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Pearce, Roe inching closer toward return to Orioles

Posted on 19 August 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — As the Orioles continue to search for consistent production in left field, outfielder and first baseman Steve Pearce appears to be moving closer to a return from an oblique strain.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters prior to Wednesday’s game against the New York Mets that Pearce took live batting practice in Sarasota, but the 32-year-old was hit in the back by a pitch in his third at-bat, bringing an end to his session. Should Pearce respond well to hitting live pitching and feel no ill effects from the hit by pitch, the Orioles are hoping to send him on a minor-league rehab assignment in the near future.

Baltimore is currently using a platoon of Henry Urrutia and Nolan Reimold in left field after exhausting a number of unsuccessful options over the course of the 2015 season. Of course, Pearce was in the midst of a poor campaign of his own with a .227 average in 193 plate appearances, but he might represent the organization’s best internal option of receiving production in left field if he can channel his 2014 success over the final weeks of the season.

Pearce was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left oblique strain on July 22 and is eligible to be activated at any point. After a horrendous start in which he batted just .183 through June 3, Pearce was hitting .321 with an .856 on-base plus slugging percentage over his last 59 plate appearances before the injury.

In other health-related news, right-handed relief pitcher Chaz Roe threw off flat ground on Wednesday, the first time he’s picked up a baseball since being placed on the 15-day DL with right shoulder tendinitis. Roe will repeat that task a couple more times before throwing off a mound and could then go on a brief minor-league rehab assignment.

He is eligible to return from the DL on Aug. 25, and the club remains hopeful that he will be able to return close to that date if he isn’t quite ready at the conclusion of the minimum 15 days.

Showalter said Matt Wieters’s hamstring felt good after returning to the lineup on Tuesday. The catcher also took a foul tip off his knee in the 5-3 loss to the Mets, but he stayed in the game.

The Orioles signed left-handed reliever Mike Belfiore to a minor-league contract and assigned him to Triple-A Norfolk. He made his major league debut for Baltimore in 2013, but the 26-year-old appeared in only one game.

After officially being released by the Orioles, outfielder Travis Snider has signed a minor-league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the club that traded him to Baltimore last winter.

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Orioles facing difficult roster decisions this week

Posted on 22 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Despite playing their best baseball of the season over the last two weeks, the Orioles know a roster crunch is coming that will force difficult decisions to be made in the coming days.

Not only are pitchers Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen expected to return to the starting rotation this week, but the Orioles could welcome back second baseman Jonathan Schoop after he began a rehab assignment over the weekend. The current roster consists of 14 position players, three starting pitchers, and eight relievers. One roster spot will be taken care of by optioning either Oliver Drake or Mychal Givens back to the minors, but what executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter plan to do beyond that is anyone’s guess.

Of their current position players on the roster, only Caleb Joseph, Manny Machado, and Ryan Flaherty have minor-league options, illustrating how little flexibility the Orioles have. Machado and Joseph clearly aren’t going anywhere while optioning Flaherty to make room for Schoop would leave Steve Pearce as the closest remaining piece resembling a utility infielder.

The Orioles are too crowded in the outfield, but barring a trade or an injury sending a player to the disabled list, they’ll have no choice but to possibly lose two players by designating them for assignment.

Below is a look at the candidates in danger of losing their roster spots and a chance to vote in our poll to determine who should go with Gonzalez, Chen, and potentially Schoop all returning to the 25-man roster this week:

If the Orioles must part ways with two of the following, who would you pick?

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David Lough
Age: 29
Contract status: Under club control through the 2019 season
Argument for: Lough is arguably the second-best defensive outfielder on the club behind Adam Jones and has been used as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch runner.
Case against: The left-handed hitter has never developed at the plate and currently sports a .605 on-base plus slugging percentage while showing little ability to use his speed to consistently steal bases.

Chris Parmelee
Age: 27
Contract status: Under club control through the 2018 season
Argument for: The 2006 first-round pick’s strong numbers at Triple-A Norfolk immediately carried over to the tune of three homers in his first two games with the Orioles last week.
Case against: The owner of an underwhelming .720 OPS in 923 major league plate appearances, Parmelee is 1-for-12 since going 5-for-7 with three homers to begin his run with the Orioles.

Steve Pearce
Age: 32
Contract status: Free agent after the season
Argument for: His ability to play four different positions brings needed versatility and his 2014 success (.930 OPS) is far more than most of the other candidates have ever accomplished in the majors.
Case against: Pearce has struggled to overcome a poor start and has seen his playing time dwindle, a sign that Showalter either has lost faith in him or is simply trying to evaluate his less-familiar pieces.

Nolan Reimold
Age: 31
Contract status: Free agent after the season
Argument for: Reimold has played good defense, shown speed, and displayed the plate discipline and power that once had the Orioles very excited about his potential to be an everyday player.
Case against: Even his biggest supporters have a tough time feeling confident that he’ll finally remain healthy, making you take pause before jettisoning other players off the roster in order to keep him.

Travis Snider
Age: 27
Contract status: Under club control through the 2016 season
Argument for: His .349 on-base percentage is second on the club behind only Manny Machado among regulars, and his defense has actually been solid since some early-season issues in right field.
Case against: The lefty hitter hasn’t shown nearly as much power as the Orioles would like to see, and he goes through prolonged stretches where he struggles to make good contact.

Delmon Young
Age: 29
Contract status: Free agent after the season
Argument for: The .271 batter is 3-for-9 as a pinch hitter after going 10-for-20 in that department a year ago and is among the American League leaders with eight outfield assists.
Case against: The veteran doesn’t inspire confidence in the field and is slugging just .343 with four walks to give him a .634 OPS, which is comparable to the likes of Pearce and ex-Oriole Alejandro De Aza.

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Orioles preparing to call up Parmelee from Triple-A Norfolk

Posted on 15 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Mulling ways to improve their corner outfield situation, the Orioles are preparing to select the contract of Chris Parmelee from Triple-A Norfolk as early as Tuesday.

The 2006 first-round pick of the Minnesota Twins joined the Orioles in Baltimore prior to the series opener against the Philadelphia Phillies, but manager Buck Showalter confirmed he would not be activated for Monday’s game. Parmelee had a June 15 opt-out clause in the minor-league contract he signed with the club in the offseason and had already extended it once earlier this season.

Seeing time at both corner outfield spots as well as at first base with the Tides, the 27-year-old was hitting .316 with six home runs, 32 RBIs, 13 doubles, and an .826 on-base plus slugging percentage in 265 plate appearances this season. Parmelee was a career .249 hitter with 24 homers, 85 RBIs, and a .709 OPS in 901 plate appearances for the Twins over four major league seasons.

“We like him. He’s having as good of a year as anybody in Triple A for our team and for the other teams,” Showalter said. “He’s played the outfield well and first base. He can do a lot of things.”

Parmelee was in the clubhouse and took batting practice, but he was not permitted to be in the dugout during Monday’s game.

The Orioles hope he can offer some offensive production from the left side of the plate that they haven’t received from lefty outfielders Travis Snider and David Lough so far this season. It will be interesting to see how the club makes room for him on the 25-man roster since Snider, Lough, and Steve Pearce are all out of minor-league options.

Parmelee hopes the success he had in the International League will translate to helping the Orioles continue their recent winning ways.

“I’m just trying to stay as consistent as possible,” Parmelee said. “It goes from the routine in the cage and coming out and running every day and having a routine and staying with it. Staying positive is one of the most important things. The decision was made, and I’m happy to be here.”

Schoop back in Baltimore

Returning from a lengthy stint at extended spring training in Sarasota, second baseman Jonathan Schoop was back on the field at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Monday afternoon, fielding grounders and taking batting practice.

Schoop has been sidelined with a right knee injury for the last two months, but he is currently scheduled to begin a minor-league rehab assignment at Double-A Bowie on Friday.

“That was encouraging. That was fun to watch,” said Showalter of Schoop’s on-field workout. “He looks good. He should. He was pretty excited to get out of [Florida].”

Schoop has received plenty of at-bats in extended spring games, but the last hurdle to clear for the 23-year-old was decelerating when running, according to Showalter. The infielder hadn’t been playing the field in those extended spring games, but vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson traveled to Sarasota last week to work out Schoop to gauge where he was from a physical standpoint.

Simply rejoining his teammates in Baltimore and knowing he’ll be traveling with them to Philadelphia later this week has Schoop excited about his pending return. Showalter has stressed that the Orioles will be cautious in making sure the young infielder is completely ready before activating him from the disabled list.

“I want to play. I feel strong and I’m not thinking about [the knee],” Schoop said. “I feel stronger than before.”

Machado named AL Player of the Week

Third baseman Manny Machado was named American League Player of the Week from June 8-14 while helping the Orioles to a season-high six-game winning streak.

The 22-year-old collected four multi-hit games and batted .458 (11-for-24) with two homers, five RBIs, and a 1.269 OPS. Machado entered Monday’s game sporting an eight-game hitting streak.

“It feels good. It was a good week for the team and it was mostly a team thing,” said Machado of the award. “The team was playing well and we were all hitting well. If it wasn’t for my teammates and my guys being on base, I wouldn’t have been here.”

W. Wright to begin rehab assignment

Left-handed relief pitcher Wesley Wright will begin a minor-league rehab assignment on Tuesday and is scheduled to pitch one inning for Triple-A Norfolk.

The 30-year-old has been on the disabled list with a left trapezius strain since the first week of the regular season.

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Orioles thoughts on pitching and outfield situation

Posted on 15 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Sunday was a forgettable day for Orioles rookie Mike Wright, but manager Buck Showalter was correct in pointing out the starting pitcher experienced some tough luck, especially early in the game.

The 25-year-old gave up a number of hits that weren’t exactly tattooed by the Yankees, but the biggest problem for Wright has been his inability to put hitters away — New York fouled off 13 pitches with two strikes in his four-plus innings of work — which often leads to a pitcher making a mistake. This not only drives up the pitch count, but it puts more pressure on the pitcher as Wright crumbled in the top of the fifth walking three straight hitters to conclude his afternoon.

His mid-90s fastball certainly plays at the major league level, but Wright’s slider and changeup haven’t been impressive, making you wonder if he’ll have the stuff to make it as a starting pitcher in the long run. I’m not ready to give up on the idea of Wright as a major league starter, but I do think his fastball could be very tough to handle in a late-inning relief role in which he’s only working an inning or so at a time. It wouldn’t be difficult seeing Wright eventually stepping into the role occupied by Tommy Hunter, who is a free agent at the end of the 2015 season.

Either way, Wright has work to do to improve his secondary stuff.

* I have no idea how long outfielder Nolan Reimold can continue this, but he’s provided a nice lift in his first week back with the Orioles.

I never doubted the 31-year-old’s ability early in his career, but you had to wonder whether the talent would still be there after two serious neck injuries in 2012 and 2013. Acknowledging it’s only been a handful of games, we’ve seen the combination of power, speed, and defensive ability that had the Orioles and their fans salivating about his potential years ago.

You can only cross your fingers that a guy who’s had terrible luck with injuries can stay healthy and the Orioles shouldn’t assume that he can stay on the field for the long haul, but Showalter should pencil his name into the starting lineup every day until there’s a reason not to.

* Speaking of outfielders, you probably wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d told you in February that Travis Snider would be hitting .252 in his first 150 plate appearances for the Orioles, but his lack of power has been startling.

After hitting nine home runs and slugging .524 in the second half for Pittsburgh last year, the Orioles hoped they were getting a 27-year-old and former first-round pick who was finally blooming at the plate after years of struggles, but Snider is slugging a career-low .326 with just one homer and seven extra-base hits and rarely makes sharp contact or shows the ability to drive the ball. In contrast, ex-Oriole Nick Markakis has a higher slugging percentage at .367 — still a poor mark — despite not yet hitting a home run for Atlanta this season.

You have to wonder if Snider is running out of chances as the Orioles desperately need an effective lefty-hitting outfielder and Chris Parmelee is producing at Triple-A Norfolk.

* The Orioles hope to see Bud Norris improve enough to finish out the season in the starting rotation, but I wouldn’t be keen on the idea of re-signing him this winter.

A club will likely overpay for the right-hander based on his 2014 season, but Norris hasn’t been able to duplicate his success against left-handed hitters this season. Relying on an effective changeup to hold lefties to a .255 average and .753 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2014, Norris has been lit up by lefty bats this season to the tune of a 1.035 OPS as he’s been unable to command the off-speed pitch as effectively.

Norris has always handled right-handed hitters, but his problems against lefties have plagued him for most of his career, which is the biggest reason why he’s been nothing more than an average starting pitcher other than last season. In reality, he’d probably be better suited for the bullpen on a competitive club, but Norris would hardly embrace such a role in a contract year.

* You get the sense that Showalter is beginning to use Delmon Young more and more like he did last season, which isn’t a bad thing for the Orioles.

Young has shown little power (a .358 slugging percentage), but he does sport a .327 average against left-handed pitching, making him an obvious start against southpaws. It was interesting to see David Lough hit for Young against right-hander Sergio Santos on Saturday night — Showalter said he wanted to give the young outfielder an at-bat even though the Orioles only led by three runs at the time — and then Matt Wieters was sent to the plate in Young’s place to face Dellin Betances in the ninth inning on Sunday.

It would be helpful if Dan Duquette could at least find an effective platoon partner for Young for the rest of the season.

* With southpaws Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland both struggling to throw strikes this season, the Orioles are hoping that Wesley Wright can settle into the lefty specialist role upon completing his minor-league rehab assignment.

On the disabled list since the first week of the season with a left trapezius strain, Wright is expected to join an affiliate any day now and could make Matusz expendable if he proves he’s healthy and can throw strikes.

* Adam Jones is a four-time Gold Glove center fielder and certainly doesn’t need validation, but there have been a couple points in his career when he was probably a little overrated as a defender.

But strictly going off the eyeball test — his fielding metrics have been good, for what it’s worth — Jones has never played better defense than what we’ve seen from him this year. The 29-year-old has not only been steady and consistent, but he’s made countless sensational plays — just ask the Boston Red Sox about last week’s series — running down balls in the gap or making exceptional throws to gun down runners trying to take an extra base.

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Jones not receiving much help in Orioles outfield

Posted on 18 May 2015 by Luke Jones

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.

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No excuse for Orioles’ sloppy play to begin season

Posted on 23 April 2015 by Luke Jones

A 7-8 record for the Orioles is nothing over which to panic.

Every team in baseball will undergo a three-game losing streak this season and will go through stretches when the pitching or the hitting — or both — will fail to do the job.

But the sloppiness with which the Orioles have played at times through the first 2 1/2 weeks of the season is concerning. And you know that isn’t sitting well with manager Buck Showalter.

Yes, they’re missing All-Star players in J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters and lost young second baseman Jonathan Schoop to a knee injury last weekend, but that can’t excuse the fielding miscues and the baserunning gaffes uncharacteristic of Showalter clubs that we’ve seen. The Orioles may not play small ball, but they’ve still done the little things well for the most part.

Over the last few years, they’ve hit the cutoff man, minimized mistakes on the bases, and made the plays they’re supposed to make.

That hasn’t been the case in the season’s first 15 games.

Their current three-game losing streak has included six official errors, but the defensive struggles came to a head Tuesday night with right fielder Travis Snider making a few gaffes that had fans pining for Nick Markakis’ steady defensive work. Aside from the last few games, the defense hasn’t been awful, but it’s certainly fallen short of the high standard the Orioles set over the last few years.

Baltimore has done a poor job controlling the running game as catcher Caleb Joseph had failed to throw out the first eight runners attempting to steal against him this season before finally gunning down Toronto catcher Russell Martin at second base on Wednesday night. Opponents are 10-for-12 in stolen base attempts this year after Joseph threw out 40 percent of runners last season. Of course, the pitching must also take blame in failing to hold runners as several stolen bases have come after huge jumps.

Perhaps the signature play of the sloppy start to the season was Alejandro De Aza’s inexplicable attempt to steal third base in the top of the seventh of Wednesday’s game. Chris Davis was at the plate as the potential tying run before De Aza was gunned down to end the inning and protect the Blue Jays’ 4-2 lead.

Any baseball fan knows you never make the third out of an inning at third, but it’s an even worse play with one of your best power hitters at the plate and you’re facing a two-run deficit in the seventh.

Brutal.

To be clear, the Orioles need to play better overall as the pitching has been poor — starters have completed six innings just four times this season — and the offense squandered a slew of opportunities to score more than two runs on Wednesday night.

But you can minimize the damage when you’re not pitching or hitting at your best by doing the little things well — the parts of the game that don’t always show up in the box score.

And that’s where, as Adam Jones would say, the Orioles need to clean it up.

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Offseason script works perfectly for Orioles in opener

Posted on 06 April 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles couldn’t have followed a much better script for their season-opening 6-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday.

After hearing concerns all winter about how the club would replace the production of outfielders Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz, a trio of Orioles did everything they could to quell concerns for at least the first day of the season.

Becoming the first Opening Day right fielder for the Orioles not named Markakis since Jay Gibbons in 2006, Travis Snider collected three hits and two RBIs while also gunning down a runner at the plate and making a diving catch in the outfield. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette hopes Snider can finally realize his potential as a former first-round pick and give the Orioles similar production to the former right fielder for a fraction of the price Atlanta paid.

It was a pretty good impression of the longtime right fielder in his club debut.

The man who replaced Markakis in the leadoff spot, Alejandro De Aza, delivered a two-run homer off Rays starter Chris Archer to conclude a 10-pitch at-bat in the fifth to give the Orioles a 3-0 lead. De Aza only went 1-for-5 and struck out three times, but he saw an impressive 31 pitches in five plate appearances, which is the patience Baltimore is seeking in a leadoff hitter.

Filling in for Chris Davis at first base, Steve Pearce took an encouraging first step in trying to prove his surprising 2014 season wasn’t a fluke by hitting a solo shot in the sixth. Baltimore is banking on his production to go a long way in helping ease the loss of Cruz’s power production while expecting other established stars — Manny Machado, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, and Davis — to bounce back from injuries or down 2014 campaigns.

The winning formula on Monday was reminiscent of last year as the Orioles clubbed three home runs and received a strong outing from ace Chris Tillman, who allowed one earned run in 6 2/3 innings. The right-hander has now allowed three or fewer earned runs in 21 of his last 22 regular-season starts going back to early June of 2014.

The Orioles won their fifth consecutive season opener on Monday, but what does a Day 1 win really mean for the remainder of 2015? Baltimore’s longest run in franchise history was winning seven straight openers from 1970-1976, which came in the midst of the glory days. The second-longest streak was six consecutive season-opening wins from 2001-2006, days that could be described as anything but glorious.

Yes, it’s only one of 162, but a win always feels good on Opening Day.

Especially when it reflects the plan of success laid out in the offseason.

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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: Travis Snider

Posted on 16 March 2015 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day just over three weeks away, we’ll 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

OF Travis Snider

Opening Day age: 27

Contract status: Under club control through the 2016 season

Minor-league options remaining: None

2014 stats: .264/.338/.438, 13 HR, 38 RBI, 37 R, 1 SB, 359 PA

Why to be impressed: After years of trying to find his way in the majors, the former first-round pick exploded in the second half of last season, posting an .880 on-base plus slugging percentage to help Pittsburgh to its second straight playoff appearance. Much has been made about the departure of Nick Markakis, but Snider’s .438 slugging percentage last year was much higher than the veteran’s .386 mark.

Why to be concerned: Snider has experienced more failure than success in his major league career and even his breakout 2014 campaign included an underwhelming .660 OPS in the first half. The former Toronto Blue Jays prospect is traditionally a slow starter with a .677 career OPS before the All-Star break, so he’ll need to play good defense to remain in good graces if history repeats itself this year.

2015 outlook: With other outfield options in the mix such as Alejandro De Aza, Steve Pearce, David Lough, and Delmon Young, Snider will need to make the most of his opportunities to become a fixture in the lineup. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette hopes Snider experienced his breakthrough in the second half of 2014, but it’s too difficult to know what to expect from a young player who’s had such highs and lows. The Orioles hope he can match or be an upgrade to Markakis’ production for a fraction of the price, but Snider could also fizzle out yet again after showing positive signs last year.

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New Orioles outfielder Snider not concerned with filling Markakis’ shoes

Posted on 24 February 2015 by Luke Jones

SARASOTA, Fla. — New Orioles outfielder Travis Snider may be the leading candidate to replace veteran Nick Markakis in right field, but he isn’t taking anything for granted this spring.

Playing parts of seven seasons without ever recording as many as 360 plate appearances in a single campaign, the 27-year-old can’t dwell on the opportunity presented to him in Baltimore after the free-agent departures of Markakis and slugger Nelson Cruz. Call it a force of habit for a former first-round pick who’s seen more disappointment than success in his major league career with numerous minor-league demotions and nagging injuries.

“I don’t worry about what happened last year and who you guys say I’m replacing,” Snider said in an interview with WNST.net. “I came here to play when they tell me to play and where they tell me to play. For me, the focus remains on the day to day of getting better and when they put my name in the lineup, I’ll be ready.”

Fair or not, the pressure is on Snider to perform as he represents the Orioles’ most significant addition of the offseason. The beginning of his career doesn’t remotely stack up to Markakis’ nine-year run in Baltimore, but executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette hopes Snider’s .776 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2014 — Markakis’ was .729 — is a sign of a once-heralded prospect finally figuring it out at the major league level.

Snider’s numbers spiked in the second half of 2014 as he hit .288 with nine home runs, 24 runs batted in, and an .880 OPS to help lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to a wild-card berth. The numbers reflected the kind of prospect Snider once was in posting a .968 OPS in 835 plate appearances at the Triple-A level.

Even if his offense remains a question as a .246 lifetime hitter according to William Hill Sports, the Orioles already like what they’ve seen from Snider defensively as he will potentially replace a two-time Gold Glove winner in right field. The left-handed thrower was viewed as a good defender in Pittsburgh and was frequently used as a defensive replacement when not in the starting lineup.

“I don’t care who you are, you always have these preconceived ideas and visual and then you actually see it,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I watched Travis Snider run two balls down in right field during [batting practice]. You take something out of everything.”

After five disappointing years with Toronto in which he could never live up to his potential as the 14th overall pick of the 2006 draft, Snider was traded to Pittsburgh midway through the 2012 season. His improvement at the plate hardly came overnight — the left-handed hitter batted just .215 in 2013 — but he credits the winning culture in Pittsburgh over the last two years for changing his mindset, which led to his own improvement in 2014.

After being acquired in exchange for minor-league pitchers Stephen Tarpley and Steven Vault, Snider believes playing for a club that has advanced to the postseason in two of the last three years and is coming off its first division title in 17 years is the perfect environment to pick up where he left off in his final year with the Pirates.

“I’ve been able to take some steps forward in my career and the way I approach each day by remaining focused on each day and not worrying about stat lines or box scores and those types of things,” Snider said. “As a young player, I got caught up worrying too much about myself. Being part of a winning culture, it made it easy to buy in and knowing that you’re playing for each other and the pressure is taken off of your personal accolades and put onto the team and what you have to do each night to get the win. It makes baseball a whole lot more fun when you play that way.”

With Snider and the impending signing of infielder Everth Cabrera the only notable position players added to the mix this winter, the Orioles will likely need a breakout performance from an unheralded name similar to what they received from Steve Pearce a year ago to give themselves the best chance to make it back to the postseason. A former Pirate himself, Pearce rose from anonymity at age 31 last year to hit 21 home runs and post a .930 OPS and is now being counted on to fill a regular role this season.

It’s the perfect example to which a player like Snider can aspire after years of failing to live up to expectations as one of the best prospects in the game.

“Steve Pearce was one of the best stories in baseball last year, and that was one of the first things that I told him,” Snider said. “Understanding that this game and this business doesn’t always go the way that we plan, the guys that are able to overcome that adversity and make the most of those opportunities [succeed]. It was a lot of fun for me to watch him do what he did last year.

“We all get humbled at some point in this game. Opportunities come and opportunities go, but understanding where that focus remains and to see guys go out there and do what he did last year, that’s pretty cool.”

The opportunity will be there for Snider this season, but it will be up to him to take advantage.

 

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