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    Spring Training Progress Report (3/17)

    Written by Chris Slade

    An update on how the team is performing statistically along with insight into the current roster battle situations:

    Rotation Picture,_2009.jpg

    - Opening Day Starter: Chris Tillman (Spring Stats: 4.97 ERA, 12.2 IP, 14 H, 7  ER, 2 HR, 2 BB, 14 K's)

    - No. 2 Starter: Ubaldo Jimenez (Spring Stats: 9.00 ERA, 4 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 3 K's)

    Last time I speculated that Jimenez would be the favorite because he was the big bucks free agent. Don't trust my amateur hack speculation. Buck Showalter announced this afternoon that he will defer to incumbent Chris Tillman for the opening day nod. Tillman became the first Orioles starter in his last start to throw 5+ innings so we're at a point in the Spring where the rest of the projected rotation should start to see a bump in innings pitched as well.

    Ubaldo has one outstanding and one dreadful two-inning appearances on the Spring. That's the kind of inconsistency we hope not to see in the regular season. His velocity was up to 92-93 mph in today's minor league outing outing versus the AAA Twins lineup.

    No. 3 Starter

    - Wei-Yin Chen (Spring Stats: 3.00 ERA, 9 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 K's)

    - Miguel Gonzalez (Spring Stats: 3.86 ERA, 9.1 IP, 14 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 3 K's)

    This isn't really a competition in the grand scheme of things. Both Gonzo and Chen are assured rotation spots and it doesn't matter all that much which one is slotted third or fourth. That being said, I'm curious which one of these two will get the nod in Game 3 of the opening series versus the Red Sox. I'm still thinking Chen. He's looked sharp this Spring with no issues arising from his offseason knee surgery.

    No. 5 Starter

    - Favorite: Bud Norris (Spring Stats: 2.70 ERA, 6.2 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 8 K's)

    As expected from day one, nothing seems to indicate otherwise that Bud Norris is in any danger of not winning the 5th's starters job. There was some speculation at the beginning of camp that he could be a trade candidate but the rumor mill has been quiet on that front in recent weeks.

    Other Starters:

    - Zach Britton (Spring Stats: 1.13 ERA, 8 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K's)

    - Kevin Gausman (Spring Stats: 2.57 ERA, 7 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K's)

    - Brian Matusz (Spring Stats: 3.00 ERA, 6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K's)

    - Steve Johnson (Spring Stats: 2.57 ERA, 7 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 K's)

    - T.J. McFarland (Spring Stats: 4.05 ERA, 6.2 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 5 BB, 8 K's)

    Matusz is still working with the starters but he's a near-lock to move back to the bullpen with Troy Patton suspended. I will say that the quality of his changeup looks improved in the small sample I've seen Matusz pitch. That's the righty-neutralizing pitch he needs that could determine whether he can start again down the road.

    Britton continues to impress to the point that I'm comfortable penciling him into a roster spot unless he's traded. His stock is up in my book as he's shown relatively sharp command of his sinker this Spring and has touched mid 90's on several occasions in his last few outings.

    Gausman is still a bit of a wild card. More than likely, he'll start out at AAA as the first starter waiting in the wings when a need arises. But, he could force the Orioles hand if they're sold the talented youngster is ready to take a big step forward. He's having an impressive Spring but I highly doubt the O's bring him North unless Bud Norris is about to be traded or moved to the bullpen and I'm not aware of it.

    I fully expect Johnson to head to AAA as rotation depth but he IS still around at this juncture and could possibly be a serious candidate to break camp in a swingman type role for the O's if Aceves gets cut. Ditto for McFarland.

    Bullpen Situation

    - Closer: Tommy Hunter (Spring Stats: 4.50 ERA, 4 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K's)

    Nothing indicates Hunter is in danger of not succeeding Jim Johnson as the Orioles closer.

    - Set-Up: Darren O'Day (Spring Stats: 0.00 ERA, 4 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K)

    Same deal with O'Day. However, if that new changeup he's working on progresses nicely, O'Day could emerge as a closer candidate (but that's pure speculation on my part).

    Other Locks:

    - Ryan Webb (Spring Stats: 4.50 ERA, 6 IP, 11 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K's)

    With above average mid 90's sinker, Webb looks like he'll be the groundball specialist and/or 7th inning go-to reliever for the O's

    - Brian Matusz (see above)

    - Zach Britton (see above)

    Final Two Bullpen Spots Competition:

    - Josh Stinson (Spring Stats: 0.00 ERA, 6 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K's)

    - Kelvin De La Cruz (Spring Stats: 3.00 ERA, 6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 3 K)

    - Alfredo Aceves (Spring Stats: 5.63 ERA, 8 IP, 11 H, 5 ER, 3 HR, 2 BB, 2 K's)

    - Evan Meek (Spring Stats: 0.00 ERA, 5 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K's)

    - Brad Brach (Spring Stats: 3.38 ERA, 5.1 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2H , 1 BB, 7 K's)

    Stinson and De La Cruz lack minor league options but that doesn't guarantee anything, especially with De La Cruz, who has never thrown an inning in the majors. Lack of control has always been a flaw with him and that continues to look like the case with four walks in six innings. He throws a hard fastball, flashes an outpitch curveball, and could probably be a serviceable LOOGY reliever. But, unless the O's trade one of Britton or Matusz, my gut feeling is that he will be DFA'd.

    Aceves has some rough looking numbers but I don't read too much into Spring stats. Still, he's fighting for a roster spot and will need to impress the next two weeks to earn it. Many seem to think the veteran, due to his versatility and major league experience in a variety of roles, has a great chance at claiming a bullpen spot, but it's not a lock yet.

    "Blessed are the" Meek has looked terrific in a perfect five inning sample, although that's mostly come against minor leaguers. It's certainly possible the former all-star setup man could pitch his way onto the team if he continues to impress.

    Stinson pitched well in a September trial, touching the mid 90's with his fastball and seemed to make a favorable impression on Buck. He continues to pitch well and looks like a favorite to claim one of those final two sots.

    Brach has an option which really works against him but he's has some major league success before, notably in 2012, and has been quietly having an impressive Spring according to a recent Buck quote.

    (Note: The O's are considering breaking camp with 13 pitchers, according to Roch Kubatko, which could open a 3rd spot up)

    Backup Catcher

    - Favorite: Steve Clevenger (Spring Stats: 12-for-22, .545 AVG, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 3 BB, 2 K, .600 OBP, .773 SLG)

    - Others: Johnny Monell (Spring Stats: 5-for-18, .278 AVG, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 1 BB, 4 K, .381OBP, .444 SLG)

    Baltimore native Steve Clevenger still seems like the obvious choice to break camp as the team's backup catcher. At the end of the day, it seems Buck prefers whichever of these two is stronger defensively and all reports indicate that Clevenger has the upper hand there. It also doesn't hurt that Clevenger is leading the team with a .545 average. Monell, has shown some ability as a left handed power bat but his defense remains suspect, particularly his receiving skills. As of now, I think he and Caleb Joseph (who's also still in camp) will be Norfolk's primary catchers.

    Second Base

    - Favorite: Ryan Flaherty (Spring Stats: 9-for-31, .290 AVG, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 4 BB, 8 K, .361 OBP, .484 SLG)


    - Jonathan Schoop (Spring Stats: 12-for-30, .400 AVG, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 2 BB, 9  K, .424 OBP, .633 SLG)

    - Jemile Weeks (Spring Stats: 4-for-27 .143 AVG, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 5 BB, 6 K, .314 OBP, .185 SLG)

    Flaherty has hit well this Spring and shown impressive defensive versatility according to Buck. He'll assuredly make the team and should start at second base...Schoop, the Orioles top hitting prospect, has seen his stock rise dramatically this Spring and still has a fighter's chance of winning the job. Ultimately, I think he will initially begin the season at AAA, but if his Spring performance is an indicator, he could be up as soon as May, if Flaherty doesn't take the job and run with it.

    Now, the above paragraph assumes Manny Machado will be ready to go on opening day. But, that may not be a reasonable assumption anymore if Machado's knee examination, originally scheduled for 3/18, gets pushed back several days due to scar tissue inflammation he dealt with recently. If Manny hits the DL, there's a good chance the O's could roll with Flaherty (or Alex Gonzalez) as the starter at third and Schoop as the starter at second on opening day.

    Weeks can fly and has usefulness as a pinch runner but his ability to backup shortstop is suspect. He lacks punch at the plate, showing a disciplined approach, but not really much else to me as a hitter and the Spring numbers back that up. I think he could split time at second base with Flaherty, but I don't envision him winning the job outright. He has options, so he's not a lock to make the team either.

    Leadoff Hitter

    - Nick Markakis (Spring Stats: 11-for-25, .440 AVG, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 0 BB, 2 K, .462 OBP, .680 SLG)

    - David Lough (Spring Stats: 6-for-23, .263 AVG, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 4 K, .320 OBP, .435 SLG)

    Same thoughts as last time...At the beginning of the Spring, I would've called Markakis the odds-on favorite but I'm not so sure now. Lough has seen several starts in the leadoff spot this Spring and has performed very well showing a better than expected ability to work the count and steal bases. Markakis also has been crushing the ball this Spring, and with his offseason weight gains, may be more of a power hitter and run producer this season, making Lough the better fit to see the lion's share of starts in the leadoff spot.

    Final Two Bench Spots:

    - Delmon Young - OF/DH (Spring Stats: 6-for-27, .222 AVG, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 BB, 3 K, .222 OBP, .296 SLG)

    - Steve Pearce - OF/1B (Spring Stats: 9-for-36, .250 AVG, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 6 K, .289 OBP, .417 SLG)

    - Nolan Reimold - OF/DH (Spring Stats: 6-for-24, .250 AVG, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 6 BB, 8 K, .400 OBP, .375 SLG)

    - Francisco Peguero - OF (Spring Stats: 4-for-15, .267 AVG, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 0 BB, 2 K, .313 OBP, .400 SLG)

     - Henry Urrutia - OF/DH (Spring Stats: 9-for-29, .310 AVG, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 6 K, .333 OBP, .517 SLG)

    - Alex Gonzalez - INF (Spring Stats: 10-for-23, .435 AVG, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K, .458OBP, .739 SLG)

    - Michael Almanzar - 3B/1B (Spring Stats: 6-for-28, .214 AVG, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 3 BB, 4 K, .313 OBP, .429 SLG)

    That's one crowded picture, right? And it doesn't look much clearer since last Monday...

    This time last week I felt pretty good about Delmon Young's chances of making the team. But, he hasn't done much performance wise to separate himself from the pack in the last week and there hasn't been much recent press about him. His track record hitting against lefties speaks for itself so I'm not reading too much into his Spring numbers...But, its possible he could be beaten out by incumbent bench player Steve Pearce, a Buck favorite who offers a little more defensive versatility and a professional hitter's approach at the plate as opposed to Delmon Young's hackish ways.

    Peguero is young, talented, and out of options. He's easily the best defensive outfielder and baserunner of this group but has been sidelined for over a week now with a wrist issue. I'd say his stock of making the team is down from where it was a week ago and he may be a DL candidate.

    Reimold is starting to get back into baseball shape and has slowly been picking up his performance with the bat. If he gets back to a level of play on par with where he was before his neck surgeries, he has a shot at making the team and possibly platooning with Lough in left field. That's a big if.

    Minor league options hurt Urrutia's case. He's bigger and ready to hit for more power this year, although his early Spring performance looks similar to what he did last season.

    Gonzalez is the wily 15-year vet who has hit well and can still play solid defense. He looks like a viable veteran backup option to have around if Manny hits DL...Finally, we have Almanzar, the Rule 5 pick who has flashed some hitting ability but is unrefined in his approach and a work in progress defensively. He'll likely be offered back to the Red Sox.

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