The Orioles lineup is nearly set. Barring injuries, it’s pretty safe to project an Opening Day lineup of Chris Davis at first, Jonathan Schoop at second, J.J. Hardy at short, Manny Machado at third, Hyun Soo Kim in left, Adam Jones in center and Matt Wieters catching.
Mark Trumbo will be somewhere. He’ll probably be the DH.
It’s a safe bet the April 4th’s right fielder isn’t currently on the roster though Dariel Alvarez, L.J. Hoes, Nolan Reimold, Joey Rickard and Henry Urrutia will make a counterargument. Jimmy Paredes might, too.
Signing of another right fielder could change the composition of the batting order, but the eight players who should be in it against Minnesota’s Kyle Gibson or Phil Hughes are fairly set.
Who will lead off?
Manager Buck Showalter doesn’t care what you or I think. He’ll go with what seems to be the unconventional.
For years, Brian Roberts was not only the conventional, but the logical leadoff man, but when he wasn’t ready to start the 2012 season, Showalter went with Reimold, and he hit fairly well there until he was hurt.
After much experimenting, Showalter took Nick Markakis out of his comfort zone and surprisingly put him there after the All-Star break. Markakis had been hurt and when he returned, flourished as in the leadoff role.
Showalter explained to Markakis that he’d get more at-bats there.
Nate McLouth often hit first after Markakis was hurt in Sept. 2012, and that carried through in 2013. Markakis returned to the leadoff spot a year later, but when he left, Showalter had an uncomfortable choice last year.
In the season’s first month, Alejandro De Aza batted first, but when he struck out too often, Showalter went the unconventional route again, and inserted Machado there.
Machado flourished there, but in September, Showalter moved Reimold back to the top spot. Gerardo Parra got some time there, too.
In 111 games, Machado hit .300 with 23 home runs and a .364 on-base percentage. He’d never walked much in his first three years in the majors, but showed much improved plate discipline. In 21 games in the second spot, Machado hit just .218, but walked more often than he did batting first. He had a .344 OBP.
Machado’s power numbers were great. He hit 35 home runs, and led the team with the fewest stolen bases in the majors, with 20.
He could return to the top of the lineup, but Showalter would rather but him lower in the lineup.
It’s safe to bet that Davis, Hardy, Jones, Trumobo and Wieters will not be leading off.
Jones makes great contact, has speed, but doesn’t walk very often. Hardy doesn’t like leading off, and hasn’t done well there in the past. He’s another aggressive hitter. The Orioles didn’t re-sign Davis to be a leadoff man, and if the Orioles are to have a catching batting leadoff, it won’t be Wieters. Trumbo has never led off in his big league career, and he doesn’t have an impressive on-base percentage, either.
In the future, maybe Schoop could get a chance, but last year, walked only nine times in 86 games while striking out 79.
Well, what about Kim?
Kim has a lifetime OBP of .406 in South Korea. Last year, he walked 101 times in 141 games and struck out 63. He had a wonderful .438 OBP and hit .326 with 28 home runs and 121 at-bats.
One of spring training’s most interesting stories will be Kim’s adjustment to the majors. He comes to the Orioles with a reputation in Korea for being an aggressive player who isn’t afraid to argue with umpires. Showalter knows that has to be toned down.
He’ll not name him as the Opening Day leadoff hitter perhaps not even until near Opening Day, assuming Kim shows him enough in March to warrant the responsibility. It’s not Showalter’s way to declare an Opening Day starter in mid-February or a leadoff hitter when the games begin.
Kim had 11 stolen bases last year, but he won’t be batting leadoff to steal. It would be to get on base for the others to drive him in.
Of course, the Orioles could sign or trade for another player to start in right, or maybe Alvarez, Hoes, Reimold, Rickard, Urrutia or Paredes finds their way into the lineup.
Alvarez, Paredes and Urrutia aren’t terribly patient hitters. Hoes’ OBP is just .289 in a relatively short big league career. Rickard, the Rule 5 pick, has a great minor league OBP, but has never played in the majors, and he’ll probably be used as a fill-in outfielder or pinch runner if he makes the club.
Unless Showalter reverts to Machado or Reimold, who isn’t even a certainty to be on the roster, it’s probably Kim’s job to lose.
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