It’s February, but DMV-residents were treated to a preview of spring over the weekend.
Temperatures surged past 60, and streets were marked by the symphony of skateboards, children, and barking dogs.
Spring represents a whole bunch of clichés about new beginnings and slate wiping. For baseball, of course, it means spring training is finally on the doorstep.
For some players, it represents a chance to make a new mark. For others, it is a chance to change an old one. Here are three Orioles who have the most at stake this spring training:
Tyler Wilson, RHP
In 2016, Tyler Wilson went on a 10-game stretch where he posted a 4.58 ERA, while averaging nearly six innings a start. Then, he hit a rocky patch and was shipped off to Norfolk. By the end of the season he was back, but was relegated to random, bullpen work.
With Chris Tillman (shoulder) out for spring training and questionable to begin the season, a number of players stand to benefit. Wilson is in that group, which also includes the Mike Wrights and Logan Verretts of the world. (Ed. note: After some recent moves, Vidal Nuno and Gabriel Ynoa are also in the mix.)
Wilson is an undersized right-hander with a 90 MPH fastball and an average change-up and slider. At 27, he’s too old to be considered a true prospect, but he has shown incremental improvement over the years.
The former UVA-standout is a control specialist, which is a polite way of saying low strikeout-totals. However, he did post a reasonable K-rate in AAA (7.4 K/9 between three seasons), which translated to 4.9 in the big leagues.
He needs to do a better job of keeping the ball in the yard (15 home runs allowed in 94 innings) but, realistically, what you want from your fifth starter is a guy who can hold his own against big-league hitters and absorb innings. Wilson has proven he can do that reasonably well.
With a good spring training performance, he can reinsert himself into the starter-discussion, and make long relief closer to his floor – not his ceiling.
Trey Mancini/Joey Rickard 1B/OF
Okay, I cheated, but I couldn’t resist throwing these players in together because, well, they strike me as similar players who are at similar crossroads, career-wise.
They are both right-handed hitters around the same age (Mancini is 24, Rickard is 25. Mancini has more pop but Rickard has more defensive-versatility in his ability to play all three outfield spots. That makes them prototypical players for the Showalter regime. On the other, it makes them harder to stand out, in an already-crowded field.*
Currently, Rickard has the larger portfolio of major league success, appearing in 85 games last year. He posted .696 OPS in his first taste of big-league action before succumbing to season-ending thumb surgery.
The Orioles responded, this off-season, by signing everyone under the sun. They traded for Seth Smith, a lefty who can play both corner spots. They brought back Mark Trumbo, who will split time between right field and DH. They sent spring training invites to veteran outfielders Craig Gentry, Logan Schaefer, Chris Dickerson, and David Washington.
And, don't forget Baltimore's rule 5 selections Anthony Santander and Aneury Tavarez, who both play - you guessed it - outfield positions. Throw in incumbent left fielder, Hyun Soo Kim, and you've got yourself a party.
As for Mancini, he made a memorable - albeit brief - 2016 debut, smacking three home runs in five games. A first baseman by trade, he has but one obstacle in his path. Unfortunately, that obstacle (some guy named Chris Davis) is in year two of a $161 million, mega-deal and is going nowhere. While Mancini could split time between first and DH, Trumbo's presence means opportunities for the latter would be limited.
Mancini and Rickard might be squeezed out by the numbers game. Then again, the duo could make that decision much harder by simply raking, this spring. At the very least, it would improve their stock as trade bait, if Baltimore chooses to shore up areas where it is not so loaded.
It might seem an odd choice to include the 34-year-old veteran on this list. Hardy won’t be busting his butt to make the team. However, he does enter spring training with things to prove.
For starters, he needs to flash some of that old pop he used to show so readily. In every full-season he played, from 2007 to 2013, Hardy hit no fewer than 22 home runs. Up to that point, his career-slugging percentage was .428.
It’s been a different story, the past three years. Injuries have sapped his playing time and affected his counting stats, but he hasn’t exactly been lighting the world on fire when he has played. From 2014-16, he’s slugged a pedestrian .346.
Part of it could simply be attributed to a natural product of aging. However, while everyone gets old, not everyone has a chance to play professional baseball. Hardy not only has that chance, but he is young enough to merit one last, multi-year contract for big money if he is motivated enough.
2017 is the last guaranteed year of the extension he signed in 2014. The Orioles hold a club option for 2018, but would be unlikely to exercise it if Hardy tanks at the plate again.
Hardy is still an excellent defender, but glove-first middle infielders can be had for much cheaper than his $14 million option. Plus, the Orioles have Manny Machado, whose natural position is shortstop.
However, if he can post a respectable OBP, with 15-20 home runs, the Orioles might be open to negotiating another extension. Or, if the club is out of contention, he could be interesting trade candidate, if he is willing to waive his 10-5 rights.
Getting off to a fast start would definitely help. With that in mind, Hardy needs to show up for spring training showing that he’s healthy, focused, and is seeing the ball well.
Update: The field got even more crowded yesterday as Baltimore signed veteran outfielder, Michael Bourn, to a minor-league deal. He will join the O's in big league camp where he will compete for a job.