The Orioles announced that erstwhile backup catcher Taylor Teagarden will not be ready for opening day, and he’ll almost certainly be placed on the Disabled List. That means that Ronny Paulino will be the Orioles’ backup catcher for the start of the season. That, in turn, means that John Hester and Caleb Joseph will likely be the two catchers on the Tides’ opening-day roster. I don’t see any other catchers in the organization who are ready for AAA.
The Orioles claimed third base prospect Zelous Wheeler off waivers from the Brewers, and to make room for him designated for assignment left-handed starter Dana Eveland. Eveland stated that if he cleared waivers, he would accept an assignment to Norfolk, where he likely would join the starting rotation. It’s unlikely that Eveland will be picked up by another team, because he’s not significantly better than what most teams already have and organizations are looking to reduce their rosters, not add to them. So it makes sense for Eveland to hang onto a job he will have, rather than try to find one in a tough market.
Zelous Wheeler is a twenty-five year old. It looks like the Brewers had been developing him as a utility player; he played 2009 as a third baseman, moved to shortstop for 2010, and moved to third for 2011, playing several games each year at second base. Offensively, Wheeler’s strongest attribute is probably his strike-zone judgement; his career on-base percentage is .371. His most noteworthy attribute is his consistency; his full-season minor-league batting averages have been .258, .268, .275, and .272; his corresponding on-base percentages have been .346, .370, .382, and .378. Unfortuately for him, he’s listed at 5’10″ and 220 lb., so he doesn’t really look like an athlete.
Wheeler was optioned to Norfolk, where he’ll compete with Josh Barfield, Ryan Adams, Matt Antonelli, and Josh Bell for time at third base (with some of these other players covering second base.) It’s looking more and more as though Josh Bell is the odd man out here, and I would be surprised to see him still in the Orioles organization by Memorial Day.
Yesterday, the Orioles optioned three players to Norfolk, reassigned five others to the minor-league camp, and essentially placed two other players on the disabled list. With just over a week to go before the Tides’ season opener, I can make some guesses about who will be on the Tides when they play at Charlotte on April 5.
The Orioles optioned pitchers Brad Bergesen and Jason Berken to Norfolk, and announced that both will be used as starting pitchers. I expected both to be with the Tides, and Bergesen to be a starter. I am surprised that Berken will be used as a starter, as his only major league success was as a relief pitcher. This tells me that Berken isn’t really in the Orioles future plans, and that they’re just hoping that lightning will strike.
The Orioles also sent Dontrelle Willis and Armando Gallaraga to minor-league camp. I’d be surprised if Gallaraga is in the organization and not with the Tides, and in the Tides’ starting rotation. He has 518 innings of major-league experience and hasn’t been below AAA since 2007. Willis, on the other hand, is being groomed as a left-handed spot reliever. The Orioles may want to stash him at Bowie so he can be more easily available for a quick call-up.
John Hester was sent to minor-league camp, which can’t have been much of a surprise after going 0-for-14 in spring games. I’d have to say he’s headed for Norfolk. Even if Caleb Joseph is heading for Norfolk, there’s still a need for another catcher. Taylor Teagarden is recovering from injury and Ronny Paulino is the only other backup catcher in camp, so there won’t be another catcher coming down. That means Hester should be here.
Matt Antonelli was optioned to Norfolk, and Steve Tolleson and Scott Beerer were sent to minor-league camp. That makes for some interesting possibilities. Antonelli, Ryan Adams, Josh Barfield, and Josh Bell have all been second basemen or third basemen in their careers. There’s no way you can get all four players into the lineup at second, third, and DH. Even assuming that Jai Miller and Scott Beerer end up in Norfolk, that still leaves the third outfield spot uncertain. I still think L.J. Hoes will start the season in Bowie, so that might mean that either Adams or Bell will get a look as a corner outfielder. Tolleson is a career utility player who would be welcome in Norfolk, playing six games a week at five positions.
Brian Roberts was put on the Disabled List, which means that Robert Andino will start the season as the Orioles’ second baseman and that Ryan Flaherty will make the Orioles as the utility infielder. Zach Britton was also put on the Disabled List, which probably slots Brian Matusz into the Orioles rotation but doesn’t really clarify Chris Tillman’s status.
I’ve tried to maintain a balance among being respectful, being true to myself, and being interesting/entertaining in my writings. To do that, I try to avoid insulting or mocking players as people, as opposed to criticizing their performance. It’s the difference between writing that player A hasn’t hit very well and needs to improve to make the major leagues, and writing that player A has no business playing professional baseball. I’m in no position to tell anyone that he shouldn’t follow his dream, nor certainly that he should give up his job to let someone else have hit.
Early in this blog’s history, I wrote an article about two players who I felt had interesting International League histories. Looking back at it again, I feel that I was too demeaning toward them. My point in writing about Jorge Velandia and Wes Timmons was not — or should not have been — to insult them or laugh at them. I wanted to share that I had noticed that Velandia and Timmons had been around the league a long time, and I could have done so without the not-so-subtle sarcasm.
Wes Timmons is on the verge of making the Oakland Athletics out of spring training; he’s going to accompany them on their road trip to Japan. I’m happy that he’ll be rewarded for his years in the minor leagues. I’m also sorry for all the times I’ve made him the butt of cheap jokes with my IL friends. He’s gotten the last laugh on me.
- The Indians claimed Rick VandenHurk off waivers from the Blue Jays. He’ll probably be with their AAA Columbus Clippers affiliate.
- The Orioles signed Dontrelle Willis to a minor-league deal after he was released by the Phillies. The plan is to turn him into a left-handed relief specialist. He didn’t pitch much or well with the Phillies in their spring, so most likely will start the season in Norfolk or Bowie to work out the kinks.
- The Orioles also signed Josh Barfield, the former Padres and Indians second baseman. Barfield played with Lehigh Valley last season, and hadn’t been signed until now. I would assume Barfield was signed to play at Norfolk, and may mean that Ryan Adams will see time at other positions.
It should be clear that the pitchers on the 2012 Tides will be determined, in large part, by the pitchers who win spots on the 2012 Orioles. Going into spring training, no one had a spot in the Orioles starting rotation locked up. With two weeks left in spring training, there’s been a little bit of clarification, but there is also still a lot of uncertainty.
- Zach Britton is suffering from “arm inflammation” and is almost certainly not going to be in the rotation at the start of the season.
- Tommy Hunter, another rotation candidate, is making his first spring appearance today. There’s not going to be enough time for him to get ready to be in the rotation by the start of the year.
- Jake Arrieta has pitched more in minor-league games than in big-league spring games, but seems likely to be ready by opening day.
- Brian Matusz hasn’t pitched all that well, but he has a 16-1 K-BB ratio in fifteen innings and looks to be back in the rotation.
- Jason Hammel and Wei-Lin Chen have pitched well enough to solidify spots in the opening-day rotation.
- Alfredo Simon is still hanging around, but hurt his cause by not telling Buck Showalter that he had hurt his groin. That’s yet another reason why I wouldn’t want him around.
- Despite Zach Britton’s unavailabilty, Chris Tillman hasn’t really pitched well enough to seize a roster spot. Because he has an option year remaining, I think he’ll start the year at Norfolk.
- Brad Bergesen has been pitching out of the bullpen and not pitching very well. He’ll likely begin the season at Norfolk.
- Dana Eveland has pitched slightly worse than Brian Matusz.
Summary — we still don’t really know who’ll pitch for the Tides in 2012.
Over the past few days, the Orioles have made many player assignments. Late Thursday, March 15, the Orioles optioned Joe Mahoney, the first baseman, to Norfolk. Again, players on the team’s 40-man roster are optioned while players not on the 40-man roster are reassigned to minor-league camp. And, again, while Mahoney’s option to Norfolk doesn’t guarantee that he’ll start the season at Norfolk, it seems more likely than not that he’ll do so. Mahoney’s played well at AA and there’s no other first basemen who also should be at Norfolk.
The list of players reassigned to minor-league camp include a number of players who will likely start the season at Frederick or Delmarva, but who were invited to major-league camp either for the experience or to provide some more arms and legs during the early days of spring training. Three 2011 Tides, however were assigned to minor-league camp. Blake Davis will almost certainly start the season with Norfolk. The Tides don’t have an abundance of middle infielders and Davis has played fairly well at AAA over the last couple of seasons. The destinations of infielder Carlos Rojas and relief pitcher Cole McCurry are uncertain. Rojas is nothing more than roster-filler. He’ll be assigned to Frederick, Bowie, or Norfolk, depending on where there’s a hole. McCurry has done enough to justify an assignment to Norfolk, but it will depend on what other pitchers get assigned to Norfolk.
Oliver Drake, the Orioles prospect originally drafted as a sophomore-eligible from the Naval Academy, was optioned to AA Bowie. This should have been expected, as Drake struggled at Bowie in 2012 and must show he can handle the level before moving up. If he does pitch well at Bowie, I would expect him to be promoted to the Tides, and it’ll be interesting to see if and how the Tides try to market the ex-Midshipman Drake to the large Hampton Roads U.S. Navy population.
In a previous post, I discussed the six players who played in 100 or more games with the Bowie Baysox in 2011. In setting a limit of 100 games, I overlooked a few other players who played quite a bit at Bowie and who didn’t get promoted to the Tides. These include:
- L.J. Hoes, outfielder (95 games). L.J. Hoes appears to be the best Orioles’ prospect likely to make it to Norfolk in 2012. He’ll play 2012 at age 22. He’s also another semi-local player, drafted in 2008 out of St. John’s High School in Washington, DC. Originally a second baseman, he was moved to the outfield in 2011. Interestingly, he started 2011 in Frederick and was hitting .241/.297/.342 when he was promoted to Bowie; in Bowie he hit much better — .305/.379/.413. Baseball America ranks Hoes as the #5 prospect in the Orioles system, behind four players who project to play at A-ball or lower in 2012. The problem with Hoes, as I see it, is that all of his value is in his batting average — he doesn’t have great power and he makes contact so often he doesn’t draw a lot of walks. He’s kind of like Brandon Snyder in the sense that Harbor Park isn’t kind to a player with his skill set. I expect Hoes to start 2012 at Bowie and maybe get to Norfolk in mid-season.
- Joe Mahoney, first baseman (85 games). Joe Mahoney is a left-handed power hitter, who doesn’t strike out a lot but also doesn’t walk a lot and hits for a pretty decent average. His offensive game is similar to, but clearly not nearly as good as, Aramis Ramirez’. Mahoney would be a good fit for Harbor Park, and is clearly ready (he turned 25 in the offseason.) There’s no obvious first-base candidate for Norfolk ahead of Mahoney, so I expect him to be at Norfolk on Opening Day. His big problem has been an inability to stay on the field — he played 95 games in 2008 and the 85 games in 2011; so he’s behind the ideal timetable.
- Buck Britton, utilityman (82 games). Buck Britton made a desperation end-of-season cameo appearance with the 2010 Tides, and spent 2011 at Bowie and Frederick. He’ll turn 26 in May. He may make the Tides as a bench player, but he’s not someone to get excited about.