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.

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