23 February 2017

Spring Training Roster Battle: Corner Outfielder

After a flurry of moves over the last few days, the Orioles have plenty of options for a handful of roster spots. Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter put a premium on having worthwhile fringe roster choices, and that should yet again be the case this season. The O's seem to value players with minor league options remaining more than most teams, and the Triple-A Norfolk shuttle figures to be in use as much as ever in 2017.

With that in mind, let's look ahead to the possible opening day roster. Not every player the Orioles want to keep has a minor league option left, so they'll have to make some tough decisions in key spots.

Here are the likely locks (with the assumption that Chris Tillman will start the season on the new, 10-day disabled list).

C: Welington Castillo
C: Caleb Joseph
1B: Chris Davis
2B: Jonathan Schoop
SS: J.J. Hardy
3B: Manny Machado
DH/OF/1B: Mark Trumbo
LF: Hyun Soo Kim
CF: Adam Jones
RF/LF: Seth Smith
UTIL: Ryan Flaherty
SP: Kevin Gausman
SP: Ubaldo Jimenez
SP: Dylan Bundy
SP: Wade Miley
RP: Zach Britton
RP: Brad Brach
RP: Mychal Givens
RP: Darren O'Day
RP: Donnie Hart

That's 20 locks. That leaves spots for at least two more outfielders, maybe a corner infielder/bench bat, and two more pitchers. It's worth noting that because of April off-days, the Orioles don't need their fifth starter, Tillman (if healthy), until later in the month.

Let's take a look at the first battleground, corner outfield, while a future post or two will look closer at the reliever and potential infielder battle.

Battle 1: Corner Outfield

Realistic options:
Joey Rickard, Aneury Tavarez, Anthony Santander, Michael Bourn, Craig Gentry

Adam Jones asked for more defensive-minded outfield help a few weeks ago, and Duquette recently obliged by signing Craig Gentry and Michael Bourn to minor league deals. Last year, the Orioles broke camp with five outfielders (Rickard, Jones, Trumbo, Kim, and Nolan Reimold). The first four are back, but Reimold is gone. Pedro Alvarez, basically a DH-only player at this point in his career, is also not around. Because of his absence, Trumbo figures to get more work at DH this season.

Throwing a wrench into things are the two Rule 5 picks, Tavarez and Santander. Tavarez, along with Bourn and Gentry, seems to fit what the O's roster lacks: speed and improved corner outfield defense. Gentry is the more well-regarded defender of the group, something which both scouts and the advanced defensive metrics agree on. Bourn is no longer a good option in center field and doesn't have a great arm, but he does still have range suitable enough for the corners. Tavarez seems to fit that mold as well, though he lacks the major league track record of Bourn and Gentry.

At 22, Santander is the youngest of the group, and probably the one with the highest ceiling. John Sickels listed Santander as the No. 5 prospect in the O's system, while MLB Pipeline placed him 15th. Fifth does seem aggressive, but then again, the Orioles' farm system is far from highly rated. It's sad (though amusing) that a Rule 5 pick can immediately be considered a team's top five prospect.

Unlike the other outfield options, Santander is more known for his offensive talents. It's almost impossible to read something about him without a comparison to Victor Martinez. Still, he has a few things working against him sticking with the Orioles: he had offseason shoulder surgery, which he's working his way back from; he's never played above Single-A ball; and he has to stick with the major league club for at least 90 days to stay in the organization. With some disabled list and roster wizardry, it wouldn't be impossible for the Orioles to try and keep Santander around; the shoulder concerns could help in that regard. But that roster spot could also be used to keep around a late-game defensive outfield replacement, which figures to be used often to protect leads with Kim, Smith, and Trumbo on the roster. Maybe it all depends how Santander's shoulder progresses.

Orioles fans are more than familiar by now with Rickard, who they hope transforms into someone like Gentry: a right-handed platoon bat with strong defensive skills. Gentry has a career 97 wRC+ against opposite-handed throwers, while in limited duty last year, Rickard posted a 131 wRC+ against lefties. Rickard isn't that good against southpaws, but it does make you wonder how useful he'd be in that role, especially if his defense improves.

Rickard's defense was talked up a lot last year, but he struggled at times. While he made some flashy plays, he did not always read the ball well off the bat and missed some plays a quality defender would make. Some of that could easily be chalked up to being a rookie. Still, Rickard has minor league options remaining, meaning the O's can give any of the other outfielders a look, if they choose.

There's one more curveball here, and it's that Bourn has an opt-out date of March 25 if he's not on the major league roster. So if the Orioles want to keep him around, he'll need to make the club this spring.

Prediction: I think the Orioles will start the season with Rickard and Bourn on the opening day roster, while placing Santander on the 60-day disabled list. I think they'll send Tavarez back to Boston, and they'll release Gentry (while also trying to keep him in the organization).

Showalter covets the flexibility that Bourn provides, and I think it matters that he joined the team last year and is familiar with what his role will be. Showalter also loves Rickard and took the chance to mention a bunch of times in the second half of last season that they really could have used him (he was out with a thumb injury and didn't play after July 20). There's a case for starting the year with Bourn/Gentry on the roster, optioning Rickard, and giving Gentry a chance, but I would guess that won't happen. And I think the O's will opt to try and keep Santander over Tavarez, though it'll take some slick roster maneuvering throughout the year.


More from Camden Depot:

- Yesterday, I joined Derek Martin on his Upon Further Review podcast to talk some Orioles baseball. Thanks to Derek for the invitation; it was a fun conversation. Check it out.

- Jon answered some questions for Cards Conclave's "Playing Pepper" series. You can see some of his thoughts on the O's offseason along with some predictions for the upcoming season.


Anonymous said...

Why would they have to release Gentry and then try to keep him in the org? Can't they just send him to norfolk? What am I missing?

Roger said...

I think the conclusion is basically correct although I think there's a chance they will break with Tavarez and Bourn and send Rickard to the minors especially if Tavarez has a strong Spring. Ultimately, they need Rickard's bat against lefties. Unfortunately, Mancini os the bat they really need against lefties and there's no space if they want to keep either Tavarez or Santander. If Santander is as good as advertised then he will stick when he comes off the DL and they'll be shuffling back end pitchers and Flaherty back and forth to the minors to be able to keep Santander Rickard, and Bourn. If Tavarez really does turn out to be as good as Bourn is now then maybe he'll stick instead of Bourn.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Anon, you are right. I was thinking about Bourn when I worded that. As far as I know, Gentry just has a minor league deal with no opt-out date. I would assume they can send him to Norfolk and stash him for a bit, if they want. That probably gives Rickard a little more of a boost.

Unknown said...

Bourn is also on a minor league deal. They don't have to release him, it's up to him whether or not he wants to opt out. I still don't see Bourn making the roster. As much as the O's have to like his skill set, I don't think anybody believes he is as good with the bat as he looked for <60 PA with Baltimore last year, and given the choice this regime have indicated a preference for holding on to Rule 5 guys over fringe vets. I wouldn't see him staying ahead of Tavarez for that reason, I can't see him staying ahead of Rickard because the O's need the right-handed bat. Maybe if Tavarez totally bombs in Spring Training he could be an option, but even so I'm not sure they wouldn't look at another infielder or Gentry in that situation. Both would seem to be better fits.