Five questions to ponder for Orioles spring training

February 13, 2013 | Luke Jones

Five questions to ponder for Orioles spring training

The Orioles elected to move previously-projected designated hitter Chris Davis to first base after deeming Reynolds too expensive, which has only left a question at the DH position as a platoon appears likely at this point with several options possible.

Despite being maligned for his defense and inability to hit left-handed pitching (a .140 average and .405 on-base plus slugging percentage in 96 plate appearances), Wilson Betemit is a very solid option at the DH spot against right-handed pitching. The 31-year-old batted .302 and slugged .502 against right-handers last season and carries a career .281 average against right-handed pitching in his career.

However, the real question will be how Showalter handles the designated hitter role against left-handed pitching as Betemit should come nowhere near a southpaw at any cost. Reimold could be used at DH against left-handed pitching with McLouth in left field, but the Orioles will also look at Danny Valencia, who was acquired from Boston in the offseason.

Valencia is coming off a miserable 2012 season (a .448 OPS in 161 plate apperances) split between Minnesota and Boston and has been unable to recapture the success of his rookie season when he hit .311 in 299 at-bats with the Twins in 2010. Duquette is hoping the 28-year-old’s career .316 average (326 career plate appearances) against left-handed pitching can be the right complement to Betemit hitting against right-handers, but Valencia will need to have a strong spring to put the memory of last season behind him.

He hasn’t gotten off on the right foot after being linked to Anthony Bosch’s Biogenesis clinic in a Yahoo! Sports report, but the 28-year-old has denied ever taking performance-enhancing drugs.

5. Will the World Baseball Classic have a negative impact on any of the club’s participants?

The Orioles will see six players in camp depart to participate in this year’s World Baseball Classic, but only four are of significant note as center fielder Adam Jones (United States), relievers Pedro Strop (Dominican Republic) and Luis Ayala (Mexico), and top infield prospect Jonathan Schoop (Netherlands) will all play in this year’s exhibition. Bullpen coach Bill Castro will serve as the pitching coach for the Dominican club while catchers Allan de San Miguel (Australia) and Chris Robinson (Canada) will also play in the WBC.

There isn’t as much to be worried over with position players, but there is always concern when pitchers compete in games holding more intensity this early as opposed to the routine-obsessed nature of spring training contests. Orioles fans will simply point to Jeremy Guthrie’s participation in the 2009 WBC and the worst of his five seasons in Baltimore followed as he pitched to a 5.04 earned run average and allowed a career-worst 35 home runs on his way to a 10-17 record.

Strop and Ayala each carry concerns as they will be expected to once again be valued members of the Baltimore bullpen. Strop’s control issues over the final two months of the 2012 season saw him go from a dominant eighth-inning setup man to an arm used sparingly down the stretch and in the postseason as he finished the season with 37 walks in 66 1/3 innings pitched. Ayala struggled in preventing inherited runners from scoring — allowing 44 percent to touch the plate — despite a 2.64 ERA and pitched in winter ball as the Orioles are already forcing him to take a break from throwing at the start of the spring.

In a perfect world, Showalter and the Orioles would prefer these players — particularly Strop and Ayala — to remain under their watchful eyes, but it’s difficult to discourage a player who’s taking pride in playing for his country in the tournament. At the very least, the Orioles will have someone in the organization to keep an eye on Strop with Castro serving as his pitching coach during the WBC.

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