SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — Jake Fox is tied for the major league lead in home runs, is batting .300 and can play at least four positions.
None of that guarantees him a job with the Baltimore Orioles on opening day.
Fox has nine homers and a lofty .786 slugging percentage in only 70 at-bats this spring. That’s a vast improvement over his 18 long balls and .236 batting average in 428 career trips to the plate with the Chicago Cubs, Oakland and Baltimore.
“He’s done a good job in spring training — offensively,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said, implying without a hint of coyness that Fox’s bid to make the squad will depend heavily on his deftness with a glove.
On a team with home run hitters Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds and Luke Scott, Fox’s value to the Orioles is as a utility player. He can play first base, third and left field, but his best chance to stick around in April is as the backup to catcher Matt Wieters.
Craig Tatum is also in the running to become the second-string catcher. Fox and Tatum have adjoining lockers, but their fate is not necessarily connected.
“Knowing Buck, I don’t think there’s a competition between any two guys,” Fox said. “I think he’s going to take the best 13 position players that are going to help him win ball games. I don’t really see it as a competition between Tatum and I. I think the media is making it more of it than what is actually there.”
Fox, 28, was acquired by the Orioles last June in a trade with Oakland. He batted .220 with five homers and 10 RBIs in 100 at-bats with Baltimore, numbers he deemed unacceptable.
“When Buck came in last year, I really don’t think I gave him a true indication of what I was capable of doing,” Fox said.
Instead of sulking, Fox headed south to play winter ball.
“Just to get by rhythm back, get my confidence back,” he said. “It was a tough trip coming over here from Oakland. I did some things with my swing that really wasn’t me. That’s one of the reasons I gave up my offseason, went down and played this winter. I think the results show this spring.”
The question is, will it translate to a roster spot for the April 1 opener in Tampa Bay?
“At this point in my career I don’t think I have to prove to somebody that I can play defense,” Fox said. “Right now it’s about showing what my bat can do on a daily basis.”
Showalter is more interested in defense. Fox has nine errors in 166 career games and has thrown out two of eight runners attempting to steal.
Not bad, not great.
“Right now it’s hard because I feel like I’m a jack of all trades and a master of none,” Fox said. “I move around so much it’s hard to get good and learn the art of one position. I hope some day they will come to me and say, ‘We want you be our everyday this.’ Then I’ll be able to work on it and really get good at one spot, instead of just being average or a little above average at four or five.”
Perhaps that situation will be rectified in the future. For now, however, Fox is just trying to make the team.
“Every day I’m going to show up to the park, work hard, have fun, bring my lunch pail and not worry about the things I can’t control,” he said. “Coming in, no one had a guaranteed job. So you just play hard and try not to really worry about the rest of it.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)