So far this season, I've seen 27 Tides games. This article will provide my thoughts and observations on the eight current Norfolk position-player regulars, without any sophisticated statistical analysis. I will be sharing my opinions on whether and how these players would fit in with and help the Orioles both for 2015 and, if appropriate, beyond.
Before I review each individual player, one general overview. As a team, the 2015 Tides are the best overall AAA defensive team I've seen. And that's not just my opinion - many people who have been following AAA baseball much longer than I have agree. This means that the ERAs of the Orioles pitchers are better than they would be if there was a more typical AAA defense. Given that, and given that Harbor Park is a pitcher's park, we need to be less impressed by Norfolk pitchers' ERAs than we would normally be.
Now, on to the players:
Catcher Steve Clevenger: Clevenger's been up with the Orioles a few times, so he's a known quantity. He's a left-handed hitter, a line-drive hitter with occasional power. He has been playing well and hitting line drives to all fields. He's a solid, if not spectacular, defensive catcher. He'd probably combine well with Caleb Joseph as a semi-platoon catching combination, with Joseph playing against all lefties and maybe half of the righties. Clevenger's even pulled a Steve Pearce and played second base in one game.
First Baseman Christian Walker: Walker got off to a very slow start in 2015 and I feared he was going to become another Brandon Snyder, who had a half-year at AA in which he played much better than he would ever play again. Walker has gotten hotter and he's starting to hit for more power, although he's never going to be a true power hitter. He's a good defensive first baseman. He doesn't really have a role on the 2015 Orioles in that Steve Pearce and Reimold are already filling the role Walker would fill, and those two have more defensive value. Long-term, Walker might be a "good enough" replacement if Chris Davis leaves; I don't think "good enough" is really good enough for the Orioles going forward.
Second Baseman Rey Navarro: Navarro is a better player than I thought he'd be. He's got good range at second base (and he is also the backup shortstop) and an adequate arm. He's got more pop on offense than I was expecting, although he doesn't have the patience he needs and he's not as fast as I had thought. Navarro has tapered off after hitting well when he first joined the Tides. He would be a perfectly fine backup infielder; I wouldn't want to play him as a regular for more than a week or so.
Third Baseman Michael Almanzar: I've written about Almanzar in depth; he's still a solid, if occasionally error-prone, third baseman with a strong, accurate arm. Unfortunately, he's still trying to hit every pitch out of the ball park and still doesn't use the strike zone well, so it's hard to see a major-league future for him.
Shortstop Paul Janish: All of my co-workers agree - Paul Janish is the best defensive shortstop any one of them has seen on a regular basis. That includes Rey Ordonez, who played a full season in Norfolk. I agree - Janish relies on positioning, reliability, and a strong arm to shut down the left side of the infield. That makes him more of a J.J. Hardy than an Ozzie Smith, so it's hard to see Janish making the Orioles. Unfortunately for Janish, he hits like Rey Ordonez - he doesn't walk and hits too many weak fly balls. He's also in his early thirties. I actually think he could play regularly for the right team - a team with a really strong offense that needs a defensive anchor. That's not the Orioles.
Left Fielder Henry Urrutia: After a 2014 season wrecked by an injury, Urrutia has bounced back and has been hitting the way he hit in 2013. Even though he doesn't walk and doesn't have great speed, he's been the Tides' leadoff hitter and, like Steve Clevenger, has been hitting line drives all over the field. An Urrutia-type player would fit the Orioles' offense well; the Orioles offense is sustained by home runs and would benefit by having a player who does something else well. It won't be Urrutia; he's not a good defensive outfielder (the one defensive weak spot on the Tides) and he's not quite a good enough hitter to overcome that. Like many other Cuban refugees, he'll have a long professional career in AAA, Japan, and Mexico.
Center Fielder Julio Borbon: Borbon is a good defensive center fielder with above-average range and a playable, if not good, throwing arm. As an offensive player, he doesn't take advantage of his speed; he hits too many balls in the air. Because he doesn't have much power, pitchers are willing to throw him strikes and consequently he doesn't draw many walks. I wouldn't be surprised if Borbon were a September call-up as a pinch-runner and outfielder defensive replacement.
Right Fielder Dariel Alvarez: Alvarez is a good defensive right fielder with good range and an outstanding throwing arm. He can get by in center field on a short-term emergency basis. As a hitter, Alvarez has shown more power than I expected - he's hit 12 home runs so far - and makes more contact than I expected for someone who takes as many bad / wild swings as he does. He doesn't take walks. I don't see him with a role on the Orioles, and he's the kind of player who has to have his good year to help you.
The Tides have been using Sean Halton, a recent call-up from AA Bowie, as their primary designated hitter; he's also seen time as an outfielder when Urrutia or Alvarez is getting a "day off" as the DH. I haven't seen enough of him to have a good opinion.