In the first weeks of 2016, the Orioles will try and decide who plays first base and right field. Those decisions will also impact the composition of the team’s bench, but many of those positions are already accounted for.
To be sure, seven starting spots are already spoken for. J.J. Hardy (shortstop), Adam Jones (center field), Hyun Soo Kim (left field), Manny Machado (third base), Jonathan Schoop (second base), Mark Trumbo and Matt Wieters (catcher).
While Kim hasn’t played in the major leagues, the Orioles wouldn’t have made a two-year, $7 million commitment to him unless they were convinced he could be a regular. He’s slated to play left field.
Trumbo’s position is secure, but whether he plays first base, right field or is the primary designated hitter depends on whether the Orioles re-sign Chris Davis, sign Pedro Alvarez or someone else.
Assuming the Orioles carry 12 pitchers, that leaves six of the 13 position players. While Ryan Flaherty and Caleb Joseph could conceivably be optioned to Norfolk, they won’t be.
Flaherty’s ability to play multiple infield and outfield positions is a plus, and he’s a left-handed hitter. Joseph could be the starting catcher for a number of major league teams.
The Orioles re-signed Nolan Reimold, and while he won’t be the primary left field, he could play there if the left-handed Kim has difficulty against lefties. He could also play some DH in a platoon. So could Joseph if Wieters is healthy and plays 120 or some games. Of course, Wieters could DH or play some first base, too.
A second utility infielder is unlikely to be carried, but the Orioles like Paul Janish, with whom they agreed on a minor league contract last week. If he could extend his defensive wizardry to the outfield and be a credible backup to Jones in center, that would help. But, his exemplary play at shortstop as insurance in case Hardy gets hurt may be good enough.
Some important bench questions to be answered in spring training include the fates of L.J. Hoes, Jimmy Paredes and Joey Rickard.
Hoes, who shockingly has a grand total of three at-bats with the Orioles, was traded for in November, and could compete with Reimold for an extra outfielder’s job.
It might be hard for the Orioles to carry both Hoes and Reimold, who hit right-handed.
If Paredes repeats his outstanding spring in 2016, the Orioles may be forced to carry him. A year ago, Paredes looked like a candidate to be moved off the 40-man roster, but he had a wonderful spring training, and after a short stint on the disabled list, sparkled in the season’s early months before fizzling in the second half.
He’s a switch hitter who is far better from the left side than the right, but is an enormous defensive liability. He’s listed as an infielder, but the Orioles shudder when they see him with a glove. He went to the Dominican Republic to play the outfield for a time in November, and the team hopes he could play some in right.
Paredes is no threat to be the injury insurance for Jones in center, a position manager Buck Showalter badly wants to upgrade. Of the choices here, Hoes seems to be the best match.
Maybe Rickard, the Rule 5 pick, could be the backup centerfielder.
Rickard has played more games in center than anywhere else, and like Kim, has great on-base numbers, but not in the major leagues.
Last year in three levels, Rickard batted .321 with a .427 OBP. He began in the Florida State League, and after 23 games moved up to Double A, and finished with a .360 average and .437 on-base percentage in 29 games at Triple-A Durham.
Rickard stole 23 bases in 29 attempts in the minors, and could provide some needed speed. The team doesn’t have a logical pinch runner.
Henry Urrutia remains on the 40-man roster, and while he hits left-handed, something the team desperately needs, it doesn’t seem that he’s looked upon as a true contender to make the team next spring.
While many others were recalled in September, Urrutia went to Sarasota to stay ready in case he was needed. He wasn’t.
Urrutia, who hit creditably during an August stint, was sent down near the end of the month to make room for another Cuban defector, Dariel Alvarez.
Alvarez didn’t play much in the final weeks of the season, and unlike a year ago when the team looked upon him as a real prospect, he doesn’t seem to be getting much love this time.
Surely the Orioles will add another player or two who will fit into the mix. The identities of those jockeying for bench positions are much more certain than those who may fill out the final starting spots.
MORE ORIOLES: Orioles looking to add to their club as 2016 begins