This is the second of three roster outlook pieces to be run during Orioles Spring Training. Last week, I covered the starting rotation, and next week I'll touch on the many guys vying for a spot in the bullpen.
Every team has roster battles in spring training, and the 2015 Orioles are no exception. But the team has more of a crowd on its potential pitching staff than its hitters. What you'll see below might be a lot of guys in the mix, but as you look closer you'll quickly see that, barring injury, only one or two of the probable names are likely to be off the list on Opening Day.
These are the names you'd expect, and I won't spend a lot of time on most of them. Adam Jones will be the starting center fielder. J.J. Hardy will hold down shortstop, joined by Manny Machado at third base. These things are absolutely known, unless one of them goes down in the next month.
A few other guys will definitely be on the roster, but with some caveats. Chris Davis will be the team's everyday first baseman, but he can't join the team until Game 2, as he finishes up his suspension for unauthorized Adderal usage last year. Steve Pearce is not fighting for a roster spot, but we don't know whether he'll be spending the most time at first base, right field, left field or DH. Subtract first base, and you can say the same thing for Delmon Young.
The last of the guys you'd normally categorize as a "lock" is Matt Wieters, and he comes with a big asterisk. Wieters is still coming back from Tommy John surgery, and he's participating in every baseball activity during spring training -- except throwing out baserunners, which he won't be cleared to start doing for a week or so. Buck Showalter has said publicly that if Wieters isn't ready for 100% of catching duties, he will start the season on a rehab assignment -- the team won't carry him just for DH duties.
Backup Catcher (or two?) -- The Orioles picked up spare-part catchers this offseason like they were going out of style. They have four viable candidates in camp for one job (two if Wieters isn't ready). Handicapped in what I see as the preferred order: Caleb Joseph, who established high-caliber defense and staff management last year; J.P. Arencibia, who the team snagged off the scrap heap and who has an intriguing bat; Steve Clevenger, the Maryland native who hit a bit last year but struggled behind the dish, especially with baserunners; and Ryan Lavarnaway, the former top prospect who the Orioles snagged as a lottery ticket.
Outfielders -- Most teams only carry five outfielders, but the Orioles are likely to open the season with six, mainly based on the fact that Steve Pearce is as likely to backup first base as to play outfield, and that Delmon Young isn't a wonderful fielder. In all reality, it probably would've been fair to list Alejandro de Aza and Travis Snider as "locks" above, and I'd rank them in that order in terms of their high likelihood to be on the roster, barring injury, struggle or a crazy breakout by anyone else.
That makes five outfielders, and it puts David Lough the most firmly on the bubble, given that he has minor league options, and struggled periodically with the bat and on the basepaths last year (EDIT: Lough is actually out of options). The last outfield spot is likely his to lose, but he's not absolutely guaranteed a major league job if the team decides they're comfortable with a short bench in favor of a bigger bullpen, or if they want six infielders.
Infielders -- With most of the infield covered by the "locks" above, the big decision for the Orioles is to pick two guys out of the trio of Ryan Flaherty, Jonathan Schoop and Everth Cabrera. All three have minor league options, and pros and cons. Flaherty is a Showalter favorite who can play every infield position smoothly, but has a wildly inconsistent bat. Schoop is a well-regarded prospect who really settled in at second base defensively, but had serious contact problems against major league breaking pitches.
Cabrera is the wild card of the bunch, looking to move past off-field problems and regain his 2013, pre-PED-suspension form with a new club. This is the truest "spring training roster battle" of the bunch.
On The Fringe
A number of guys in camp have a chance to make the club, but the odds get much longer because they'd have to displace one of the more proven (and expensive) names above.
Christian Walker is a mid-level organizational prospect who got a cup of coffee with the club last year during Davis's suspension. He doesn't profile as having the highest ceiling, and he might be a guy who's up and down a lot over the year. He might even be on the Opening Day roster, and get sent down on Day 2 when Davis is reinstated. But it's hard to see him impacting the big club immediately.
Daniel Alvarez and Henry Urrutia are kicking around camp for outfield spots, but Urrutia is coming back from an injury, and continues to be regarded as a raw player in need of some work on fundamentals. Alvarez, meanwhile, has shone with the bat and glove early, but Showalter has openly commented about some makeup issues that the club wants him to work on, in addition to likely wanting him to get a little more seasoning in AAA.
Jimmy Paredes is also hitting well in Florida, but looking at the infield players above, and knowing that Paredes struggles with the glove at times no matter how well he's hitting, it's tough to see him breaking camp with the big club. And from there, you get into the even fringier Dan Duquette lottery tickets, like Jayson Nix and Rey Navarro, who could set the world on fire and still miss the club unless someone else falls off.
The lineup and bench are an area where the Orioles are in good shape, knowing the vast majority of the spots, and making decisions on the edges of the bench for the most part, with some healthy competition to bring out the best in the players available. Who makes the cut for those last spots? Let us know your thoughts in the comments; we'll see the final answers in a few weeks.