21 February 2017

Spring Training 2017: Three O's With Something To Prove

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.

J.J. Hardy

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.


Pip said...

How about trading Mark Trumbo to the Rockies? His contract is short enough and inexpensive enough that it could be traded, the Rockies desperately need a first baseman, and Trumbo is an above average first baseman. A trade under these circumstances would eliminate the loss of the draft pick, and the Rockies could then
move Ian Desmond to the OF, and the Orioles could re-sign Alvarez or just roll with Mancini.

Jon Shepherd said...

Desmond is at first not because they have no one to play there, but, rather, they have all of their outfield positions capably filled.

Pip said...

I must've missed the answer to this question then. Why would they sign Desmond if they don't need outfielders or a shortstop? Trumbo is a fine first baseman and would have a huge offensive year playing in that altitude.

Roger said...

Well, of course, some of the old OFs should not stick (Bourn excepted). Tavarez might end up being a younger version of what Bourn is now, so I'd see Bourn as a backup option. Further, the O's MUST keep Santander or figure out some way to trade for him. He is really the OF prospect the O's are looking for. I figure the O's will put Santander on the DL for as long as possible and give Tavarez every chance to prove something and if he sticks, they'll let Bourn opt out. Then if Tavarez falters during the season they'll send him back and bring in Santander when he's ready. With any luck, these decisions will be hard and the O's would try to trade for Tavarez and/or Santander to b able to keep them with options.

I actually think that Verrett and Ynoa can be real options as SP, if not now then next year. I'm betting that Nuno will take the long man role especially as he's LH and can start if needed. Seems to me like Ynoa and Nuno are real upgrades at the back end of the pitching staff.

Is Mancini really only capable of playing 1B? With Smith and Kim in their last years, the OF will be open again next year. If Davis or Mancini could, God forbid, play 3B then moving Machado to SS next year would also open up opportunities at 1B for Trumbo or Mancini.

Anonymous said...

They need to burn the Trumbo OF glove! At 56, I still have more range in the of, though I can't trhow a lick!

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Why would the Rockies trade for Trumbo now when they could have just signed him? As Jon noted, it seems like they'll be content with using Desmond and whatever else they have at first base.

Pip said...

Well, the reason I made the suggestion in the first place was because if the Rockies had signed him, they would've had to commit much more money, and also lose an important draft pick. Now that the Orioles have signed him to a very reasonable contract, if the Rockies wanted a good first baseman, they could trade for Trumbo and keep the draft pick. And of course if they were to trade for Trumbo, A competent outfielder would of course be part of the trade. So Trumbo goes to first, Desmond would go to the outfield to replace the outfielder who goes to Baltimore for Trumbo.
I think it's very logical, and would put Trumbo and Desmond each in the position where they can maximize their value.

Unknown said...

I don't think I fully understand the Bourn signing from his perspective. I guess he's a confident guy that's betting on himself, but he has to see that his path to the Major League roster is incredibly circuitous. Is he going to take the minor league assignment if he doesn't make the roster? Would he not be happier going to play in Japan for a year if he really doesn't think he'll get another offer from a Big League club? It's just really hard to see him getting a spot as the 3rd left-handed OF bat on the roster and leapfrogging Tavarez to get there. It seems to me that a deal of this nature would have made more sense - from both the player and team perspectives - for Jeff Francoeur. While failing magnificently to live up to expectations Francoeur has quietly put up an uninspiring but perfectly solid .777 career OPS against lefties. That's about 180 points better than Seth Smith against lefties and only about 50 points worse than Seth Smith against righties. It's also better than it seems reasonable to expect from Kim and 169 points better than Trumbo did against lefties last year. Even though Francoeur's skill set is far less complimentary to the guys with roster spots locked up than Bourn's, he seems like a guy with a clearer path to actually making the roster and contributing significantly to the Orioles Major League club in 2017.

Unknown said...

I guess if nothing else Bourn gets a chance to showcase himself for the rest of the league in Spring Training. There is that.

Roger said...

Bourn actually has the inside track. If he performs adequately, all the other "old" OFs will be dropped. If either or both of Tavarez and Santander do not perform better than Bourn then they will be given back and the job will be his. Bourn's only real competition is himself and Tavarez/Santander.

Roger said...

If you guys really wanted to make this Trumbo to the Rockies trade deal really make sense then the O's should trade Trumbo for Desmond and pick up the bulk of salary cost for both. Desmond makes more sense to the O's than the Rockies and Trumbo makes more sense for the Rockies than the O's.

Pip said...

That particular trade did not occur to me, but it actually makes quite a bit of sense. Desmond is a natural shortstop who turned into a very good outfielder. His defense in the outfield would have been better than any outfielder we stuck out there last season. Plus, he could of course split time with JJ at short, the only problem I see is that his contract is pretty long and pretty expensive.

Matt Bennett said...

Schaefer, Dickerson, and Washington are after-thoughts. Put them all in AAA. Washington has a pretty good bat but at 260 pounds he's not going to be defensively sound in the outfield. At 1B, a .254 average and 142 strikeouts in 104 games in the PCL probably doesn't translate too well. Craig Gentry intrigues me. He hasn't done anything with the bat the last two years but they were such small sample sizes it's hard to say too much. In the four years to 2015, he racked up 10.1 WAR per baseball-reference in just a part time roll. He should platoon with Kim or Smith while Rickard gets some more time in AAA(really just a numbers game at that point.) I would much rather try to keep Tavares and Sartander over Bourn. We know what bourn is going to do and it's just going to be replacement level.