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Clevenger, Garcia make Orioles’ 25-man roster for Opening Day

Posted on 05 April 2015 by Luke Jones

In a unique position with a surplus of pitching and Chris Davis having one game remaining from last year’s 25-game suspension, the Orioles have elected to keep 14 pitchers on their 25-man roster for Opening Day.

For now, the Orioles will keep veteran Ryan Webb and Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia in a crowded bullpen for Monday’s opener against the Tampa Bay Rays. Owed a guaranteed $2.75 million this season, Webb passed through waivers late last week and cannot be sent to the minors without his consent. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette would like to move him, but the Orioles would not be able to expect much of anything in return as other clubs are aware of his status.

The 22-year-old Garcia is a former member of the Boston Red Sox organization and impressed this spring, posting a 0.87 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings this spring. The right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery in 2013 and was converted to the bullpen last season.

He will need to remain on the 25-man roster all season in order for the Orioles to keep him in the organization.

In a bit of a surprising move, Mount Saint Joseph graduate Steve Clevenger made the 25-man roster as the backup catcher to Caleb Joseph, who will start in place of the injured Matt Wieters to begin the season. Many expected former Red Sox catcher Ryan Lavarnway to make the club, but Clevenger was already on the 40-man roster.

Clevenger made the club to begin last season as the backup catcher, but he was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk last May when the Orioles elected to go with Joseph and veteran Nick Hundley in Wieters’ absence. The Pigtown native hit .275 with three doubles and six RBIs in 40 at-bats this spring.

The Orioles announced Sunday that veteran Ubaldo Jimenez will make his first start of the season on Saturday, confirming that he has made the starting rotation. This leaves the 24-year-old Kevin Gausman in a relief role for now, which may create problems in finding him regular work or keeping him stretched out for a potential starting role later this season.

Davis will be eligible to return to the 25-man roster on Tuesday, leaving an interesting decision for Duquette. If the club is unable to make a trade to clear space, Webb could be released or Gausman might be optioned to Norfolk to create a roster spot.

The Orioles also announced Sunday that they had reassigned Lavarnway and outfielder Nolan Reimold to minor-league camp and optioned long reliever T.J. McFarland to Norfolk.

Wieters (right elbow), shortstop J.J. Hardy (left shoulder), outfielder David Lough (left hamstring), and infielder Jimmy Paredes (lower back) were officially placed on the 15-day disabled list to begin the year. The stints for the first three were backdated to March 27, making them eligible to return as early as April 11. Paredes is eligible to be activated as soon as April 16 after straining his lower back lifting weights last week.

Below is a look at where the roster stands for now:

STARTING PITCHERS
RHP Chris Tillman
LHP Wei-Yin Chen
RHP Miguel Gonzalez
RHP Bud Norris
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez

RELIEF PITCHERS
RHP Kevin Gausman
RHP Jason Garcia
RHP Ryan Webb
LHP Wesley Wright
LHP Brian Matusz
RHP Brad Brach
RHP Tommy Hunter
RHP Darren O’Day
LHP Zach Britton

CATCHERS
Caleb Joseph
Steve Clevenger

INFIELDERS
Everth Cabrera
Ryan Flaherty
Manny Machado
Jonathan Schoop

OUTFIELDERS
Alejandro De Aza
Adam Jones
Steve Pearce
Travis Snider
Delmon Young

DISABLED LIST (will not count against 25-man roster)
SS J.J. Hardy (left shoulder)
OF David Lough (left hamstring)
INF Jimmy Paredes (lower back)
C Matt Wieters (right elbow)

SUSPENDED LIST (will not count against 25-man roster)
1B Chris Davis

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2015 Orioles preview: Ryan Lavarnway

Posted on 04 April 2015 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day now only days away, we continue to take a look at a member of the 2015 Orioles every day as they try to defend their American League East title this season.

March 9 – Adam Jones
March 10 – Chris Tillman
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Zach Britton
March 13 – Chris Davis
March 14 – Wei-Yin Chen
March 15 – Jonathan Schoop
March 16 – Travis Snider
March 17 – Kevin Gausman
March 18 – Alejandro De Aza
March 19 – Tommy Hunter
March 20 – Manny Machado
March 21 – Brad Brach
March 22 – Steve Pearce
March 23 – Darren O’Day
March 24 – Caleb Joseph
March 25 – Wesley Wright
March 26 – Delmon Young
March 27 – Miguel Gonzalez
March 28 – Ryan Flaherty
March 29 – Ubaldo Jimenez
March 30 – Everth Cabrera
March 31 – Bud Norris
April 1 – Matt Wieters
April 2 – Jimmy Paredes
April 3 – Brian Matusz

C Ryan Lavarnway

Opening Day age: 27

Contract status: Under club control through the 2018 season

Minor-league options remaining: None

2014 stats (with Boston): .000/.000/.000, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 R, 0 SB, 10 PA

Why to be impressed: After being selected off waivers by three different clubs this offseason, the former Red Sox catcher has impressed enough to earn the backup role behind Caleb Joseph while Matt Wieters continues to work his way back to full strength. The right-handed hitter has an .824 career on-base plus slugging percentage at the Triple-A level.

Why to be concerned: Despite hitting .299 in 77 at-bats for the Red Sox in 2013, he was moved to first base by the organization last season before missing significant time with a broken hamate bone. Lavarnway beat out Steve Clevenger with better defensive skills, but he’s not nearly as good as Wieters or Joseph behind the plate, giving him limited value as a backup catcher.

2015 outlook: Lavarnway has a career .565 OPS in 301 major league plate appearances and never established himself as a consistent option for Boston. The Orioles hope he won’t be needed at the major league level for long with Wieters expected back from Tommy John surgery sooner rather than later.

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sandoval

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2015 American League East preview

Posted on 04 April 2015 by Luke Jones

No team has won the American League East with fewer than 95 wins since the 2000 New York Yankees won just 87 games in the regular season before eventually winning the World Series.

That 14-year run will end this season with the division showing more parity — and vulnerability — than it has in a long time.

Below is a capsule of the five AL East clubs in their predicted order of finish:

1. BALTIMORE (2014 record: 96-66, first place)
Notable additions: INF Everth Cabrera, OF Travis Snider, LHP Wesley Wright
Notable losses: OF Nelson Cruz, OF Nick Markakis, LHP Andrew Miller
Why to like them: The defense remains excellent, which will again transform a solid but unspectacular rotation and an already-strong bullpen into a pitching staff good enough to seriously contend.
Why to dislike them: Dan Duquette rested on his laurels by not bringing in a safer bet to replace either Cruz or Markakis, which puts much dependence on players returning from injuries.
Player to watch: Snider is a former first-round pick and is coming off an excellent second half with Pittsburgh, making him a solid candidate to be the Orioles’ annual surprising performer.
2015 outlook (89-73): I don’t love this Orioles club, but the Buck Showalter effect as well as bounce-back years from Manny Machado and Chris Davis will be enough to offset the void left behind by Cruz and Markakis. It’s tough to shake the feeling that 2014 was their last best chance to win a pennant with this core, but the Orioles don’t have as many glaring weaknesses or questions as their AL East foes.

2. BOSTON (2014 record: 71-91, fifth place)
Notable additions: 3B Pablo Sandoval, OF Hanley Ramirez, RHP Rick Porcello, LHP Wade Miley, RHP Justin Masterson
Notable losses: OF Yoenis Cespedes, 3B Will Middlebrooks
Why to like them: After struggling to score runs last season, the revamped Red Sox are primed to have one of the best lineups in baseball with dependable veterans and high-upside youth.
Why to dislike them: Four of their five projected starting pitchers weren’t on the roster a year ago and all but Porcello posted an ERA above 4.00 in 2014.
Player to watch: Center fielder Mookie Betts has raked all spring as teammates and observers have gushed over his potential at the top of the Boston order.
2015 outlook (87-75): If a similar roster were constructed 10 years ago, the Red Sox would be the overwhelming favorite to win the AL East with such an imposing lineup and they still might do it anyway. However, the current pitching-rich era in baseball makes you doubt an underwhelming rotation and a suspect bullpen. The pitching is what will ultimately prevent Boston from seizing the AL East title.

3. TORONTO (2014 record: 83-79, third place)
Notable additions: 3B Josh Donaldson, C Russell Martin, OF Michael Saunders
Notable losses: OF Melky Cabrera, INF Brett Lawrie, LHP J.A. Happ
Why to like them: After already scoring plenty of runs last year, the Blue Jays have a more potent lineup with the addition of an MVP-caliber player like Donaldson and the veteran Martin.
Why to dislike them: The bullpen is suspect and the rotation will lean on graybeards R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle while hoping youngsters Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris develop quickly.
Player to watch: The 21-year-old lefty Norris has plenty of talent and will begin the season in the Toronto rotation despite logging just 58 1/3 innings above the Single-A level in the minors.
2015 outlook (83-79): Nothing gets people going more about a club’s potential than talented young pitching, but it rarely comes together as quickly as you’d like. That reality along with a bullpen lacking the arms to consistently back them up will be the Blue Jays’ undoing late in the season as they fade behind Baltimore and Boston.

4. TAMPA BAY (2014 record: 77-85, fourth place)
Notable additions: OF Steven Souza, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, OF/C John Jaso
Notable losses: UTI Ben Zobrist, OF Wil Myers, RHP Jeremy Hellickson
Why to like them: If they’re able to overcome some early injury concerns, the Rays probably have the best starting rotation in the division, which will keep them competitive.
Why to dislike them: Offense was always a weakness even in their best years, but no one scares you at all in the current lineup except for third baseman Evan Longoria.
Player to watch: The 25-year-old Souza shows promise, but the Rays desperately need the offensive success he enjoyed at Triple-A Syracuse last season to carry over with his new club.
2015 outlook (80-82): The overall makeup of this division would have screamed for you to bet on the underdog Rays in past years, but that was before the departures of manager Joe Maddon and general manager Andrew Friedman. With starting pitchers Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, and Matt Moore currently on the mend, the Rays will lag behind in the division early before improving as the year continues.

5. NEW YORK (2014 record: 84-78, second place)
Notable additions: SS Didi Gregorius, LHP Andrew Miller, RHP Nathan Eovaldi
Notable losses: RHP Hiroki Kuroda, RHP David Robertson, SS Derek Jeter
Why to like them: The upside of starting pitchers Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda speaks for itself if they can stay healthy.
Why to dislike them: Old, injury-prone, and expensive is no way to go through a 162-game season, which is exactly what the Yankees are trying to do at this point.
Player to watch: Reliever Dellin Betances is coming off a terrific season, but his velocity is down and his command has been poor this spring, which will cause him to share closer duties with Miller early on.
2015 outlook (78-84): The names you’ll find up and down the Yankees’ lineup would have had you salivating in 2011, but age and injuries will put too much pressure on a starting rotation praying that Tanaka’s elbow holds up and the 34-year-old Sabathia bounces back from knee surgery. The Yankees won’t be awful, but they will finish in last place for the first time since 1990.

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Webb reportedly clears waivers, Paredes likely heading to DL

Posted on 03 April 2015 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles needing to finalize their 25-man roster for the start of the 2015 season by Sunday, two more outcomes became evident on Friday afternoon.

According to The Sun, right-handed relief pitcher Ryan Webb has passed through waivers, which will likely lead to his departure from the organization. Meanwhile, the red-hot Jimmy Paredes is expected to be placed on the 15-day disabled list after injuring his lower back while lifting weights earlier this week.

Out of minor-league options and owed $2.75 million, Webb cannot be sent to Triple-A Norfolk without his consent and is still guaranteed his salary if he refuses to go to the minors. This means the Orioles will likely need to decide to either make room for him on the 25-man roster or to part ways with the 29-year-old while still paying him his money.

Asked about the matter on MASN Friday, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette would not expand on Webb’s future with the organization.

“Waivers are [supposed to be] confidential,” Duquette said. “Ryan Webb is still on our roster.”

Signed to a two-year, $4.5 million contract two offseasons ago, Webb pitched to a 3.83 ERA last season before he became the odd man out when the Orioles acquired lefty reliever Andrew Miller in late July. Webb hasn’t helped his cause this spring by pitching to a 6.75 ERA in 6 2/3 innings.

News of Paredes’ injury is disappointing after the switch-hitting infielder batted .364 with 10 extra-base hits, 12 RBIs, and a 1.005 on-base plus slugging percentage this spring. With shortstop J.J. Hardy and outfielder David Lough also expected to begin the season on the DL, Paredes was expected to make the roster out of spring training.

The Paredes injury may open the door for outfielder Nolan Reimold to make the club after being a non-roster invitee. The 31-year-old has hit two home runs and posted a .928 OPS this spring.

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matusz

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2015 Orioles preview: Brian Matusz

Posted on 03 April 2015 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day now only days away, we continue to take a look at a member of the 2015 Orioles every day as they try to defend their American League East title this season.

March 9 – Adam Jones
March 10 – Chris Tillman
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Zach Britton
March 13 – Chris Davis
March 14 – Wei-Yin Chen
March 15 – Jonathan Schoop
March 16 – Travis Snider
March 17 – Kevin Gausman
March 18 – Alejandro De Aza
March 19 – Tommy Hunter
March 20 – Manny Machado
March 21 – Brad Brach
March 22 – Steve Pearce
March 23 – Darren O’Day
March 24 – Caleb Joseph
March 25 – Wesley Wright
March 26 – Delmon Young
March 27 – Miguel Gonzalez
March 28 – Ryan Flaherty
March 29 – Ubaldo Jimenez
March 30 – Everth Cabrera
March 31 – Bud Norris
April 1 – Matt Wieters
April 2 – Jimmy Paredes

LHP Brian Matusz

Opening Day age: 28

Contract status: Under club control through the 2016 season

Minor-league options remaining: None

2014 stats: 2-3, 3.48 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 9.2 K/IP, 7 HR, 51 2/3 innings

Why to be impressed: Even if Matusz never lived up to the potential of being a first-round pick in 2008, he’s carved out a nice role as a lefty specialist with a career 3.26 ERA pitching in relief and struck out 9.2 batters per nine innings while holding lefties to a .223 average in 2014. The southpaw was stretched out this spring, posting an exceptional 1.88 ERA and striking out 12 in 14 1/3 innings of work to draw interest from other clubs.

Why to be concerned: A $3.2 million salary is less than ideal for a reliever who surrendered an .876 on-base plus slugging percentage against right-handed hitters a year ago. With a crowded bullpen that now includes fellow lefty Wesley Wright, Matusz doesn’t possess as much value to manager Buck Showalter considering he is often used for only a batter or two.

2015 outlook: It’s no secret that the Orioles shopped Matusz all spring with the New York Mets appearing to be a potential suitor before they ultimately turned elsewhere for left-handed relief help. Matusz now appears more likely to begin the regular season in Baltimore, but the decision to tender him a contract this winter remains a puzzling one as the organization tries to figure out what to do with a surplus of bullpen arms. If he sticks around, Matusz is good for an ERA around 3.50 in which he gets the best of left-handed hitters and is kept away from righty sluggers as much as possible.

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Orioles set spring training attendance record

Posted on 03 April 2015 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

With Friday’s crowd of 7,329 for the final home game of Orioles Spring Training at Ed Smith Stadium, the Orioles have drawn a total of 112,258 fans for 15 home games in Sarasota this season. Since 2010, when the club’s Major League operations moved to Sarasota, 544,316 fans have enjoyed Spring Training baseball at Ed Smith Stadium.

This year, the club set a franchise record with an average per game attendance of 7,484, topping the previous record average of 7,454 set during the 2014 Spring Training season. The Orioles also tied a franchise record with nine sellouts this spring, including a record eight consecutive sellouts from March 7 to March 22.

“As the Orioles wrap up another Spring Training season, we are incredibly grateful to our fans for their tremendous support,” said DAVID ROVINE, Vice President of Orioles-Sarasota. “As evidenced by our record-setting attendance figures this season, Ed Smith Stadium and the greater Sarasota area continue to be a premiere destination for baseball fans throughout Florida, the Mid-Atlantic region, and the entire nation. While Spring Training may be coming to a close, we look forward to hosting many exciting events throughout the year.”

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Five things that can’t happen for 2015 Orioles

Posted on 03 April 2015 by Luke Jones

It’s funny how we annually try to pinpoint absolutes in assessing what must go right or what can’t go wrong for the Orioles to have a successful season.

There are very few absolutes on which you can count over the course of a 162-game schedule. Look no further than last year to realize just how true that can be.

You might have predicted last spring that nearly everything needed to go right for the Orioles to win their first American League East title in 17 years. Instead, they endured the absence of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters for most of the year, another season-ending knee injury to Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado, and an abysmal campaign from 2013 home run king Chris Davis that ended with a 25-man suspension for Adderall use.

If given a preview of only those subplots last spring, you would have been more inclined to predict a 96-loss campaign as opposed to 96 victories and winning the division by a dozen games.

You just never know and that’s what makes it fun, as manager Buck Showalter would say.

With that reality in mind, below is a stab at five things that can’t happen for the Orioles in 2015 after we looked at what factors must go right on Thursday. In an effort to avoid being redundant in the wake of the first piece, I avoided the polar opposites of the factors already discussed.

1. The worm turns on the health of the pitching

In addition to recapturing the success from last season, Orioles pitching would desperately like to extend its run of good fortune in the health department as only four pitchers — Tommy Hunter, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, and Ubaldo Jimenez –visited the 15-day disabled list in 2014. Of those four, only Jimenez spent more than 18 days on the DL and there was plenty of external debate over the severity of his ankle injury as he was in the midst of a disappointing season.

Injuries are a part of the game and it’d be difficult for the Orioles to expect that same level of health, but you can only hope the baseball gods don’t decide to exact revenge in 2015. Baltimore was one of only 10 teams in the majors last year to have four pitchers make 25 or more starts while only two clubs — Kansas City and Washington — had five pitchers make 25 or more.

The odds are not in the Orioles’ favor to repeat last year’s injury-light run as any given club has a 65 percent likelihood of having two starters ailing at the same time at some point in a season, according to FanGraphs. That reality makes it clear why executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was so hesitant to part with any of the club’s top six starters this winter.

While many focused on the misfortune of the injuries suffered by Wieters and Machado last season, the rotation and the bullpen were as healthy as you could have hoped for on the way to 96 wins.

2. Corner outfield spots become a wasteland

It’s been impossible to escape the lamenting over the departure of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis this offseason as the Orioles weren’t willing to invest the combined $101 million that the pair received elsewhere in free agency. The veterans accounted for a total of 207 starts at the corner outfield spots that others will need to assume in 2015.

No two individuals will be expected to fill their roles exclusively as some combination of Steve Pearce, Alejandro De Aza, Delmon Young, Travis Snider, David Lough, and possibly Nolan Reimold will receive early opportunities. Even if you thought Cruz and Markakis were overpaid, the Orioles still need to account for the 116 extra-base hits the two produced last year.

Of course, the club can reasonably expect better offensive returns from the likes of Davis, Machado, Wieters, and J.J. Hardy at their respective positions, but there’s a lot of unknown that Showalter will be facing in trying to pull the right strings with a cast of unproven or flawed characters flanking center fielder Adam Jones.

The Orioles don’t necessarily need the overwhelming success of platoons resembling the best days of John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke, but poor production from the corner outfield spots is a recipe for a lineup likely struggling to score runs.

3. Matt Wieters is a shell of his old self defensively

There was a reason why I didn’t include Wieters having a bounce-back year as one of the things that must happen for the Orioles. The truth is they proved they could win without him last season.

Make no mistake, the Orioles would benefit from a better offensive catcher than Caleb Joseph, but a more uncomfortable proposition might be a Wieters behind the plate who is a shell of what he used to be defensively. If Wieters is fully cleared, Showalter will immediately reinstall him as the starter, but that doesn’t guarantee his defense will warrant him being the overwhelming regular, potentially creating an awkward situation.

Last season, Joseph produced 1.5 defensive wins above replacement — a better mark than Wieters in either of his last two full seasons — and the Orioles allowed the eighth-lowest total of stolen bases in the majors. For a club that prides itself in controlling the opponent’s running game, Wieters’ defense is more important than his offense.

Yes, it’s important to have Wieters back, but him returning as a defensive liability while also remembering that his on-base plus slugging percentage steadily declined from 2011 through 2013 would be worrisome. With a small number of catchers having undergone Tommy John surgery at the major league level over the years, it’s impossible to truly know what to expect.

4. Injuries continue to zap J.J. Hardy of his power

A back injury that lingered for much of the 2014 season limited the three-time Gold Glove shortstop to just nine home runs and a .372 slugging percentage, which is what made the news of a shoulder injury last week disheartening for the 32-year-old.

Hardy isn’t expected to miss much time, but the Orioles are counting on him to be part of the equation to fill the power void left behind by Cruz. Before Hardy signed a three-year, $40 million contract last fall, the organization had to be expecting a return to power numbers similar to what he posted in his first three years in Baltimore.

Back and shoulder issues for a shortstop on the wrong side of 30 are worrisome, especially when you’re counting on Hardy to hit a few more out of the ballpark this season. His defense is his best asset, but the Orioles need more than that while paying him an average of just over $13 million per season over the next three years.

5. The underwhelming offseason and the reality of 11 pending free agents create a tight clubhouse

Several players made no secret about their disappointment in this past offseason in watching the departures of Markakis, Cruz, and lefty reliever Andrew Miller while seeing minimal additions for the 2015 season. Duquette has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt, but it’s human nature for veterans to be disappointed to see a longtime Oriole like Markakis depart.

On top of this, the club has 11 players currently slated to become free agents next offseason including position players such as Davis, Wieters, Pearce, De Aza, and Young and starting pitchers Norris and Wei-Yin Chen. That’s why many are viewing 2015 as the Orioles’ last chance to seriously contend for at least a couple years.

Showalter is as good as any manager in baseball in cultivating a loose clubhouse and strong player leadership remains despite Markakis’ departure, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to wonder if players might be too tight this season, especially if the club were to get off to a slow start.

And the memory of a disappointing four-game sweep in last year’s American League Championship Series could creep back into players’ psyche in the process.

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2015 Orioles preview: Jimmy Paredes

Posted on 02 April 2015 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day now only days away, we continue to take a look at a member of the 2015 Orioles every day as they try to defend their American League East title this season.

March 9 – Adam Jones
March 10 – Chris Tillman
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Zach Britton
March 13 – Chris Davis
March 14 – Wei-Yin Chen
March 15 – Jonathan Schoop
March 16 – Travis Snider
March 17 – Kevin Gausman
March 18 – Alejandro De Aza
March 19 – Tommy Hunter
March 20 – Manny Machado
March 21 – Brad Brach
March 22 – Steve Pearce
March 23 – Darren O’Day
March 24 – Caleb Joseph
March 25 – Wesley Wright
March 26 – Delmon Young
March 27 – Miguel Gonzalez
March 28 – Ryan Flaherty
March 29 – Ubaldo Jimenez
March 30 – Everth Cabrera
March 31 – Bud Norris
April 1 – Matt Wieters

UTI Jimmy Paredes

Opening Day age: 26

Contract status: Under club control through the 2019 season

Minor-league options remaining: None

2014 stats: .286/.308/.444, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 12 R, 4 SB, 65 PA

Why to be impressed: Building on a strong finish to the 2014 season with the Orioles, Paredes has produced a terrific spring with a 1.005 on-base plus slugging percentage in 55 at-bats to all but guarantee himself a roster spot to begin the season. His ability to hit from both sides of the plate makes him a viable offensive piece to come off the bench in late-inning situations.

Why to be concerned: Despite his potential with the bat, Paredes is very limited defensively no matter where manager Buck Showalter might put him in the field. The injury to David Lough has created roster space for the time being, but Paredes will need to really contribute with the bat to justify his place on the club for the long haul.

2015 outlook: He could take some at-bats away from Delmon Young as an occasional designated hitter, but Paredes wouldn’t figure to see much playing time unless the Orioles are dealing with a slew of injuries. It remains to be seen how long he will stick on the roster, but his strong showing last year and fantastic spring make him deserving of an opportunity. Even if Paredes cools off and the Orioles decide they can’t continue to carry him on the 25-man roster in the coming weeks, they’d like to keep him in the organization for depth, but he’d have to pass through waivers to make it back to the minors.

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verrett

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Orioles’ Rule 5 pick Verrett claimed off waivers by Texas

Posted on 02 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Feeling the roster crunch of having too many pitchers for few available roster spots, the Orioles saw Rule 5 selection Logan Verrett claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers on Thursday.

The 24-year-old right-hander pitched well this spring, posting a 1.93 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 14 innings of work. He was one of two Rule 5 pitchers in major league camp this spring, joining right-hander Jason Garcia.

Previously with the New York Mets organization, Verrett was the more polished of the two Rule 5 pitchers, but Garcia is considered to have more upside and could still be an option in the bullpen. In 2014, Verrett went 11-5 with a 4.33 ERA for Triple-A Las Vegas.

There had been some discussion that the Orioles might attempt to work out a trade with the Mets to keep Verrett in the organization while allowing them to option him to the minors, but he needed to pass through waivers in order for that to happen and the Rangers have been desperate for pitching help all spring.

With a crowded bullpen that will feature Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, Tommy Hunter, Brad Brach, and Wesley Wright, the Orioles are still figuring out what to do with lefty specialist Brian Matusz and right-hander Ryan Webb — both are out of options — in addition to trying to make room for Garcia. It’s possible that right-handed starter Kevin Gausman could also start the season pitching in relief, further crowding the bullpen.

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Five things that must go right for 2015 Orioles

Posted on 02 April 2015 by Luke Jones

It’s funny how we annually try to pinpoint absolutes in assessing what must go right or what cannot go wrong for the Orioles to have a successful season.

There are very few absolutes on which you can count over the course of a 162-game schedule. Look no further than last year to realize just how true that can be.

You might have predicted last spring that nearly everything needed to go right for the Orioles to win their first American League East title in 17 years. Instead, they endured the absence of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters for most of the year, another season-ending knee injury to Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado, and an abysmal campaign from 2013 home run king Chris Davis that ended with a 25-man suspension for Adderall use.

If given a preview of only those subplots last spring, you would have been more inclined to predict a 96-loss campaign as opposed to 96 victories and winning the division by a dozen games.

You just never know and that’s what makes it fun, as manager Buck Showalter would say.

With that reality in mind, below is a stab at five things that must go right for the Orioles in 2015:

1. Starting pitchers continue to outperform their metrics

It’s no secret that many statheads and projections haven’t liked the Orioles over the last three years and for good reason. They haven’t looked the part of other winners in the 21st century as they hit home runs but don’t get on base at a high rate and their pitching doesn’t rely on the strikeout, which is one of the most expensive commodities in the game.

But where the Orioles excelled in 2014 was a starting rotation that took advantage of an exceptional defense behind it. Starters didn’t strike many out (11th in the AL) and walked too many (fourth-most in the AL) — the intense struggles of Ubaldo Jimenez certainly skewed the latter ranking — but pitching coach Dave Wallace preaches to his pitchers to trust their defense, which they did with great success as the season progressed.

After the All-Star break, the Orioles posted a starter ERA of 2.98 after a 4.09 mark in the season’s first half. Their starter strikeout numbers even improved from 6.5 to 7.4 per nine innings pitched.

Many are predicting a market correction for the Orioles pitching after they ranked third in the AL in ERA but only 11th in fielding independent pitching (FIP), which eliminates factors a pitcher can’t control such as his defense. The good news is Baltimore starters figure to once again have Gold Glove-caliber fielders behind them.

The starting pitching continuing to find success is the single-most important factor needed for the Orioles to not only preserve the bullpen for the later months but to contend for another playoff berth.

2. Manny Machado takes a (healthy) step forward

The questions about Wieters’ health will likely linger for much of the season, but the Orioles proved they could win without their All-Star catcher last season and Caleb Joseph has shown an ability to handle himself well from a defensive standpoint. Machado possesses the highest upside of any player in a lineup needing to replace Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis.

He’s already proven himself to be a Gold Glove defensive player, but his 68 extra-base hits in his first full season in the majors as a 20-year-old suggest the sky is the limit in terms of offensive potential. You have to chalk up 2014 as a lost year considering he was still working his way back from the first knee injury and went down again when he was finally hitting his stride at the plate in the second half.

Unlike Wieters, Machado’s health hasn’t been an issue all spring as he’s running better than ever with two healthy knees and has benefited from his first full spring since 2013. Yes, you have to hold your breath that health won’t again become a concern, but there have been no reservations so far.

Beyond staying in the lineup, Machado taking a step forward with the bat would go a long way in quelling any concerns about Baltimore’s offensive potential. He doesn’t need to put up MVP-caliber numbers, but many facets of his game hint that it’s possible in the future if he can stay healthy.

3. Steve Pearce proves he isn’t a one-year wonder

In watching Cruz and Markakis depart via free agency, the Orioles are clearly counting on the best story of the 2014 season to provide a productive sequel in his first full year as a regular. Many spent the winter trying to explain Pearce’s breakthrough at age 31, with explanations ranging from better health and finally receiving an extended opportunity to improved swing mechanics and an uncanny ability to hammer pitches up in the zone.

Expecting a repeat of his .930 on-base plus slugging percentage from a year ago would be asking too much, but his patience alone makes him a good candidate to once again be productive and help fill in the gaps left behind by Cruz and Markakis. His versatility in being able to play good defense at first base as well as at the corner outfield spots is extremely valuable for Showalter over the course of a season.

You should never look into spring training stats too much, but five homers and a .951 OPS in the Grapefruit League indicate the former journeyman isn’t resting on the laurels of 2014.

4. Chris Davis looks more like the hitter he was in 2012 and 2013 than last year

No one expects Davis to hit 53 homers like he did two seasons ago, but the Orioles need much more than the .196 average and .704 OPS he provided last season.

The question has been asked over and over about how Baltimore will replace Cruz’s 40 homers from a year ago, and the truth is that Cruz himself was highly unlikely to do that again in 2015. Still, the Orioles need to make up that production with Davis having the opportunity to contribute a great deal to that puzzle.

The increased use of the shift isn’t going away, which won’t do any favors for his batting average moving forward, but Davis insists that the oblique injury he suffered last April hindered his power all season. The 29-year-old has talked about bunting on occasion to offset the shift, but his power returning to at least his 2012 level (33 homers and a .501 slugging percentage) is more valuable than obsessing too much over his batting average.

With free agency looming, will the real Davis emerge? The Orioles would benefit greatly if the guy from a couple years ago resurfaces.

5. Another diamond in the rough emerges this season

In 2012, it was Miguel Gonzalez and Nate McLouth. Last year, Pearce and Joseph provided contributions that no one would have predicted.

If the Orioles are to return to the postseason for the third time in four years, they will inevitably need an individual or two to come out of nowhere to pay dividends. It’s the reason why executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette brings in so many minor-league free agents, journeymen, and players who make you say, “Who?” on a yearly basis.

Could it be former first-round pick Travis Snider building on a hot second half with Pittsburgh last year?

Is the returning Nolan Reimold finally going to stay healthy enough to contribute at some point this season?

Will Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia make the club and use his lively arm to become a better-than-expected contributor in the bullpen?

Does a strong finish to last season and a terrific spring carry over for Jimmy Paredes?

Or are we likely speculating about someone who isn’t yet with the organization?

It’s easy to laugh now at the aforementioned possibilities, but stranger things have already happened over the last few years.

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