Wednesday, February 9, 2011

5 Things To Watch - Spring Training 2011

For the first time in recent memory, all of the starting lineup, pretty much all of the bullpen and most of the starting rotation is set as the club heads to Sarasota. But there are still battles to watch (some between players, some between players and their own bodies) this spring and here are the five I'll be watching.

1. Felix Pie versus Nolan Reimold - With Vlad Guerrero in the fold, one of these guys is the odd man out. Pie has the inside track as he had a better season in 2010, is more versatile and has no options remaining. But Reimold has the talent to put together a big spring and could force Buck Showalter to make a tough decision. Buck has already said that Pie didn't guarantee himself a spot in this team with his play last season so both players could be under the gun.

2. Chris Tillman versus Jake Arrieta - With Justin Duchscherer in the fold, one of these guys is the odd man out. (Deja vu...) This one is more of a dead heat though. I like Tillman better to start the season but he managed to lose his spot to David Hernandez last spring and wound up back in Norfolk. Whoever has the strongest spring is likely to head to Baltimore when camp breaks. If Tillman trusts his stuff, he wins easily.

3. Brian Roberts Rebound - Baltimore added some sluggers to the lineup this offseason but this offense will go as Brian Roberts health does. With Roberts and Nick Markakis at the top of the order, Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds, Luke Scott and Guerrero will often have ducks on the pond. If Roberts had an injury plagued year again, they likely won't. There is nobody on the roster with his combination of speed and on base skills. You could be faced with Pie or Cesar Izturis leading off in his absence. And that would be ugly. Roberts needs to stay healthy and hit like he did in 2008 and 2009 if the Orioles hope to surprise.

4. Battle for the Backup Backstop - My favorite thing to watch each spring, this time the outcome could be significant. Incumbent Craig Tatum surprised last season as he proved to have some good on base skills and was not a complete offensive vacuum. He only threw out 2 of 27 base stealers though and I can find no defensive metric that he was not below average in. Jake Fox, on the other had, was not terrible behind the plate, throwing out 33% of potential base stealers in limited action. He can also play the outfield third base and first base with a bat with far more potential than Tatum's.

Of course, if Buck goes with a 12 man pitching staff, they could both make the roster with Fox as a general utility guy. Or one of the other catchers invited to camp could surprise and take Tatum's spot anyway, the same way he did to Chad Moeller a year ago. Quite dramatic being a backup catcher in the major leagues...

5. Who's the Backup Middle Infielder? - Cesar Izturis has the inside track on this. He has a major league deal, is a superior glove and a very good baserunner. Despite his deficiencies with the bat, he could be used quite a bit as a pinch runner and late game defensive replacement. But Brendan Harris, Nick Green and Robert Andino will all be at Spring Training too. Harris is middling defender up the middle and has a slightly better bat than Izzy (which is damning with faint praise). Andino also has a slick glove but tends to lapse in the field at times. He could offer a decent bat but I tend to think that last season was a fluke for him. Green should be a longshot but seems to wriggle his way onto a major league roster every year.


The Oriole Way said...

I'll add one more:
While we know who will be in the bullpen, we don't know how their roles will be defined. Personally, I'm hoping that Gonzalez and Koji draw 7th and 8th inning straws so that Kevin Gregg can be the Veteran Closer (TM).

Also, do not even suggest batting Cesar Izturis lead-off. If Buck actually does this, I blame you and you alone.

DempseysArmy said...

Right. But I think Buck probably already has an idea of how that will go and if he sticks to he MO from last season, those roles will be loosely defined.

If they were smart, they would bat Nick leadoff if Roberts went down. But there are few candidates. Anyone who could possibly steal a base (Izturis, Pie, Jones) have poor onbase skills. Hardy wouldn't be a good choice either. Still a lot of low OBP guys on this team...