cheap. However, with the injury to his hamstring, Casilla does not seem as likely to make the team as before camp started. It is unfortunate for players, but one prolonged injury in spring can greatly hinder their chances of making the team. Therefore, Alex Gonzalez fits Casilla’s role essentially. He is cheap and can play multiple infield positions. It is definitely possible he makes the team. Also, in the running for that Utility role is Jemile Weeks, however I think with his option that he will be sent to Norfolk to play every day. Another scenario to keep an eye on is the possibility that Manny Machado is not ready for Opening Day.

What is your opinion on the future of Henry Urrutia beyond this season? With RF likely to be “open” for competition in 2015, is Henry a legitimate solution at that position or is the former Cuban star just a”fringe” major-leaguer?
I have a scouting report on Urrutia coming shortly, so keep an eye out for that.

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Losing the Santana Sweepstakes http://orioles-nation.com/2014/03/12/losing-santana-sweepstakes/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/03/12/losing-santana-sweepstakes/#comments Wed, 12 Mar 2014 20:32:05 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=14597 Staff Writer Jeff Kryglik takes a look at the roster after the Orioles lose out on the Ervin Santana Sweepstakes

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Ervin Santana is no longer a free agent as the 31-year-old right-handed pitcher agreed to a one-year, $14.1 million deal with the Atlanta Braves despite the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays being the main contenders.

The Braves’ rotation has been riddled with injuries and ineffectiveness all throughout spring training thus far, so bringing in Santana made sense for both parties. It allows the Braves to address a need as they hope to maintain their staying power in the NL East and it allows for Santana to showcase his stuff as a potential top three rotation starter. This will also be the first time in his career where he will play for a National League ballclub, so the change of scenery could bring about offers following the 2014 season that even Santana himself didn’t know existed.

Courtesy: ESPN.com

Courtesy: ESPN.com

What this means for the Orioles is that they have to move forward with the free agent pickups they’ve made thus far and focus on evaluating the guys they have on their roster as they are likely the candidates who they will roll into battle with when the Boston Red Sox come to town March 31.

Looking at the potential starting rotation as of now, here is what it could look like with two and a half weeks before the first pitch at Opening Day:

1. RHP Chris Tillman

2. RHP Ubaldo Jimenez

3. LHP Wei-Yin Chen

4. RHP Miguel Gonzalez

5. RHP Bud Norris

That is purely based off of speculation of course, but the Orioles are still in much better position this season in regards to their starting pitching than they were last season. Bringing in Santana would have been an upgrade, no doubt about it. It would have reinforced the “win now” mentality that seems to be in the Orioles’ clubhouse and front office given the current makeup of the roster. But there are some positives in letting the free agent find another home in Major League Baseball.

For the Orioles, they can still see what players such as LHP Zach Britton have to offer. There were rumors that if Santana had been acquired by the Birds, Baltimore would look into shopping either Britton or Norris — Bud is set to make $5.3 million this year — to potentially free up some space on the roster and also save a little change in the process. It is no secret that Britton has underachieved during his tenure in Baltimore, but this is his best opportunity to showcase what he can bring to the club either as a starter, spot starter or relief pitcher.

Looking at what Britton has done, he could possibly be slated for a role that is a combination of what fellow lefties T.J. McFarland and Troy Patton provided the club last year. He could be that long reliever like McFarland who comes in during non-pressure situations or situations where he has to clean up the starter’s mess. He could come in after the fifth or sixth inning to serve as a middle relief pitcher like Patton by providing a stopgap between the setup man and the starter.

He has to make the roster first as he is very much on the bubble given what his Big League career has been.

Then, there is Norris.

Norris will likely be this team’s No. 4 or No. 5 starter once the season begins, but he also has the potential to contribute to this team in the bullpen as well. If RHP Tommy Hunter struggles with consistency as he has been entrusted with the closer role for the 2014 season, the Orioles could look to Norris to fill the void. Plus, in bringing over Norris at the trade deadline last summer, seeing what he can offer the Orioles over a full body of work is worth the risk.

And then there are three RHPs by the names of Kevin Gausman, Suk-Min Yoon and Dylan Bundy.

If the Orioles were to bring in Santana, Gausman and Bundy would have been more relegated to minor league duty with not as much of a chance to crack the rotation and develop at the MLB level. Yoon, who is projected as a reliever to begin with, may have never received that chance for a spot start. Gausman is much further ahead in the development process than Bundy as Dylan is still in rehabilitation mode to ensure he is 100% healthy and it remains to be seen as to what Yoon can offer coming over from the KBO. Gausman on the other hand, has a much better chance to contribute on the club this season as the rotation is not overly crowded. If someone falters in either the bullpen or as a starter, the Birds may look to Gausman to garner more Major League service time and become a serious contributor.

Bringing in Ervin Santana would have upgraded the Orioles, but not having him on the roster helps Baltimore develop their youngsters and see what their veterans can offer to the club going forward.

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Spring Training Notes: Day 2 http://orioles-nation.com/2014/03/09/spring-training-notes-day-2/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/03/09/spring-training-notes-day-2/#comments Sun, 09 Mar 2014 21:59:35 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=14593 Tucker provides us with an update from his second day at Orioles Spring Training

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It is day two for me down here in Sarasota at the fields, and it was a beautiful day. The sun was out and the sky was blue. Hard to imagine it was snowing on Monday when I was in Maryland.

Below are the rest of my notes from my time at the minor league complex on Saturday, along with my notes from today at the Orioles/Pirates game. Also, I will have some notes over at Baseball Prospectus on Josh Hart and Chance Sisco. Make sure to keep an eye out for them shortly.

– Chris Davis looks terrific, locked in, a beast, a god, etc. I think he will have another terrific season in 2014. Call it a hunch, but he looks terrific at the plate, especially today against the Pirates.

– The reports on Nick Markakis being in better shape are very accurate. Of course they are, it is a contract year and Nick Markakis is no idiot. He looks stronger, more agile, and overall is better conditioned. It is amazing what can happen when a player is fully healthy.

– Michael Almanzar has already improved his footwork at third base. He is moving a little more fluidly over there and less hesitant on choppers. If he somehow makes the club, he will not be a deadweight on the roster, although I am not sure if he will be any form of a difference maker.

Jonathan Schoop is a great talent and has a bright future ahead of him, but he still shows issues against off-speed. I will continue to beat this drum, but he needs a little more time in the minors. Read my scouting report on him if you want to know more. Hey, it is no rush, they have Ryan Flaherty and Jemile weeks who are more than capable of handling second for the time being.

Travis Seabrooke

The young Canadian is tall and slender with a ton of projection. It was my first time seeing him in person, and he has one of those frames that excite you as an evaluator. He displayed great arm speed and a quick release. His quick twitch arm is very intriguing. Seabrooke is a little stiff on his back-end and needs to fall forward and provide more push off the rubber.Travis Seabrooke

The Fastball is impressive, running 91-93 mph with late explosion. It has mild arm-side action, typical of a lefty. The Curveball displayed a sharp, downward bite, looking like a true difference maker in the future. He has some feel for a Change up, but it clearly drags behind the other two pitches and needs some tightening up.

Seabrooke is a player on the rise in this system, and you will certainly hear more good things about him down the road.

Zach Britton

Britton displayed his hard sinking fastball against the Pirates. In relief, he is consistently hovering around 95 mph with that hard sink. While his command is still questionable at times, he continues to attempt locating that sinker in the bottom half of the zone. When he gets the calls or the batter chases the pitch, he looks good. If they do not, this is where Britton begins to run into trouble.

The Orioles are going to have a hard time keeping both Kelvin De La Cruz and Zach Britton, but maybe they find a way. Both have ability, and you hate for the Orioles to give up on a player with Britton’s background.

Mychal Givens

Givens is a full-time pitcher now, if you didn’t know (or haven’t been paying attention for a year or so). He has a terrific arm, notching his fastball into the mid 90’s with some arm-side tail, although I am not in love with the mechanics. Givens has a goofy delivery, somewhere between 3/4th and side-armed. It looks funky and the ball comes out funky. He has terrific arm speed, and the ball jumps out, but he lacks fastball command. He falls off to the right side at times and it sure seems that he was not pitching for a few years. I see the talent in the arm, but it is not quite all together yet.

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ON Mailbag 3/3 – 3/9 http://orioles-nation.com/2014/03/09/mailbag-33-39/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/03/09/mailbag-33-39/#comments Sun, 09 Mar 2014 16:05:53 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=14590 Questions submitted to Orioles Nation for the Weekly Mailbag for the week of3/3 - 3/9. Topics include Majors, Minors, Transactions, etc.

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Welcome to the Orioles Nation Mailbag. If you have future questions, you can submit them here:

All major league questions answered by Alex Conway.
All minor league questions answered by Tucker Blair.

What are your thoughts on Kelvin De La Cruz? You seem very high on him.

De La Cruz has impressed some with his fixed mechanics and improved control since last season. He has good arm speed out of a quick, 3/4th arm slot. The fastball has sat primarily 90-92 this spring, and he has shown improved command and control of it. De La Cruz has a tendency to fall off to the side on his delivery and this causes a few issues such as inconsistent arm angles and lack of weight transfer on push-off. This has all improved in the spring, as he looks to be controlling his body more efficiently, and driving forward more with overexerting his delivery.

Another note, it is difficult to see that De La Cruz is throwing his Curve, but this is the slower variant of the off-speed. The Slider has a sharp, sweeping motion, compared to the slower sweep of the curve. They both look very similar except the change in speeds and grip.

I think De La Cruz has a real chance to make this club. The Orioles may end up having to pick between him and Zach Britton, but they also could keep both until Troy Patton returns from his 25-game suspension.

The Orioles have a second base logjam, don’t you think? Ryan Flaherty, Jemile Weeks, Alexi Casilla, Jonathan Schoop, Cord Phelps, and Ivan De Jesus. Which ones do you see making the major league team? Will any be traded? How will they get at-bats in AAA?

Dan and Buck definitely went out of the way to gather as many second base options this winter as possible. I have prognosticated that Flaherty and Casilla make the opening day roster, read more here. I could also see Weeks on the Opening Day Roster, but with his option I figure Duquette will use the flexibility while he’s got it. Schoop, even though he is raking in Spring Training, will start at Norfolk. Schoop and Weeks could split days at DH and 2B or split time between SS and 2B at AAA. They will find a way to get them at bats. For Phelps and De Jesus, one could be a utility man or both could be cut. They are both expendable from a roster standpoint. It’s tough to say that about players but when the roster crunch time comes, it’s a fact of life for these guys.

If Francisco Peguero were to not make the 25-man roster, would he make it through waivers?

I predicted that Peguero would indeed be on the Opening Day Roster because of his upside and Duquette’s penchant for keeping high upside cheap players on the roster all yearlong (Flaherty and McFarland). If he were to be designated for assignment I do not think he would make it through waivers. Maybe if they were to do it towards the end of Spring Training when most teams have their rosters set they could sneak him through. However, I would think some team with not much play for this year could stick him on their roster and see if they can catch lightning in a bottle.

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Projecting the 25-Man Roster http://orioles-nation.com/2014/03/03/projecting-25-man-roster/ http://orioles-nation.com/2014/03/03/projecting-25-man-roster/#comments Mon, 03 Mar 2014 12:00:08 +0000 http://orioles-nation.com/?p=14566 The ON Staff projects the 25-man roster for Opening day.

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The ON Staff took their best shot at projecting the O’s roster and lineup for opening day. Spring Training has just started, but we thought it would be fun to look back in a month and see how terribly wrong we were. or right. I guess we shall find out!

A few notes:

– The staff did not fluctuate too much on the overall outlook of the roster. All three have the same rotation.
– The lineups also did not fluctuate very much for opening day. All three fully expect Manny Machado to be ready.
Dylan Bundy is most likely headed for the 60-day DL to start the year, and Kevin Gausman is most likely optioned to start the year.

Alex Conway‘s 25-Man Roster Projection:

Alex has OF Francisco Peguero winning his final bench spot. (Courtesy: Brad Penner - USA TODAY Sports)

Alex has OF Francisco Peguero winning his final bench spot.
(Courtesy: Brad Penner – USA TODAY Sports)

1B: Chris Davis
2B: Ryan Flaherty
3B: Manny Machado
SS: JJ Hardy
LF: David Lough
CF: Adam Jones
RF: Nick Markakis
C: Matt Wieters
DH: Nelson Cruz

BC: Steve Clevenger
Util: Alexi Casilla
PH: Nolan Reimold
4th OF: Francisco Peguero

SP: Chris Tillman
SP: Ubaldo Jimenez
SP: Wei-Yin Chen
SP: Miguel Gonzalez
SP: Bud Norris

Zach Britton

Alex has LHP Zach Britton winning his final bullpen spot

BP: Tommy Hunter
BP: Darren O’Day
BP: Ryan Webb
BP: Brian Matusz
BP: Kelvin De La Cruz
BP: Suk-Min Yoon
BP: Zach Britton

Opening Day Lineup
1. Nick Markakis
2. Manny Machado
3. Adam Jones
4. Chris Davis
5. Nelson Cruz
6. Matt Wieters
7. David Lough
8. JJ Hardy
9. Ryan Flaherty

Roster Casualties: RHP Edgmer Escalona, RHP Josh Stinson, Michael Almanzar (Rule 5 selection), OF/1B Steve Pearce,
Optioned: RHP Kevin Gausman, LHP Michael Belfiore, LHP Tim Berry, RHP Brad Brach, Dylan Bundy (60-day DL Candidate), RHP Steve Johnson, LHP T.J. McFarland, C Johnny Monell, C Michael Ohlman, 2B Jemile Weeks, 2B Jonathan Schoop, OF Henry Urrutia
Suspended: LHP Troy Patton

This is the 25 man and OD Lineup I think that Buck and Dan will put together. I think Peguero makes the roster due to upside and likelihood some other team would pick him up if placed on waivers. I could see Almanzar making the team only because Duquette has shown that keeping Rule 5 guys on a roster all year long is part of his M.O. However, I think Peguero essentially fits that role. I think Hardy slips to 8 in order to break up the lefties which Buck always seems keen on doing. I could also see Reimold in LF on Opening Day because of them likley facing Lester. However, I think Lough plays because of a greater defensive prowess and Lough not having any split weakness against lefties.

Tucker Blair‘s 25-Man Roster Projection:

Tucker has OF/1B Steve Pearce winning his final bench spot (Photo Courtesy: Orioles.com)

Tucker has OF/1B Steve Pearce winning his final bench spot (Courtesy: Orioles.com)

1B: Chris Davis
2B: Ryan Flaherty
3B: Manny Machado
SS: JJ Hardy
LF: David Lough
CF: Adam Jones
RF: Nick Markakis
C: Matt Wieters
DH: Nelson Cruz

BC: Steve Clevenger
2B: Jemile Weeks
4th OF: Nolan Reimold
LF/1B/DH: Steve Pearce

SP: Chris Tillman
SP: Ubaldo Jimenez
SP: Wei-Yin Chen
SP: Miguel Gonzalez
SP: Bud Norris

Tucker has Josh Stinson winning his final bullpen spot (Courtesy: Baltimore Sun

Tucker has Josh Stinson winning his final bullpen spot (Courtesy: Baltimore Sun)

BP: Tommy Hunter
BP: Darren O’Day
BP: Ryan Webb
BP: Brian Matusz
BP: Kelvin De La Cruz
BP: Suk-Min Yoon
BP: Josh Stinson

Opening Day Lineup
1. Nick Markakis
2. Manny Machado
3. Adam Jones
4. Chris Davis
5. Nelson Cruz
6. Matt Wieters
7. JJ Hardy
8. Ryan Flaherty
9. David Lough

Roster Casualties: RHP Edgmer Escalona, LHP Zach Britton, Michael Almanzar (Rule 5 selection), OF Francisco Peguero
Optioned: RHP Kevin Gausman, LHP Michael Belfiore, LHP Tim Berry, RHP Brad Brach, Dylan Bundy (60-day DL Candidate), RHP Steve Johnson, LHP T.J. McFarland, C Johnny Monell, C Michael Ohlman, 2B Jonathan Schoop, OF Henry Urrutia
Suspended: LHP Troy Patton

My lineup and roster are not terribly different from the one Alex projected. I have Reimold and Pearce winning out the final two bench spots, because I truly feel as if they offer the most to the club. Reimold, if healthy (alright, alright, relax), has major league talent and has shown in spurts what he can do. If I can have that coming off the bench or getting time in LF/RF/DH when needed, then I think he provides the most value. Steve Pearce is a great bench option. All the guy has done with the Orioles is get on base and provide value. I will beat this horse until it is beyond dead, but he had a .261/.362/.420 batting line in 2013 with a .345 wOBA. Do you know how many players had a .345 wOBA or higher last year for the Orioles? Three (Chris Davis, Danny Valencia, Adam Jones). Even in limited play, Pearce showed that he is a piece the Orioles could certainly use. I also like that he can play adequate LF and 1B in a pinch if needed. David Lough can fill in at CF if needed, which is rare with Adam Jones manning the position every day.

I have Weeks on the bench because I think the Orioles can use some formation of Weeks and Ryan Flaherty to solve their utility role. The Orioles’ left side of the infield played almost every game last year, and I think it is possible again for them to get significant playing time. I’m rolling the dice though, as Manny Machado could need a little more time to fully heal and JJ Hardy has been injury prone before his time with the Orioles. My bullpen has Josh Stinson with the final spot because he can pitch in middle relief, long relief and even spot start. I am worried about Zach Britton and I think he would be best served as getting a fresh start somewhere else. The only problem I have with my roster is I leave an extra spot on the 40-man due to the DFA of Edgmer Escalona. I feel that the Orioles could potentially look to maximize their roster here, but we shall see.

Jeff Kryglik‘s 25-Man Roster Projection:

Jeff has RHP Edgmer Escalona winning one of his final bullpen spots (Courtesy: Baltimore Sun)

Jeff has RHP Edgmer Escalona winning one of his final bullpen spots (Courtesy: Baltimore Sun)

1B: Chris Davis
2B: Ryan Flaherty
3B: Manny Machado
SS: JJ Hardy
LF: David Lough
CF: Adam Jones
RF: Nick Markakis
C: Matt Wieters
DH: Nelson Cruz

Bench:
BC: Steve Clevenger
2B: Jemile Weeks
OF: Steve Pearce
OF: Nolan Reimold

SP: Chris Tillman
SP: Ubaldo Jimenez
SP: Wei-Yin Chen
SP: Miguel Gonzalez
SP: Bud Norris

BP: Tommy Hunter
BP: Darren O’Day
BP: Ryan Webb
BP: Brian Matusz
BP: Edgmer Escalona
BP: Suk-Min Yoon
BP: Zach Britton

Opening Day Lineup
1. Nick Markakis
2. Manny Machado
3. Adam Jones
4. Chris Davis
5. Nelson Cruz
6. Matt Wieters
7. J.J. Hardy
8. David Lough
9. Ryan Flaherty

Roster Casualties: LHP Kelvin De La Cruz, RHP Josh Stinson, Michael Almanzar (Rule 5 selection), OF/1B Francisco Peguero,
Optioned: RHP Kevin Gausman, LHP Michael Belfiore, LHP Tim Berry, RHP Brad Brach, Dylan Bundy (60-day DL Candidate), RHP Steve Johnson, LHP T.J. McFarland, C Johnny Monell, C Michael Ohlman, 2B Jonathan Schoop, OF Henry Urrutia
Suspended: LHP Troy Patton

It is honestly killing me to put Weeks, Pearce and Britton on this roster, but I really don’t see where else they could go. Spring Training will change a lot of things, but for my money, I have to roll with these guys as my main bubble guys, in addition to Escalona.

This is Britton’s last chance. He has no more options. He will not be a starter in this league outside of maybe a spot start here and there. If he cannot stay healthy, game over. Even when he is healthy, still might not be consistent enough to warrant a roster spot.

Weeks, to me, is a guy you have to keep over Casilla pending Spring Training. While Casilla has the speed, like Weeks, and Major League experience advantage, you want someone in there who is a little younger. There is no secret that the club wants Schoop to win this job, but I don’t think we’ll see him until mid-to-late Summer.

I like Peguero, but his bat sees a significant dropoff in his MLB service time in comparison to his minor league numbers. To me, it would be nice to see him on the big club, but Pearce is that Nate McLouth type. High energy, high effort guy who you need in your lineup to boost the morale of the troops in the locker room. Not consistent, but a guy I would keep around.

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