The O’s front office didn’t make any big signings or trades in the offseason but they did let a few of “our guys” slip through the cracks in free agency. The “Hot Stove” was lukewarm at best. Naturally, there are a few questions that Orioles fans are looking to be answered this spring.
Pitchers and catchers report to camp today, Thursday, February 19th and the full squad will report Monday, February 23.
Here’s our Top 5 questions for the Orioles as they begin spring training in Sarasota, Florida.
1. What can we expect from the return of Wieters and Machado?
Matt Wieters struggled with and injury to his elbow on his throwing arm early on in the 2014 season. He only played in 26 games but was having a great start to the season with a bat. In 104 at bats he had 32 hits, 5 home runs and 18 RBIs with a .308 AVG. The Orioles decided against listing Wieters as a DH while he rehabbed the elbow, which later required surgery. The Orioles expect Matt to be ready to catch on Opening Day but there are still question marks about whether that is realistic. Manager Buck Showalter has several options to back up Wieters behind the plate, such as Caleb Joseph, Steve Clevenger, J.P. Arencibia, Ryan Lavarnway and Brian Ward. They also have a young developing catcher in Chance Sisco. If Wieters isn’t ready to catch, come opening day, could they decide to use him as the DH until he’s ready or will they place him on the disabled list?
Manny Machado had just come back from a season ending ACL injury in 2013 and excitement had build all spring for his return. After just 82 games played he went down again with another nasty injury to his other knee. As if it weren’t painful enough to watch him grimace from the left knee injury, fans winced and feared the worst seeing him go down again clutching his right knee. Some wondered if the young third-baseman that showed so much promise was made of glass and questioned whether he’d ever be able to play a full season. After his second surgically repaired knee in August 2014, Machado is excited for spring training; “I have a lot of time to get ready. That is the key: having a regular offseason.” Machado said, “[I] was doing my rehab in Sarasota and then went to Miami to do my regular weightlifting and get ready for the season. Been exciting. Looking forward to spring training.” Manager Buck Showalter even went as far as to say that Manny will not be limited “at all” in spring training when he was interviewed Feb. 17 on MLB Network Radio.
2. Will Chris Davis and Ubaldo Jimenez rebound from rough 2014 seasons?
Chris Davis had a breakout year in 2013 with 53 home runs, an All-Star season and Silver Slugger performance. It was unexpected that he would repeat that performance in 2014 but nobody thought he would slump as far as he did. His hits dropped from 167 to 88 mostly due to the shift being used against him. He hit less than half the home runs with 26 in 2014 and his RBIs dropped from 138 to 72. His batting average (career .253) plummeted from .286 to .196 as well. Much of his lack on power and drop in numbers can be attributed to an oblique injury that plagued him through much of the season. In an interview on 105.7 The Fan, Chris said, “It really wasn’t as evident how bad it affected me until this offseason, but I’m completely 100 percent healthy right now and actually a little bit stronger than I was at this point last year.” Add in the suspension for using Adderall and Davis was less than thrilled with his numbers. With the addition of new hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh, Crush is really looking to get back on track for 2015.
Ubaldo Jimenez was signed in the 2014 offseason to a four-year, $50 million contract. Jimenez had a solid 2013 with a 13-9 record with a 3.30 ERA in 32 starts which dipped to 6-9 with a 4.81 ERA in 22 starts last season. Jimenez was demoted to the bullpen after Miguel Gonzalez returned from a rehab stint in Triple-A Norfolk in August 2014. The former Cy Young candidate is surely looking to earn his keep with the Orioles after they signed him to a big deal but expectations are understandably low.
3. Who can replace Nick Markakis?
This is really a two-part question.
Nick held down right field like nobody else. He knew the corner like the back of his hand and could anticipate any strange hop or ricochet routinely. Not only did he have knowledge of the outfield but he also had an arm that garnered respect from base-runners. If you were brave enough to round second on a stand-up double into the corner Nick had a cannon that could gun you down at third. I’m not sure if anyone on the current roster has that type of strength but that’s what spring training is for.
There is also the question of who the lead-off hitter will be. Nick was a consistent (if not prototypical) number 1 guy, although he didn’t have astronomical numbers. Up until yesterday most of the talk was that Alejandro De Aza would fill this role but now that there is talk of the O’s signing speedster Everth Cabrera, this should shake things up a bit.
4. Can any one player replicate the production from Cruz?
Nelson Cruz had a great year with 40 home runs and 108 RBI. Those type of numbers are hard to reproduce, even for Cruz. The best power hitter that the Orioles have is Chris Davis. He had better numbers than that in 2013 (53 HR/138 RBI) but slumped in 2014 (26 HR/72 RBI). If you average out those two years that would put him at just under 40 HR and 105 RBI. That just shy of Cruz’s numbers. With the new hitting coach and a healthy oblique Chris is capable of filling the gap but in order to match the totals for the team other players will have to boost their numbers as well.
J.J. Hardy was averaging around 26 HR in previous year but only had 9 in 2014. He admitted he was struggling with his back injury throughout the season but is now healthy and ready to rebound as well. Matt Wieters power numbers will help the cause as well, compared to his replacements in 2014 (Joseph and Hundley). The combination of Delmon Young, Steve Pearce and new addition Travis Snider could also add to the HR numbers as well. It’s looking like the Orioles will have to fill the gap by committee.
5. Which 5 pitchers will make the starting rotation?
Tillman, Chen, Norris, Gonzalez are the steady layovers from 2014 but who will be the O’s 5th man, Gausman or Jimenez? Jimenez will have to have a really good showing in spring training to regain his spot in the starting rotation. Long-reliever T.J. McFarland is also looking to have a good spring and possibly give Gausman and Jimenez a run for their money in the starting rotation. Although that is unlikely, it’s more motivation for the five-spot guys to be at their best. Dylan Bundy could also see some time in the majors this year if there are any injuries or slumping performances.
Can one of them move to the bullpen like Matusz (2012), Britton (2013) and Hunter (2012) did and be effective? The Orioles are also looking to fortify their bullpen after losing Andrew Miller. Hunter, O’Day, Matusz and Britton are solid out of the bullpen but they’re looking for guys like Brad Brach and Ryan Webb to step up and fill the middle innings. The odd-man out of the starting rotation could likely find himself in the pen much like Jimenez in the later part of the 2014 season.
Possible prospects to bolster the 2015 roster:
Dylan Bundy (RHP — 22 y/o)
Eddie Gamboa (RHP/Knuckleballer — 30 y/o)
Hunter Harvey (RHP — 20 y/o)
Christian Walker (1B — 23 y/o)
Chance Sisco (C — 19 y/o)
Dariel Alvarez (OF — 26 y/o)
Tim Berry (LHP — 23 y/o)
Mike Wright (RHP — 25 y/o)
Zach Davies (RHP — 22 y/o)
Henry Urrutia (DH/PH/OF — 28 y/o)
by Chris B.
Content Producer for CBS Radio Baltimore – Born & Raised in Baltimore with a passion for local sports with a dash of cynicism.