Saturday, March 10, 2012

5 Things I'm Watching During Spring Training

The wins and losses are meaningless, so are most of the stats. But there is plenty to watch every year in Spring Training. A little late with this but since we are a week into the exhibition season, I wanted to outline the 5 things I am watching for while the O's tune up in Sarasota.

1. Ryan Flaherty and Matt Antonelli

The former was the Orioles' Rule 5 pick, the latter a minor league free agent signed to a major league deal. With Brian Roberts doubtful ever to play for Baltimore again, it is possible that both of these infielders make the team. but they are both something of unknown commodities and I am curious to see what they can do and how they can do it. Both are low cost gambles and it would be nice if they could pay off.

2. The Asian Imports

Speaking of unknown commodities, one never knows exactly how NPB players will fare when faced with MLB competition. Pitchers Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada are no different. So even though spring training stats have to be taken with a grain of salt,  it will be fascinating to see how they fare against MLB hitters and, for Wada anyway, whether he will pitch in the rotation or out of the bullpen.

3. The Young Guns

Unlike previous years, I am not looking to see progress in Baltimore's crop of young starters, I am just looking for signs of life. Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman, Zach Britton and Brad Bergesen are all coming of seasons of inconsistency, injury, general ineffectiveness or some combination of the three. Who will break camp with the big club? Who will be able to contribute beyond 2012? Are any of these guys nuggets still?

4. Dirty Jim...Finally the Closer?

Jim Johnson has watched the team spend big money on "proven closers" before the past two seasons and probably wondered why he wasn't given a shot instead. Since 2008, Johnson has posted an ERA+ of  144, by far the best among any Oriole reliever who pitched in more than 100 games. (Koji Uehara had similar effectiveness but in fewer games.) It will be interesting to see how Johnson is used as Spring Training moves forward. I would imagine Buck will want him to get used to pitching in the 9th.

5. Jai Miller

Since I started writing this blog, every spring there was a question about who would be the backup catcher.Not this year. Barring injury, Taylor Teagarden will be backing up Matt Wieters.

The outfield would seem to be settled but RF Nick Markakis is coming back from injury and LF Nolan Reimold was struck in the face with a pitch this yesterday. That could give some playing time early in the season to 27-year old Jai Miller.

Miller OPS'ed .976 for Sacramento in the (admittedly) offense friendly Pacific Coast League but that developing bat and his ability to play anywhere in the outfield (he has primarily played centerfield during his minor league career, including last season) make him an intriguing option as a fourth outfielder.  Endy Chavez is likely to fill that role but I'd have more fun watching Miller patrol Camden Yards this summer.

Friday, March 9, 2012

If You Can't Hit, Jorge Arangure Doesn't Care About Your Injuries

Oriole left fielder Nolan Reimold took a fastball to the face in the first inning of today's exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Rays and from all accounts, it was pretty nasty.

Three innings later, we learned that IF Ryan Flaherty, the club's Rule 5 pick, took a pitch in the shoulder via Roch Kubatko on Twitter. Jorge Arangure replied to that tweet:

Forget, for a moment, that his comment is kind of a cheap dig at the Orioles and, for their fans, kind of rubbing their faces in 14 straight seasons of losing. I'm making that leap butI suppose it's not fair to expect Mr. Arangure to understand the psyche of the modern Oriole fan. (But considering he spent years covering the O's for the Washington Post, maybe it is a fair expectation.)

But so close on the heels of a scary injury to Reimold, one that had him laid out for several minutes and taken directly to a local hospital, this comment seemed a bit callous, to say the least.

I retweeted his statement with comment which started a small back and forth:

That is indeed the cold, hard reality. But the timing of that comment really was poor. As you will see later, that timing may have been related to a misunderstanding but while Mr. Arangure may not "enjoy" seeing players get hurt, it doesn't seem to concern him much. At least if they're not any good.

And this is true. It was a reply to the Flaherty tweet from Roch Kubatko.

But he never said that he did not know that Reimold had been injured. Roch referenced it ever so obliquely with "And so it continues." in that initial tweet. I mentioned a player getting hit in the face, not the shoulder, and it did not seem to give him pause. And assuming that an injury is serious enough to keep a bad player out of a lineup, thus making his production easier to replace than a good one, it would seem the assumption is that the injury was bad enough to keep the player out of a lineup. As he says, a guy who gets hit in the shoulder is not a catastrophic event. Getting hit in the face with a fast ball typically is.

So I will take him at his word that he was referring the the Flaherty injury and that he was ignorant of the more serious Reimold injury, even if that seems a bit suspect.

But doesn't Ryan Flaherty deserve a bit of human sympathy anyway? If you prick him, does he not bleed? By all accounts, Flaherty was in visible pain when he was struck. If he was to miss any time, should it be trivialized just because he is much more likely to hit .220 than .320?  You would think that Mr. Arangure has spent enough time around ball players to be a little less flippant about injuries. But Ryan Flaherty going on the DL is not nearly the story that an Alex Rodriguez injury would be. And to many baseball writers, if it's not a big story, it's not worth being concerned about. On any level.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Spring Training: Ed Smith Stadium Guide

I have finally come to terms with the fact that I will not be attending Oriole Spring Training 2012 and I have not been since the inaugural training in Sarasota in 2010. (sigh....)

Since I cannot accurately update my Unofficial Guide to Oriole Spring Training, I instead point you to Spring Training Connection's review of Ed Smith Stadium. It is very thorough and a great resource if you are still heading down to Sarasota in March. Check it out!

As a supplement, here's the link to last year's Unofficial Baltimore Orioles Spring Training Visitor's Guide. Some of the information will still be relevant.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Orioles and Korea: Troubling Signs for Baltimore's International Scouting Efforts

I wanted to comment on this article in Baseball America last week that breaks down the Orioles' debacle involving the attempted signing of Korean high school pitcher Seong-Min Kim.

I have been pretty approving of all the changes the Orioles have been making under Dan Duquette and thought that shaking up the organization and focusing on international markets are fine ideas. The organization needed that and my opinion was that any change was better than the status quo.

However, the details regarding the signing of Kim make one wonder about the judgement of the people heading up some of these efforts. For one, the pitcher was not even considered a great prospect to begin with.

More notable than the breach of protocol, however, was the amount the Orioles agreed to pay a player regarded by most teams that scouted him as a marginal prospect. (Dan) Duquette declined to comment on Kim's scouting report now that he's no longer under contract...

Many believed the Orioles were the only team interested in Kim. Several teams turned him in as a non-prospect.

"Where was the competition," asked one international scouting director, "to drive the bonus to $575,000 when they could have signed him for $5,000?"

That's a good question. Why are the Orioles so anxious to sign a fringy prospect that they jump the gun and break protocol? There is one man who can answer that.

After hiring Duquette in November, the Orioles announced the hiring of Ray Poitevint as their new executive director of international baseball in a Jan. 9 press release. Poitevint has extensive experience signing players in Asia, including during Duquette's tenure as Red Sox GM from 1994-2001. The two have worked together since Duquette began his career in baseball with the Brewers in 1981. Poitevint said in an interview that Duquette started out as his assistant, and the two were together in Milwaukee until Duquette left to join the Expos after the 1987 season.

Poitevint said he scouted Kim for two and a half years, and that he and an associate he has known for 30 years—whom he declined to name—evaluated Kim for the Orioles. When asked who else was interested in signing Kim, Poitevint said, "Everybody," adding, "This is the type of guy who draws scouts...."

"We'll see what happens," Poitevint said. "If we have an opportunity to introduce ourselves again to him, we'll try to sign him, just like anyone else. We know there's going to be a lot of competition."

So the first issue is that Mr. Poitevant and his scouts are far, far off the reservation when it comes to the general scouting consensus on this kid. That is troublesome, as is the amount of money they threw Kim's way, but sometimes an individual scout can see things others may miss.

But an even bigger issue is that Mr. Poitevant and his "extensive experience" in Asia managed commit a huge gaffe, nullifying a contract and losing access to Korean baseball, less than 3 months into his job.

Questionable talent assessment and procederal ignorance? This is not the kind of change this team needs.