In my previous article, I explored four 2015 Norfolk Tides re-signed by the Orioles as minor league free agents. Interestingly, the Orioles signed a few other minor league free agents who have previously played in their organization. Two of these signees are more interesting than usual - one, a former top Orioles prospect, the other someone who might be the best candidate for promotion if the Orioles need an infielder. I'll provide an overview of these two players returning to the Orioles, so that if you see their names you'll have reasonable expectations. Again, while there may be some basic statistical analysis on these players, most of the comments will be based on my observations while I was datacasting games for MiLB.com or scoring games for Baseball Info Solutions. In 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 I worked 44, 44, 43, and 45 games respectively.
Xavier Avery, outfielder
Photo courtesy of Elaina Ellis / Norfolk Tides
In August 2013, the Orioles traded Xavier Avery to the Mariners for Michael Morse. Avery had been a once-hot prospect who wasn't developing as quickly as hoped, and the Orioles decided to cut bait. Since then, Avery has played for the Mariners, Tigers, Giants, and Twins AAA affiliates. He played much better for those teams than he did as a Norfolk Tide; in fact, over the past two seasons, Avery has performed in AAA about as well as Dexter Fowler has in the majors:
Avery (AAA): .279/.343/.396
Fowler (MLB): .262/..357/.406
When Avery was with Norfolk in 2012-2013, I was impressed with his athletic ability but not very impressed with his baseball skills. He ran well and stole a few bases, but didn't have an offensive approach that took advantage of his speed. He didn't play center field. He drew walks at a marginal rate. He didn't have a lot of power. The past two years, he's clearly been better.
That said, I am in no way suggesting that Avery would be an adequate alternative to Dexter Fowler. He's the AAA equivalent of Dexter Fowler, a fairly good offensive player who can play a bad center field. Avery's offense will suffer in Norfolk's Harbor Park, and he may have a reputation as a failed prospect.. But if he plays well, and the Orioles need an outfielder, he might get promoted; and it's not impossible that he'll do well.
Steve Tolleson, infielder
Photo courtesy of Elaina Ellis / Norfolk Tides.
Steve Tolleson spent 2012 in the Orioles' organization, playing 29 games for the Orioles and 50 for the Norfolk Tides. With Norfolk, he played mostly at shortstop, although he's played as much second and third in his minor league career. Tolleson spent 2013 with the White Sox AAA affiliate in Charlotte. The past two seasons he's been in the Blue Jays' organization, spending most of 2014 in the major leagues and most of 2015 injured.
Tolleson is a player who doesn't have any really outstanding skill. He hits for a decent batting average and draws a few walks, but he doesn't have much power nor outstanding speed. Defensively, Tolleson doesn't have the range or positioning skill to be a plus shortstop; he doesn't have the position-specific skills to be a plus second baseman; he doesn't have the arm or reflexes to be a plus third baseman.
That said, I think Tolleson is the best current option for a major-league promotion if an injury strikes one of the Orioles' projected infielders. Comparing Tolleson to Paul Janish, Janish is a better defensive shortstop but - possibly because he's such a good defensive shortstop - he hasn't played much at other positions. Tolleson isn't a good hitter, but Janish is a true offensive zero. If Tolleson is healthy, I'd expect him to see at least a little time in the major leagues.