Spring Training Questions and Answers
A Review of Spring Training and the Grapefruit League Games
Every team entering spring training has a series of questions to be answered. Few teams report to Florida or Arizona with a rather fully-determined 25-man roster of players for the varied roles required of a successful baseball outfit. Every team is bringing along new and younger players, evaluating the remaining talents of veterans, and simply assessing strengths and weaknesses.
The Orioles likely had a longer list of questions than most teams. This season brings a new General Manager/V.P. of Baseball Operations in Dan Duquette – along with his large list of acquisitions from even the far corners of the earth! The difficulties of 14 consecutive losing seasons have been well-chronicled here and in a multitude of other media sources. Fixing the Orioles is truly like turning a battleship – and attempting to do it in high seas while under fire (the AL East!).
As we look back upon the now-completed spring training of 2012, how many of the questions of a month ago have been answered, and how many questions yet remain?
Will Brian Matusz be able to return from the total disaster of the 2011 season? It appears the answer to this question is “yes.” I would not have predicted this one with any certainty. There is still a lot to be written about this in the actual field of battle, but the early returns don’t lie. Velocity is there. This was a good story of the spring!
Will Arrieta be able to successfully return from surgery? The answer is a definitive “yes,” as he is pitching completely pain free and feeling the best he has in years.
Is the stockpiling of arms by Duquette a good strategy for beginning to rebuild the pitching staff? I believe we must say that the answer to this is “yes.” The challenge of the spring has been who to reluctantly have to cut from the final roster, versus how to find 12 decent pitchers. Though no writers are going to say that the Orioles open the season with an above average stable of horses to start and relieve, the pitching over the spring season was excellent for the most part; and many of those playing in Norfolk instead of Baltimore may well have deserved a better fate. Tillman has performed well enough to not be at AAA long if anyone on the big club falters; and guys like Neshek (9 IP, 3 hits, 0 walks), Phillips (if he is cut), and O’Day may well have made it with quite a few other clubs.
Who will bat leadoff and cleanup? It appears that Reimold and Chavez are going to start the season in the leadoff position. Much has been written by me, by the staff of BirdsWatcher, and by hosts of Orioles writers that the team lacks a true prototypical leadoff guy. My guess is that this plan is a temporary answer and that we may well see quite a variety of lineups this year. Regarding cleanup, I have never understood Showalter’s statements that defining this is more difficult than the leadoff question. Really? Jones is capable of handling this and will serve well in the roll. And Wieters would not be a poor option.
Who will be the DH and the bench players? Wilson Betemit and Nick Johnson will carry the DH role. I remain a skeptic on Betemit, but will gladly repent in dust and ashes if he puts up good numbers. The fact that Johnson made the team with a good spring is indeed an answer to another question about his healthy (though I suppose a remaining question is if he can stay that way). Ryan Flaherty’s success was not inconceivable, though I would have imagined Antonelli getting the job first. Flaherty is a keeper for sure! And Endy Chavez is not a surprise to me – look at his numbers from the past – they’re pretty decent.
Will Nick Markakis recover well enough from surgery to begin the season? Yes, he is probably in the 90% plus range of recovery; and my guess is that we can pretty much put this health issue into the past. Perhaps he should be given a few more days off than in the past.
Will Robert Andino be an effective answer as a regular at second base? Yes. He is not going to be an all-star, but he has learned to be a solid daily player, and is a very good person to have in the 9th position of the batting order.
Can Kevin Gregg be an effective relief pitcher? The answer is “no.” Apparently he can’t even be given away. Maybe if he were offered in a deal with the top draft choice over the next three years! I jest … I think.
Questions That Remain
Is the pain in Zach Britton’s shoulder a small matter or an issue of great concern? It does not seem like anyone knows the answer to this… not even the MDs – so I don’t know, I’m a mere PhD and don’t know anything. The reports always say there is no real damage, but it hurts like there is. Everyone knows this is an important question that needs to be answered.
Will Chen and Wada be able to translate successes from Japan to successes in the AL East? We have not seen enough of a healthy Wada to begin to answer this; but we have seen Chen throw, and it was a very mixed bag experience. My take on this is that the vast majority of his pitches are better than average for MLB, (can you feel a big “but” coming?) … BUT, unlike Japan, most mistakes in the U.S. tend to fly over the wall 400 feet away. Chen during his last outing simply left too many pitches up in the zone. Will he be able to adjust?
Will Brian Roberts ever be able to rejoin the team and be the dynamic leadoff presence he was in the past? (Relative to evaluating medical issues, see the remarks above in the Zach Britton question!) My view of this is that he will return at some point, though not terribly soon … and that he will regain much of his past skills, only to see the problem reappear upon the first collision or jolt he suffers. And that will be the end. This is not my hope, of course. Brian Roberts is such a fine person, and I covet for him to experience a successful return to a healthy career.
Will Nolan Reimold be the regular leftfielder? He is going to be given the shot, and we all hope he succeeds.
Will Chris Davis be the answer at first base? (same as Reimold)
Will Jim Johnson serve well as an effective closer? (same as Reimold and Davis)
Will Mark Reynolds fix his defensive problems at third base? Well, he seems to be catching pretty much everything quite well, but now the throw across the diamond appears to be the larger problem!
There is reasonable hope for improvement, but the problem – the challenge – remains monstrous. The Yankees are the Yankees ($$$) and the Red Sox are the Red Sox ($$$). Tampa likely has the best pitching staff in all of baseball, and the Blue Jays had a great spring and are obviously improved and formidable. We don’t need to see a championship, but we do need to see clarity of improvement and substance for revived hope. We need a competitive team and a continued building upon the framework of pieces like Wieters and Jones.