• Apr
    06

    Thoughts on the 2009 Orioles

    Well here we are and although I’ve spent a good portion of my times over the last few weeks gathering and writing information on the minor leagues, I’ve also been paying attention to what’s going on with the Orioles of course.

     

    To say this spring has probably not gone as hoped is probably an understatement, especially when you consider the Orioles rotation includes Alfredo Simon, Mark Hendrickson, and Adam Eaton. In case you were wondering, this is like saying the Orioles have Willis Roberts (Simon), Bruce Chen (Hendrickson), and Steve Trachsel (Eaton) in the rotation. Not exactly the kind of guys I’m sure manager Dave Tremebly and pitching coach Rick Kranitz envisioned when they started the spring.

     

    If that’s not enough to scare you, the “Ace” of the staff Jeremy Guthrie was downright terrible this spring with a straight, flat fastball that was getting hit around like a Terry Mathews offering by hitters across the globe. Grant it his normal spring routine was messed up by the ill-timed and self described “Wolrd Baseball Classic,” but what concerns me is that his fastball had life to it. His changeup was pretty decent, and that’s a good sign, but I‘m not sure how or why his fastball has lost so much movement. Perhaps it was just a dead arm period that he was going through, but the concern is that he didn’t throw well all spring. That’s before, during, or after the WBC.

     

    Second start Koji Uehara was pretty darn impressive all spring, but there are still concerns on how he’ll hold up over 30+ starts and also how he’ll adjust once hitters see him a few times. His control and pitchability should allow him to remain fairly effective, but it’ll be interesting to see how effective he remains once teams see him once or twice. Still, Koji has been the most effective starter the Orioles had this spring so he’ll get the benefit of the doubt until he proves otherwise.

     

    It’ll also be interesting to see who will go when Eaton is added to the roster before his first start, which could come as early as Sunday. The top three candidates are Matt Albers, Brian Bass and more personal favorite to be jettisoned Danys Baez. Albers is in the mix only because he has an option left, but I sure would hate to have look him in the eyes and tell him he was going back to the minors so we could keep a pitcher who has not been effective since 2005.

     

    I don’t think Bass should be in the mix since he had an effective spring and has at least shown he can be a valuable middle reliever, something this club is going to a lot of this season. However, Baez is due $5.5 million this season and after eating Jay Gibbons contract last season, it’ll be interesting if Andy MacPhail will eat another fairly large contract, even if he wasn’t to be blamed for the terrible contract in the first place.

     

    In the end, if I were any of these three, I would not want to have any horrific outings over the next week and multiple poor outings could spell their doom. If it were me though, Baez would be the guy to go because the Orioles are going to need long men like Albers and Bass, especially considering the starting rotation being what it is right now.

     

    The Bench

    Let me be the first to say that the Orioles have put together their first impressive bench in a long, long time. I applaud the Orioles with going with 12 pitchers instead of 13 for no other reason then they gave themselves more versatility and options on the bench. It’s hard to imagine Ty Wigginton staying on the bench too often, especially with his versatility and power, but he’s the best non-starter this team has had since Melvin Mora played super sub in 2003. He’s also the kind of blue-collar guy that Trembley loves and I’m sure he’s going to see a lot of at bats against left-handed starters and spelling Mora at third.

     

    Ryan Freel came over in the Ramon Hernandez trade and brings versatility around the infield and outfield, but more importantly brings some speed to the bench. Freel is another hard nosed blue collar guy who can provide a spark when needed late in games and gives Trembley a nice little speed option if the opposing team is trying to get away with using a poor defensive catcher late in games.

     

    One of the last Orioles to be acquired this spring was utility infielder Robert Andino, who was acquired from the Marlins for the ineffective, but out of options, Hayden Penn. The soon to be 25-year old was buried behind Hanley Ramirez with the Marlins and has not hit at the major league level in a part-time role, but he brings a decent minor league track record and more importantly, a legitimate glove up the middle. As good as Cesar Itzuris will be for the Orioles defense this season, the team did not have an effective backup option and considering the fact that Itzuris has only played over 135 games in two of his eight season in the big leagues, there’s a good chance he’ll see some decent playing time at some point this season. After watching the Orioles run out the likes of Freddie Bynum, Luis Hernandez, Alex Cintron, Brandon Fahey and Juan Castro last year, Andino is the first guy who has a bit of an upside, but who more importantly, should not be a defensive down grade when Itzuris is out.

     

    Finally, catcher Chad Moeller will keep Matt Wieters’ roster spot warm, but until then he brings the old Crash Davis type of value. He knows the American league batters and has a good reputation for working with young pitchers, which might actually make him more valuable at Norfolk than Baltimore this year, even though obviously I’m sure Moeller won’t agree with that assessment.

     

    The Lineup

     

    Fresh off of signing a four-year extension this off season, Brian Roberts will lead-off  and play second base of course, but he’s coming off a spring where he missed some at bats due various illnesses so there may be a question of whether he’s ready to go or not. Even if he has  slow start, there’s little to worry about since Roberts is on the steadiest players in baseball.

     

    Batting second this year is center fielder Adam Jones. The second year player has been named by a lot of experts as a breakout performer this year and after showing a renewed interest in stealing bases this spring, a 20-homerun/20- steal season is not out he question.

     

    Nick Markakis will move back to the number three hole this year after finding some success in the number two hole last year. Markakis has been very steady through is first three years in the major leagues, but some believe this will be the year he breaks out from star status to super star status. Aubrey Huff will be hard pressed to duplicate his strong season last year, but there’s no reason not to expect 25+ homers and a .280+ batting average. His defense at first base can be questionable at times, but he really cemented himself as a force with the bat last year and that bat will determine his value to the club this year as well.

     

    Like Huff, Melvin Mora will be hard pressed to replicate a season where he was one of the best clutch hitters in the game last year. Over the second half of last season, few hitters were better, but at 37-years old, Mora will have to hold back father time one more time if he expects to come close to his numbers from last season. Thankfully with Wigginton on the roster, the Orioles can keep him fresh by giving him more days off this year while not losing much with the bat.

     

    Luke Scott will move to the designated hitter role and although it’s never been said officially, you have to imagine he’s going to lose some at bats against left-handed pitching to Wigginton and possibly Freel, although I expect Freel would spell Felix Pie at times against left-handers. Scott proved to be a good bat against right-handed pitching last year and reminds me a lot of John Lowenstein with his bat and even with his defensive abilities which are below average, but not terrible.

     

    Greg Zaun will do the bulk of the catching until Wieters gets his promotion sometime in the first part of this season. Zaun has a decent bat, but his defensive abilities over the last few years have been slightly below average and the injury to his arm/shoulder this spring will not be helpful. Zaun receives the ball pretty well behind the plate, but let’s face it, he’s a career back up who is holding Wieters spot. If Zaun struggles to throw out runners early on, expect to see Wieters closer to that April 17th date than the June 1st that some are predicting.

     

    Felix Pie is the newcomer who will be under the microscope with Orioles fans since he’s been given left field despite being out performed by Luis Montanez and Nolan Reimold during spring training. However, Pie is out of options while those two had options remaining, and the Orioles want to give the former top prospect every chance to show what he do against major league pitcher. Pie is a better defensive outfielder then anyone else the Orioles can put out there and he’s certainly got better speed. The question will be his bat and whether or not he’s going to be able to hit consistently at the major league level. Terry Crowley has worked very hard with Pie this spring and some of that hard work started to pay off later in the spring. I fully expect Pie to struggle for awhile, but the Orioles will have a better idea of what they have by late June.

     

    Finally, we already talked about Itzuris earlier, but he’s going to upgrade the team’s up the middle defense and anything he gives the team with the bat will be a bonus. He does add the added bonus of having a little speed so hopefully he can do enough to help out occasionally with the bat.

    The Bullpen

     

    The Bullpen should be a strength for the club as long as Trembley can figure out a way to not overwork it. I know Trembley took some heat for his bullpen management last year, but when your starters consistently can’t get you into the 6th or 7th innings, any manager is going to eventually burn out his bullpen, especially if they lose their middle relievers like he did with Matt Albers last year.

     

    Speaking of that, Albers and Bass are going to be two of the most important relievers on this club due to their ability eat innings and hopefully allow Trembley not to have to use more relievers than he has to when one of his starters fail to get into that 6th or 7th inning.

     

    The Orioles appear to be heading into the season with George Sherrill as the closer again but I still think his better role is as a matchup guy. Luckily this season Chris Ray is back and I really think by June he’ll be the main closer again. Jim Johnson is back and he’s tightened up his curveball and looks to be healthy. Trembley has to avoid over using him this year but with the return of Ray and more effective Jamie Walker, that shouldn’t be a problem. Dennis Sarfate returns healthy as well and the Orioles hope he’s able to harness his high 90s stuff. He should also be an effective multiple-innings pitching in that 6th or 7th inning time frame. Baez finishes off the bullpen, but unless he can prove he can be an effective middle reliever, his role on the club is redundant.

     

    The Future

     

    A lot of fans were concerned when player like Reimold, Montanez, and pitcher Brad Bergesen were sent o the minors, but I’ll bet all three of them will end up getting their chances this season in Baltimore. I fully expect Bergesen will be in the rotation no later than mid-June if not before. Trembley and Kranitz were very impressed by his control and demeanor on the mound and it’s not hard to imagine the club will have an opening in the rotation sooner than later. Unless he crashes and burns at Norfolk, Bergesen should be the first starter recalled. David Hernandez also impressed the brass so he could also get his chance this season and reliever Wilfredo Perez just needs to show he can pitch on back to back days effectively and he could find himself in the bullpen if an opening occurs as well. Don’t forget about Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta either. Tillman gets the nod first because he’s on the 40-man roster, but Arrieta opened some eyes as well this spring. In the long run, this club is going to use a lot of pitchers so don’t be surprised to see the Norfolk/Baltimore express to be busy this year.

     

    Conclusion

     

    The expectation of this club is going to be about as low as it’s been in the last 15 years due to its rotation concerns, but that might actually work to their advantage. Teams could overlook the Orioles and with an offense that looks pretty balanced for the most part along with an improved bench and solid bullpen, this team could be more competitive than some believe. As I’ve heard Trembley say on several occasions, this club will go as far as its rotation takes them.


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Tony Pente

Tony has owned and operated Orioles Hangout since 1996 and is well known for his knowledge of the Baltimore Orioles organization from top to bottom. He's a frequent guest on Baltimore-area sports radio stations and can be heard regularly on the 105.7 FM The Fan. His knowledge and contacts within the Orioles minor league system and the major league baseball scouting industry is unparalleled in the Baltimore media and is known as an expert on the Orioles prospects.

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