I would submit that college basketball is the sport where coaching is the most important. Certainly you see coaches more involved in the progression of the game in that sport than in any others. However the value of a good coach is high in all sports, including MLB. Most people agree that Buck Showalter is one of the “good coaches” in the league. Part of being a good coach is also being a good judge of talent. I would argue that Showalter is as good as any. He’s never won a World Series, however he did assemble teams with the Yankees, Diamondbacks, and Rangers that had success down the road.
In no way am I suggesting that Showalter is not a good coach or aududicator of talent, because I believe that he’s both of those things. However as the Orioles prepare to gather at camp, I think we’ll really start to see how good he can be. Last season the O’s entered camp with the full knowledge of who was going to play where on Opening Day at almost all positions. This year very much of that is up in the air. The following positions are “set” (in my opinion): Wieters-C, Davis-1B, Hardy-SS, Reynolds-3B, Markakis-RF, Jones-CF. (This is contingent on the fact that Adam Jones isn’t traded before Opening Day, and that Markakis is ready to go coming off of surgery.) The rest are up for grabs.
When it comes to the rest of the positions, if you show up to the party you’ll have a shot to stay. By show up to the party, I don’t mean that you need to go and get chips and bean dip! However if you show up to play and compete, you’ll be in the mix. The five best pitchers coming out of camp will be in the starting rotation on Opening Day. Showalter’s said that Nolan Reimold will be given the opprotunity to win the starting job in left field, and Robert Andino at second base. (This is assuming that Brian Roberts is not healthy; if somehow he’s ready to go on April 6th he’s you’re starting second baseman and the Orioles suddenly have more infield depth.) This is not to say that either of those guys have the inside track at their respective positions by any means, however they’re going to be given a chance.
There are also position battles in the bullpen, as the Orioles have more pitchers than slots. I think that the Orioles’ bullpen has the opprotunity to be much improved year-over-year given the amount of competition. Ultimately, the decision and the onus on all of these positions lies with Buck Showalter. My personal opinion is that Reimold will win the starting left field job, and that Andino is the starting second baseman on Opening Day. However I also think we’ll see Roberts this year; call it a hunch if you will.
Showalter and Dan Duquette will probably have some tough decisions to make as we roll into the final weeks of camp. However again, this is where we’ll see if Showalter truly is that great coach that we believe him to be. My hope is that the Orioles don’t play roster games with players and send them back to Norfolk simply because they have options remaining. Coming out of spring training, the roster should be comprised of the 25 guys that give the O’s the best chance to win day in and day out. If that means outright releasing people, that’s what they’ll need to do. Especially with pitching, the O’s also have the option of making some trades before the beginning of league play, so if they need to dump a couple of guys they might be able to package two together to yield a low/mid-level prospect.
X’s and O’s, I’d take Buck Showalter as a coach anyday. I also think he’s a good judge of talent on the diamond. We’ll find out for sure this spring. MASN is televising six spring training games, beginning with game number one on March 5th against Pittsburgh at 7 PM. I would recommend that O’s fans tune into all six games, because you might see different people on the field at different times. This is all part of the process of building this team for 2012, maestro’d by Buck Showalter.
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