Major-league opening day is March 31, and the Tides’ opening day is a week later, April 7. The impending cutdown of the major-league roster means that the minor-league rosters will be identified, and so I’ve been following the Orioles transactions in the small print of the newspapers. There’s really no difference between being “optioned” and being “assigned to minor league camp” — players on the 40-man roster are optioned and players not on the 40-man roster are assigned to minor league camp. Final team assignments won’t be made, in some cases, until the day before the minor league season begins.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have a pretty good idea about some of the Tides. For example, Matt Angle has been optioned to Norfolk. Angle had a good 2010 season for the Tides, and he plays center field, so it’s almost certain that he’ll actually end up in Norfolk. For other players, it’s a numbers game. Although Chorye Spoon pitched pretty well in the Eastern League, and would usually be promoted to the Tides this season, he may wind up back in the Eastern League if Norfolk has too many other starting pitchers for the Tides. (That happened to Jason Berken two years ago; he was promoted after about a week when a spot opened up.) On the other hand, guys like Pedro Viola and Pat Egan are organization roster filler, and will be assigned wherever there’s room. And, some players, both former prospects and veteran free-agent signings, may be released outright if their particular skills aren’t needed.
Who is he?
Yet another minor-league second baseman who can hit for a high average, with little power or patience, and who can’t handle the job defensively. Typically, their organizations try to move them to a corner outfield spot, and they don’t hit well enough to play there. If they have some speed, they carve out careers as utilitymen, like Chone Figgins or Eric Patterson. If they don’t have speed, they get released as soon as they have a season in which they hit under .280. The 2010 Tides had a couple of other guys like this, Jonathan Tucker and Paco Figueroa.
Miguel Abreu doesn’t have speed.
Could the Orioles have made him the regular shortstop, rather than trading for J.J. Hardy?
They could, but it probably wouldn’t have been a good idea. The Alex Gonzalez family of shortstops is defined by (1) offensive contributions driven by power, with very marginal strikeout-to-walk ratios and on-base percentages; (2) reasonably good defensive shortstop play, with strong arms but a tendency to commit errors; (3) not a lot of speed. This applies to both Toronto Alex Gonzalez and Florida Alex Gonzalez, and they are the two best players of this type I can think of, hence the name.
Robert Andino is clearly in the Alex Gonzalez family of shortstops, but he’s not nearly as good as the Alex Gonzalezes. He’s closer in ability to two 1980′s shortstops, Todd Cruz and Andres Thomas. Cruz and Thomas could have a batting average upside around .250, and if they could hit .250, their .305 OBP, power, and defensive contributions would keep them in the lineup. But their downside would be a .200 batting average, which would lower their on-base percentage to an unacceptable .275 or so. At that level, their errors became less tolerable, and they almost immediately washed out of the majors after that first off-season.
That’s Andino. If he would hit .250, he’d stay in the lineup. As soon as he hit .210, he’d be gone.
Is he a viable bench player?
No. He’s not a good enough offensive player to be used as a pinch-hitter, and his error-prone-ness on defense make him a poor risk as a replacement. In general, you don’t want players on your bench who can lose you games. Andino is likely to commit costly errors that will cost you games.
Is he a future star?
No. Angle has no power, so he has no star potential.
How about a future regular?
Maybe. While Angle has no power, he is an outstanding defensive center fielder. Offensively, he has good speed which he uses well; he’ll take a walk; and can probably hit .280 in the major leagues.
The interesting thing about Angle is that he’d probably have a better chance of being a regular on a good team — or, more specifically, a good offensive team — than on a bad team like the 2010 Orioles. Angle doesn’t profile that much differently than Brett Gardner. But because the Yankees have a good offensive team, they can afford to bat Gardner in the 9th spot in the batting order, where a speedy on-base machine with little power can be the so-called second leadoff man. Unfortunately, the 2010 Orioles were carrying at least two non-hitters in the lineup. Angle’s not a good enough hitter to bat leadoff, and he doesn’t have enough power to bat 7th or higher. So, he could play regularly on a good team but not on a bad team.
The Orioles have added Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds, Vladimir Guerrero, and J.J. Hardy to the lineup, presumably improving the offense. Unfortunately, that probably moves Luke Scott to left field, and Angle won’t be beating him out unless Scott’s defense is unplayable.
How about a bench player?
Definitely. A table-setting pinch-hitter, who can pinch-run, and play brilliant defense in the outfield? Who hits left-handed? I’d sure think I’d find room on my bench for him. The Orioles are probably committed to carrying at least twelve pitchers, which will hurt his chances.
Is he a future star?
I may be in the minority, but I’m not boarding Jake Arrieta’s bandwagon. Arrieta was a highly-touted prospect after he signed an above-slot contract out of college; he shot through A and AA ball and reached Norfolk in mid-2009. He pitched unimpressively in 2009 but seemed much better in 2010; after twelve starts, he was called up to Baltimore and pitched superficially okay (6-6. 4.66 ERA).
But both in AAA and Baltimore Arrieta hasn’t been able to throw strikes consistently. In AAA, his BB/K ratio has been 67-142 and his K/IP ratio has been 142/165; in the majors, they’ve been 48-52 and 52-100. His AAA numbers aren’t outstanding and his major league numbers are bad. I’ve seen Arrieta pitch several times at Norfolk, and he just doesn’t have good control or command. I expect Arrieta to have occasional flashes of brilliance, but I also expect him to be a mediocre contributor over the long haul.