18 February 2015

Part 2 - Impressions of the Orioles' (minor-league) Free Agent Signings

In my most recent article, I looked at the three minor-league free agents the Orioles signed to their 40-man roster. In this article, I will look at some of the minor-league free agents the Orioles signed to minor-league contracts. I won't be reviewing every Oriole minor-league signee. Some, I don't know anything about them that you can't find out by looking at their statistics. Others are unlikely to do anything of notice.

Some of the signings were players who had either been released before the end of the 2014 season or had never played in organized baseball before. Most of these signings are roster filler who will fill holes on the minor-league teams, and are unlikely to do anything of interest. But one of these players, Casey Haerther, has shown enough to be possibly interesting even though he's likely being seen as roster filler.

Going into 2015, the Orioles don't have anyone who projects as the AA Bowie first baseman. Christian Walker has moved beyond that level; his successor, Chris Marrero, was himself awarded free agency; and the best bet at Frederick, Trey Mancini, isn't ready. Casey Haerther does project to be a AA-caliber first baseman, but may be more than that. In the Angels system in 2010 and 2011, Haerther put together some James Loney-like seasons - a .300 batting average with some doubles but few walks or home runs. He reached AA in 2012 but didn't play well; the Angels released him after the season.  He spent the last two seasons in independent ball and had an outstanding season in 2014 (.360/.390/.535). He'll play 2015 at age 27 and is probably the best bet to be the Bowie first baseman. If he plays well and the circumstances are right, he might get a cameo with the Orioles.

The other players the Orioles signed were in organized baseball at the end of 2014 and became free agents according to the terms of the Basic Agreement. The Orioles signed several of their own free agents. Chris Jones and Steve Johnson have been in the organization for several seasons; they chose to remain in comfortable surroundings. Both seem likely to begin 2014 as utility pitchers with Norfolk and might see major-league time under the right circumstances.

Another player the Orioles re-signed in whom they believe is Michael Almanzar. The Orioles selected him in the 2013 Rule 5 draft; after he was returned to Boston, they re-acquired him in the Kelly Johnson trade. The only backup infielders on the Orioles current 40-man roster are Ryan Flaherty, Jimmy Paredes, and Rey Navarro. The Orioles also don't have many promising infielders in the upper levels of their farm system. The Orioles have  gone to great lengths to add Almanzar to the organization, so he could see major league time.

The Orioles signed two other middle infielders, with big-league experience. 32-year-old Paul Janish has played 431 major-league games, mostly with the Reds (for whom he was the regular shortstop in 2009 and 2011.) Ozzie Martinez, who turns 27 in May, has played 34 major-league games. Both have good defensive reputations although Janish has been considered better. Martinez is a light-hitting infielder; Janish is a non-hitting infielder. If injuries strike the infield, either Janish or Martinez could see some big-league time.

The Orioles also signed two once-interesting prospects who are still young enough to have some development potential. Rossmel Perez is a defense-oriented catcher who doesn't hit for power; the Orioles catching situation isn't settled and it's possible Perez might see some time as a backup. Derrik Gibson is an "athlete", a toolsy shortstop whom the Red Sox probably promoted too aggressively. He doesn't have power, but he draws walks and can steal bases. If he can hit for average - a big if - he's young enough to develop into a replacement-level regular.

Finally, the Orioles signed a few pitchers who might get on the Norfolk-to-Baltimore shuttle. Cesar Cabral is a left-handed specialist (in his major-league career, he's pitched 4 2/3 innings in 12 games.) He has good strikeout rates but spotty control. Dane De La Rosa is a 32-year-old from independent ball who had knee problems in 2014 but pitched exceptionally well in 2010-2013, with 2013 being spent with the Angels. And Terry Doyle is a 29-year-old minor-league journeyman who pitched very well until he signed in Japan in mid-2012; it took him a couple of years to regain his effectiveness and he pitched well for Gwinnett in the second half of 2014. Any of these three guys might be released in spring training, or they could see an inning or ten with the Orioles if needed.

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