Two of the Orioles top prospects play first base and are coming close to knocking on the major league door. In January, the team signed Chris Davis to a seven-year, $162 million deal to be their starting first baseman for the foreseeable future. It feels like something here has to change.
Christian Walker will be 25 years old next week and has been a name to know for a while now. He is a product of the University of South Carolina, was a fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft and quickly worked his way through Aberdeen, Delmarva, Frederick and Bowie. Following the 2014 season, Baseball America rated Walker as the third-best prospect in the Orioles system behind the big two of Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey.
The former Gamecock's performance has begun to plateau at Triple-A Norfolk. Over 182 games with the Tides he is slashing .257/.327/.424 with 24 home runs and 94 RBI. Those are not awful numbers, but it won't beat out Davis' production.
This spring, Walker has shown impressive power, leading the O's in home runs (4) and slugging (.718) amongst those that have had more than a handful of at-bats. He has done so while maintaining the type of batting average (.256) we saw him with in Norfolk. However, it has been to the detriment of his on-base percentage (.273).
Trey Mancini just turned 24 last week and seems to be the prospect-to-watch as of late. There was little fanfare for him as an eighth round pick from Notre Dame in 2013, but he caught eyes by winning the Eastern League batting title for the Baysox last summer, slashing .359/.395/.586 with 13 home runs and 57 RBI over 84 games. Yeah, that will work.
His numbers have just continued to get better as he moves through the system. His only hiccup happened during his first trip through Frederick in 2014, but he bounced back to start last summer with the Keys prior to moving onto Bowie.
However, as we learned with Luis Montanez, winning a minor league batting title doesn't mean you are guaranteed major league success. ESPN's Keith Law doesn't seem impressed by Mancini, saying that his swing is long and he chases too many balls.
Mancini was invited to camp with the O's this spring. He struggled in his limited game time down in Florida, going 1-for-12 and has since been re-assigned to minor league camp. One would assume he starts the season in Norfolk as he has little to prove at any lower levels.
Playing time...and location
That is where the problem comes in with all of this. Where will Walker and Mancini be playing? Both have proved they are better than double-A, but neither have shown they are exactly ready for the bigs.
Walker is closer but how does he fit on the roster? The team has Davis, Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez (help!) who can technically play first base. Three bench spots are likely to go to Joey Rickard, Caleb Joseph and Ryan Flaherty. The competition could come down to Walker vs. Nolan Reimold, who has had an awful spring, for the final spot. But Reimold can play outfield, a weaker position for the O's than first.
The reporters have told us that Walker is working in with the corner outfielders, but that has turned into just six innings of left field during the actual games. Shouldn't he really be out there all the time if the O's plan on him actually making an impact at the big league level?
Baseball America likes Walker's glove. They called him the best defensive first baseman of the Eastern League in 2014. Fangraphs has him as above average with the leather and just an average runner. Would just above average skills translate to an outfield spot? His batting numbers would certainly look nice out there compared to what the O's had in 2015.
Mancini seems more cemented into first base. While not regarded as a bad fielder, he hasn't received any accolades for his glove-work. Scouts seem to think he has less power potential than Walker. Yet, all of his time this spring has been spent at first base, so the Orioles are holding out hope.
What should the Orioles do?
Walker has already been up to Baltimore for a cup of coffee and will likely be the first of the duo to return. But his bat looks as though it may be a finished product at this point and it would profile much better in left field than at first base.
If Walker can prove that he is athletic enough for the position, he could be a fringe starter in the MLB as soon as this season. Maybe with the Orioles, maybe with someone else who may have a starting pitcher to part with. Start him down in Norfolk and play him everyday to get used to the position.
Mancini should remain at first base. As far as I can tell, that is the only position he is really familiar with. And he was so good last year that there is no reason to move him away. No matter what scouts say, if he can come close to repeating what he did a season ago, his prospect status will go through the roof.
If the O's like Mancini enough, he too should move to the outfield in the future and see how it goes. Davis blocks him at first and if he is breaking down the door to Baltimore you have to find someway to get him involved.
Who knows what will happen? Probably nothing. Left field is free for the taking still and the right field will be back on the market this winter. If somehow these two farmhands could take over than would be a huge boost to the Orioles organization.
Thanks for reading! What do you think will happen with Mancini and Walker? Are their futures with the Orioles? If so, in what positions? If not, where are they headed? Let us know in the comments as well as on Twitter and Facebook!