“The Orioles’ Triple-A Norfolk team is a club with a lot of experience - major league experience. The Tides have seven position players with over 300 games of major league experience: Pedro Álvarez (851), Chris Johnson (839), Robert Andino (481), Paul Janish (459), Chris Dickerson (355), Johnny Giavotella (353) and Logan Schafer (318).
Norfolk’s position players have combined for 3,799 big league games played, which is more than three major league clubs (Padres, Brewers and Reds) opened their 2017 season with. Members of Norfolk’s opening day roster have hit 289 career big league homers, 88 more than the Padres began the season with (201).”
Those paragraphs suggest the organization has a lot of depth. It’s false. Let’s start with Alvarez. After spending last season in Baltimore, Orioles fans are pretty familiar with him. He’s had a solid if unspectacular major league career to this point (career .238/.311/.449 hitter, translating to a 107 wRC+), and he’s actually a really nice player to have stashed in the minor leagues. Signing him to a minor league deal in the offseason is a great move in a vacuum. However, as is also well-known at this point, he’s best suited for a platoon DH role, and based on the make-up of the active roster, he likely sits 4th on the depth chart. Granted, he’s spending time in the minors to work on his outfield defense. But even if you think he’ll become passable in the outfield (while I have not seen him play there yet, I don’t), he’s probably going to need to hit as well as 2016 Mark Trumbo to justify a level of defense that is “not completely embarrassing”. Again, Alvarez on a minor league deal is a good player to have, and one of the better options to adequately fill in case of a rainy day, but he’s a redundant luxury to have in the organization.
While doing a little bit of research for this post, I stumbled on something that surprised me.
I had remembered that the Braves signed Johnson to that contract, but for some reason I thought that had been completed AT LEAST 2 years ago. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. Ryan Flaherty is the only backup infielder capable of playing SS, 3B, or 2B, so the Orioles are essentially a J.J. Hardy (somewhat common) and Manny Machado or Jonathan Schoop injury (less common) away from not only Flaherty seeing significant playing time, but one of these three players doing the same.Chris Johnson making $9 million this year to play 3B in Norfolk and not be on #Orioles 40 man roster. Sign me up!— OriolesProvingGround (@OriolesPG) April 7, 2017
|Career Statistics (UZR/150 for position noted after player's name)|
Of all the options here, Johnson (who is actually injured at the moment) is the most accomplished player of those four. He’s a tick worse than your average hitter, is a lousy defensive third baseman, and at first glance, having him stashed in the major leagues appears like a good idea (especially if someone else is paying that salary, which according to Cot’s, is Cleveland). However, Johnson has not been anywhere near productive at the plate since 2013, when he rode a .354 BABIP to a .321/.358/.457 slash line. His offensive success appears to depend entirely on a favorable BABIP, as the 3 years where he’s had a wRC+ over 100 all involved a BABIP of AT LEAST .334. In the last 3 seasons (with about 2 seasons worth of plate appearances), Johnson’s wRC+’s have been 82, 70, and 63.
Robert Andino and Paul Janish are organizational veterans at this point who (to borrow some scouting lingo), “can pick it” in the field, but can’t “hit a lick”. And while Janish’s glove work makes him a nice veteran to stash in the minors “in case of an (extreme) emergency”, I’m not sure Andino is a viable option to consider for the major league roster at any point of the season. Although, if the Orioles are out of it by August, I suppose you could hope for an Andino call up as an excuse to re-watch this highlight, and to see if his Orioles media photo continues its natural progression.
As mentioned, there is plenty of (defensively challenged) outfield depth on the major league roster, so let’s take a quick look at the minor league outfield depth.
|Career Statistics (UZR/150 is the combined number for all OF positions)|
I probably shouldn’t even include Michael Choice here, but as a former top prospect, I decided to throw him in. He’s not even playing regularly in Norfolk, which gives an indication on where he’s at on the depth chart. Logan Schafer has some defensive value, but not enough to make up for a non-existent bat. Of these three outfielders, Chris Dickerson looks like he could be interesting as legitimate outfield depth who can also actually play defense, but he hasn’t played in the majors since 2014. It’s worth noting as well that the majority of his accumulated fWAR came from 2008 and 2009 (those seasons were accompanied with BABIP’s of .410 and .360).
I realize that this article is likely a little nit-picky. None of these players are even currently on the 40-man roster, so they are only considered depth in theory. Additionally, every organization employs players with MLB experience in their upper minors (sometimes as actual depth and sometimes as roster-filler). And to be honest, the lack of outfield depth in AAA isn’t an issue as long as the Orioles don’t care about outfield defense (and to this point, they haven’t), since there is plenty of outfield depth in Baltimore (not even accounting for the re-signing of Michael Bourn). In my opinion, it’s the infield that is particularly concerning. After Ryan Flaherty, there isn’t a single option in AAA that should see playing time. This is where the lack of prospect depth could really hurt the Orioles. Yes, the players discussed in this article have major league experience, but they are known quantities. They offer no surprise upside that a fringe average or better prospect could provide upon their call-up. Additionally, the majority of these players have not been productive for 3 years (if ever), so I find it unlikely they would even be replacement level if called upon. So while some out there may prefer major league experience despite what I just outlined, I think we can all agree to hope for good health, so these players don’t accrue major league service time in 2017.