16 March 2015

Orioles Re-Sign Julio Borbon as AAA Insurance

Among the minor league free agents the Orioles signed this offseason is outfielder Julio Borbon. This is an unusual signing because the 29-year-old Borbon had only been in the Orioles system for one season. Most minor league free agents who re-sign with their current team have been in the system for several seasons; once a player signs with a new organization as a minor league free agent, he will usually move from team to team. Borbon's re-signing with the Orioles tells us a lot about the organization.

One reason the Orioles re-signed Borbon is that they don't believe that there is a viable in-house candidate to play center field at AAA. There's good reason for that belief. In 2014, the Norfolk center fielders were Borbon himself and Quintin Berry, both minor league free agents (three other players played a couple of games apiece.) The center fielders at AA Bowie were Dariel Alvarez, who is being groomed as a right fielder, and Mike Yastrzemski, who reached AA in his first full season and who is stretched as a center fielder. Borbon played well for Norfolk in 2014 (.284/.342/.356, with 34 stolen bases in 44 attempts) and a source in the organization has told me that the Orioles liked Borbon in the clubhouse.

Also, the Orioles had very little offensive speed in the upper levels of their system. Other than Borbon, players still in the organization combined for ten stolen bases with Norfolk in 2014; this includes the contributions of catchers Brian Ward and Steve Clevenger. As a team, Double-A Bowie stole 46 stolen bases (in 75 attempts) in 2014. Borbon fills an organizational need for a speedy player, who is also a center fielder.

Julio Borbon in his primary offensive role. Photo courtesy of Christopher McCain/Norfolk Tides
Borbon may also have a potential role on the major-league Orioles. He's a similar type of player to David Lough; an outfielder with [presumably] good defensive skills and iffy offensive skills. If Lough gets off to another slow start, perhaps the Orioles will consider Borbon as a short-term replacement. Or, if the Orioles are again in the postseason race come September 1, Borbon may be added to the expanded roster as a pinch-runner / defensive replacement, much like Quintin Berry was added in 2014. But that does raise a question - is Borbon a good defensive outfielder?

Borbon played most of his defense in center field, which in and of itself is a strong indicator that he's a good defensive outfielder. This is more true because he played center field even though Berry, a rangy (albeit weak-armed) outfielder, was also on the team; Berry mainly played left field. I compared Borbon's outfield putouts to the putouts of the other Norfolk 2014 center fielders; if he performed better than they did, that's another indicator that he's a good outfielder. I have data for 523 of Norfolk's defensive innings (41.1%), and the table below shows the number of putouts registered by the center fielders:

/ 9 Innings
Julio Borbon

Dariel Alvarez
Quintin Berry

Borbon made almost exactly the number of putouts as did the other center fielders in theses games, but the data has many anomalies. While Francisco Peguero really isn't a center fielder, he probably isn't as bad as his performance here would show. As expected, Quintin Berry did show outstanding range, but his numbers are inflated by one game in which he made nine putouts. Factoring all this into account, the best conclusion we can draw is that the data neither confirms nor contradicts the idea that Borbon is a good defensive outfielder.

The signing of Julio Borbon confirms what followers of the Orioles' farm system already believed, that the Orioles farm system is weak in advanced center fielders. I'm glad that Borbon will [most likely] be the Norfolk center fielder, and there's a chance we'll see him with the Orioles in 2015.

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