Arguably off to the best start of his major league career, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones rarely knows who will be playing to his left or right on any given night.
That unrest at the corner outfield spots has been one of the Orioles’ biggest problems through the first six weeks of the 2015 season as the quintet of Delmon Young, Alejandro De Aza, Travis Snider, Steve Pearce, and David Lough haven’t met expectations. After the offseason departures of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, the Orioles planned to mix and match their options in left and right depending on opposing pitchers and whoever might be swinging a hot bat at any given time.
Instead, it’s been no man’s land, leaving manager Buck Showalter searching for any production he can find. Entering Monday, Orioles left fielders have hit only .208 with a putrid .593 on-base plus slugging percentage. Right field has looked good from a batting average standpoint (.301), but that traditional power spot has provided only one home run and a .397 slugging percentage.
Playing more regularly than last season, Young has hit .292, but he has just four extra-base hits and an anemic .337 slugging percentage, making him less than desirable as a choice for the cleanup spot where he’s often appeared. His defense has been better than expected in right field, but Young rarely makes you feel comfortable watching him roam the outfield.
De Aza is second on the club with 27 strikeouts and has relinquished his role as the regular leadoff hitter against right-handed pitching due to a .209 average and just four walks in 92 plate appearances. His defense has also been inconsistent as he’s misjudged balls and occasionally thrown to the wrong base.
Snider was decent with the bat early and currently sports a .700 OPS, but his defensive lapses in April clearly led to him falling out of favor with Showalter. The former Pittsburgh Pirate has started just seven games in May.
Despite a dramatic walk-off homer against Boston on April 25, Lough has done nothing else to present himself as a player who should receive more playing time since returning from the 15-day disabled list.
And though he’s been reinvented as a second baseman this month due to a rash of injuries at the position, Pearce has failed to approach the same stratosphere of his 2014 success as he’s hitting just .188 on the season. A .208 batting average on balls put in play indicates Pearce has hit into tough luck, but that can’t completely make up for below-replacement level numbers from a veteran hitter who posted a .930 OPS a season ago.
Beyond searching for a time machine to travel back to the offseason, what can the Orioles do?
The organization has long-term visions of making current designated hitter Jimmy Paredes a corner outfielder, but much of that work will need to be done next offseason and moving him now would likely only shift one of the struggling outfielders to the DH role anyway.
Mentioned in the spring as possibilities to make contributions in the Orioles outfield at some point this season, Nolan Reimold is hitting just .238 and Dariel Alvarez is batting .240 at Triple-A Norfolk.
Beyond the possibility of a trade — which appears to be an eventual necessity at this point — the Orioles might be inclined to take a look at Chris Parmelee, a 2006 first-round pick of the Minnesota Twins who signed as a minor-league free agent in the offseason. The 27-year-old is only a career .249 hitter in 901 major league plate appearances, but he has raked for the Tides in 2015, hitting .338 and posting a .904 OPS with three homers, 11 doubles, 22 RBIs, and 21 walks in 139 at-bats.
Parmelee has experience playing the corner outfield spots as well as first base in the majors, and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said over the weekend that he’s someone on the Orioles’ radar as a potential call-up. Of course, no one can view Parmelee as a long-term solution, but perhaps it’s time for Baltimore to shake up the current outfield roster with some different competition in hopes of sparking more production.
Regardless of how they proceed, the Orioles cannot continue to receive such little production from two positions traditionally viewed as run-producing spots.
One of the biggest questions entering the season would be how the corner outfield spots would shake out with Markakis and Cruz no longer options to flank Jones.
So far, the plan has been nothing short of a colossal disappointment.