Revisiting five questions for Orioles spring training

March 25, 2013 | Luke Jones

Raise your hand if you envisioned Brian Roberts putting together the type of spring we’ve seen from him. Anyone? I was admittedly harsh — and wasn’t alone — in assessing his chances of being able to contribute in the final season of a four-year contract, but Roberts has performed exceptionally this spring.

In 45 spring at-bats, Roberts is hitting .333 with one home run, four doubles, and four RBI and has even stolen three bases while showing his old aggressive nature on the basepaths — complete with head-first slides. He has spent much of the spring hitting in either the first or second spot in the order as it appears Showalter envisions him as the everyday second baseman.

It’s still very difficult to trust Roberts after he was limited to just 115 games over the last three seasons, but understanding what he’s been through on his road to recovery makes it much easier to root for the longtime infielder to stay healthy enough to contribute to a winning club. Despite showing a quick bat and aggressiveness on the bases, Roberts hasn’t been sharp defensively as his range hasn’t looked particularly good in some observers’ minds. How much of that can be contributed to the long layoff as well as simply being 35 years old remains to be seen, but this spring appears to have proven that Roberts is still capable of being a productive major leaguer if — and it’s still a big if — he can simply stay healthy.

Utility players Alexi Casilla and Ryan Flaherty are both good bets to make the 25-man roster at this point, so the Orioles will have two insurance policies behind Roberts if needed. However, Showalter has made it clear all along that Roberts is the best option the Orioles have at the position if he’s able to stay on the field.

There’s a long way to go before we’re talking about Roberts contributing like he did four or five years ago, but it would be a major boost to the 2013 Orioles if he can even be 80 percent of what he was before three years of injuries got the best of him. And even 100 games of solid production this season would go a long way toward some semblance of redemption for the second baseman.

4. How will Showalter handle the designated hitter spot in the order?

The answer to this question changed dramatically on Monday with veteran Wilson Betemit suffering a torn PCL while running the bases in a game against the Boston Red Sox, putting the fate of his season in jeopardy before it even begins.

The switch-hitting Betemit was in line to receive a large number of the at-bats against right-handed pitching after he posted a .302 batting average and .502 slugging percentage from the left side of the plate last season. It’s unknown whether the knee injury will sideline him for the entire season, but Showalter did not paint a promising picture after Monday’s game.

The Betemit injury might open the door for the Orioles to use Reimold on a more extensive basis at the designated hitter spot as it would allow Nate McLouth to play regularly in left field. This would likely give the Orioles their best offensive lineup and would be a nice way to try to keep Reimold as healthy as possible.

Steve Pearce now figures to have a very good chance to make the 25-man roster in the aftermath of the Betemit injury since the journeyman has put together an outstanding spring that includes six home runs and 15 RBI in 38 spring at-bats. Against left-handed pitchers, Showalter could elect to play Reimold in left and Pearce as the DH to insert an extra right-handed bat in the order and protect McLouth against tough southpaws.

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

Center fielder Adam Jones and relief pitcher Pedro Strop both competed in the WBC, and there have been no signs of wear and tear for either since they’ve returned to Sarasota.

The Orioles center fielder hit two home runs in Monday’s game to quell any concerns — if you really had them — about a 1-for-18 start to Grapefruit League action. Jones was 4-for-22 with a double and four RBI in the tournament.

Strop will be a little more interesting to watch as he appeared in six games covering 6 2/3 innings for the WBC champion Dominican Republic. The right-hander didn’t allow a run while striking out seven and walking none, but the workload was likely more than the Orioles would have handed Strop in the earlier portion of the spring.

Infield prospect Jonathan Schoop was a standout performer for the Netherlands (two home runs and six RBI in eight WBC games) and even hit a home run in Grapefruit League action before he was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk last week. He projects to be the starting shortstop for the Tides this season.

Of the Orioles’ WBC participants, Strop would appear to be the only one to really keep an eye on, but bullpen coach Bill Castro served as the pitching coach for the Dominican and kept a watchful eye on the Baltimore reliever throughout the tournament.