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Craig Gentry is headed for an Orioles roster spot. Can he actually help?

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Craig Gentry hasn’t been any good since the 2013 season. He’s being treated like an automatic part of the Orioles outfield. Is he the right choice?

Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles
Craig Gentry looks like he’s going to start out as part of the Orioles outfield. What’s his deal?
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

One of the regular fixtures in the Orioles outfield mix in their spring training games has been 33-year-old veteran MLBer Craig Gentry. The former Rangers tenth round pick has appeared in 22 games in the Grapefruit League season and has done well, for whatever that’s worth, batting .300/.404/.500 and stealing three bases.

Beat writers and the television and radio broadcasters are united in thinking that Gentry, in camp on a minor league deal with a big league camp invite, is headed towards making the Orioles roster. With both Hyun Soo Kim and Seth Smith (when healthy) seeming to need right-handed platoon partners, the Orioles need righty outfielders who can fill that role.

Gentry, a right-handed batter, could well be their man. As a bonus, he might add a little speed to the team if used as a defensive replacement, and better still, he’s primarily been a center fielder in his career, so if there’s ever a day where Adam Jones needs the game off, Gentry can fill those shoes for a day and possibly even be a small upgrade defensively.

It’s been surprising to read and hear the coverage that assumes Gentry as part of the team’s plans. He hasn’t been good since the 2013 season, when he batted .280/.373/.389 in 106 games for the Rangers - but only 287 plate appearances, his career high. Gentry also stole 24 bases that year. That’s some modest success, to be sure, but Gentry is many years removed from that.

The 2014 campaign saw Gentry dip to a .608 OPS and he was even more dismal in 2015 and 2016, getting designated for assignment by both the Athletics and the Angels in consecutive seasons. He only played 14 games last season and batted a paltry .147.

That doesn’t sound like a guy who should be headed towards a roster spot. Although if you dig a little deeper, despite struggling at the plate in 2014, he was worth 1.6 fWAR and 1.9 bWAR thanks to his baserunning and defense. There’s no sugar-coating the last two years, though.

Yet in watching last night’s game on MASN, and others where Gentry has appeared this spring that were on TV or radio, they always mention how “injuries” - particularly, concussion symptoms - have been a drag on Gentry, and that he is better now.

The story checks out insofar as two of Gentry’s three struggling recent seasons were documented to have injury issues plaguing them. His 2014 season was derailed before it began by a back injury apparently suffered while driving from Dallas to Arizona for the start of spring training.

Gentry later broke his hand while attempting to bunt in late July of that same year and suffered the concussion in early September, in addition to battling a sore knee which he played through the whole season.

As Orioles fans who paid attention to the later Orioles years of Brian Roberts surely know, concussion symptoms can linger on in ways that aren’t easily predicted. It’s not out of the question that a September 2014 concussion could have tanked his 2015 season, where Gentry scuffled at the MLB level before being banished to Triple-A for most of the rest of the year.

Last year, it was a back injury, specifically a right lumbar spine strain, that landed him on the disabled list and, when he wasn’t effective on his return, led to his release by the Angels.

That’s not the most exciting player to ink in for a roster spot. But it’s worth remembering that the Orioles have had some success reviving the careers of outfielders who were headed the wrong direction. Nate McLouth and Delmon Young both come to mind for that. Not every attempted resurrection has worked, but it’s one of those things where Dan Duquette’s Orioles have shown a bit of a knack.

Gentry won’t be a complete unknown quantity. When the Orioles signed Gentry in mid-February, the Baltimore Sun noted that both first base coach Wayne Kirby and hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh had coached Gentry in the Rangers system, and that Gentry came up towards the majors together with Chris Davis. It was on Coolbaugh’s suggestion that the O’s gave Gentry a shot this spring.

Of course we don’t want to take the spring stats as gospel, but given how much of Gentry’s problems appear to have been health-related, it is interesting to know that he’s at least healthy enough to compile decent spring numbers.

The Orioles could certainly use a guy to pinch run for Welington Castillo if he’s the go-ahead run in the eighth inning, or to come in left field for Kim as the O’s try to protect a late lead, just to name a couple of scenarios where a Gentry-like player would come in handy.

If the O’s do decide to put Gentry on the Opening Day roster, they’ll need to dump someone off the 40-man roster. That shouldn’t be too tough, so it’s not likely to count against him. For instance, reliever Oliver Drake is out of options and doesn’t seem to be on a path to make the club. He could easily be designated for assignment.

Rule 5 pick Aneury Tavarez is another guy with a tough path to the roster, since he is a left-handed batter and doesn’t play center field. Although Tavarez has stolen seven bases in spring training, it’s becoming harder to see how they can find room for him on the roster for long. So there won’t be a problem making room for Gentry.

Of course, Duquette is always capable of surprising me. In a week’s time, Gentry could be headed for Norfolk, or opting out of his contract, no matter what anyone has written or said up until now, in which case I’ll look like an idiot for writing this post. It won’t be the first or last time.

Gentry could turn out to be a forgotten footnote by May, or, if the Orioles are lucky, he’ll be the latest shrewd Duquette find. The Orioles could certainly use the best version of Gentry on their roster. Hopefully for his sake and theirs, something close to that player is who is ready to play in the regular season.