Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Five Things to Watch in Spring Training

Unlike previous Orioles campaigns, the 2007 season will not feature a lot of position battles. The outfield and infield starters are pretty much set, all that is in question is the amount of PT for each guy. The rotation is set as well as most of the bullpen. What can we watch for in Spring Training? Well, let’s see…

1. The Battle for the Backup Backstop

They signed journeyman Paul Bako but can (minor league) journeyman J.R. House or Rule V draftee Adam Donachie push him out? Right now I’d like to see Donachie but one of these guys is going to have to have a really nice spring to get Bako booted.

2. The Last Two (or three) Bullpen Spots

Barring injury the bullpen will consist of Baez, Bradford, Walker and Ray. The last two (perhaps three) bullpen spots are up for grabs. If Hayden Penn doesn’t find a way to crack the starting rotation, he could end up in the pen as a long reliever. Scott Williamson, if healthy, should have an inside track on a job as his arm is electric and he can be dominant in the strikeout department. Todd Williams could prove to be a second lefty even after a poor showing last year. Also in the mix are young lefties Kurt Birkins, Brian Burres and (a seemingly healthy) John Parrish. Righties Sendy Rleal (probably bound for AAA), Jeremey Guthrie (claimed off waivers from Cleveland and out of minor league options) and top relief prospect James Hoey round out the competition. If the O’s carry 6 relievers instead of 7, look for Scott Williamson and Kurt Birkins to grab the spots.

3. Who Replaces Kris Benson?

Steve Trachsel seemed to be signed just for that role but don’t think that the youngsters won’t be given every opportunity to unseat him. Hayden Penn has proven all he needs to at AAA and a strong spring could change some minds on his role with the big club. Jeremy Guthrie is a dark horse for a rotation spot. Management seems to like him a lot.

4. Where's Jay (Gibbons) Play?

Permanent DH or spot first baseman/left fielder? Defense at first will tell the tale. I am sure Gibbons can play left but I am also fairly sure the team would rather he not given his injury woes. If Jay can pick ‘em at first he’ll see some time there in the Huff/Millar rotation.

5. The Mazzone Effect

Watch carefully the progression (if any) of the young starters Loewen, Penn and Cabrera this spring now that Leo has them all to himself for the entire spring. The O’s hopes this season rest on Mazzone’s shoulders.

Honorable Mention: The last two bench spots. I’ll give Adam Stern and Freddie Bynum the nod as favorites going in to camp.

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