Dan Duquette is a big fan of Rule 5 draft. The Orioles current roster is littered with products of the process, including two outfielders that were plucked from other organizations just this past December. Anthony Santander came over from Cleveland, and Aneury Tavarez joined from the Red Sox. The Birds should be able to hide Santander on the disabled list for at least a month. But Tavarez, on the other hand, has remained fit and done his best to light up the box score this spring in a push to earn a big league spot. The O’s may have no choice but to give him one...for now.
Our very own Mark Brown broke down the Orioles roster situation on Monday. Basically, the team only needs four starting pitchers to get through the season’s first two weeks. This means they have an extra roster spot that they can use to, most likely, stash a hitter. There are certainly a few scenarios at play here, but we’ve seen this movie before, right? Duquette and Buck Showalter will surely do everything in their power to hold onto these Rule 5 boys. As unfair as it may seem, that opens the door for Tavarez to start looking for apartments in Baltimore while Trey Mancini (and all of his beautiful major league options) will be headed back to Norfolk.
At first glance, this is a bit of a bummer. Mancini is, in fact, the more highly-regarded prospect, provides more pop at the plate and would be an ideal bench bat against some of those tough AL East southpaws. However, playing time in the Charm City could be extremely hard to come by with Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis blocking him at designated hitter and first base, respectively. His time could be better spent in triple-A learning another position that could be of more use to the O’s.
Tavarez, meanwhile, has the type of tools that the Orioles have lacked for several years now. The left-handed hitter had a standout 2016 between triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox and double-A Portland Sea Dogs where he slashed .330/.374/.495 with 20 stolen bases. In the field, he has shown himself to be capable at all three outfield positions and rates as average or slightly above-average at each. In a perfect world, he is a nice fourth outfield option and pinch runner.
Of course, Major League Baseball is an entirely different animal than life down on the farm. The Orioles rarely steal bases, so while his speed would still be an asset he would probably be asked to limit his attempts. Especially when you consider that his 20 stolen bases last summer came on 31 attempts. That works out to just a 64.5 percent success rate. And while his 2016 was great, it has buoyed the rest of his career numbers. Over six minor league seasons, including 2016, Tavarez’s slash line is just .270/.320/.420. Not awful, but not exactly banging down the MLB door either.
That said, his performance thus far in Spring Training has been impressive. Heading into Monday’s action, Tavarez was sporting a batting line of .298/.377/.407 with two doubles, one home run, five RBI, six walks, eight strikeouts and seven stolen bases (eight attempts) over 47 at-bats in 26 games. His power numbers have been pretty poor, but he has shown an ability to get on base at a good clip.
On base percentage is a stat that is constantly lacking from the Baltimore offense. Despite leading major league baseball with 253 home runs (St. Louis was second with 225), the Orioles scored just the 12th-most runs (744). Why? They were 21st in baseball with a .317 OBP. Boston led the league in both runs (878) and OBP (.348).
Of course, it’s one thing to hang in the majors for a couple of weeks during a screwy part of the schedule. It is quite another to stick around the active roster for the 90 days that are required for a Rule 5 draft pick in order for them to not be offered back to their former organization. Will Tavarez be able to do that? If the team truly believes in the outfielder’s ability now or in the near future, they can make this work, but it won’t be fun.
It will feel a lot like what happened with Hyun Soo Kim to begin the 2016 season after he refused a minor league assignment. It seems like a distant memory now, but Kim wasn’t given a regular role until May 25. From Opening Day (April 4, 2016) until the 25th of May, Kim appeared in only 12 of the team’s 43 games and started in just eight of them.
If we want to compare Tavarez to past Rule 5 picks, we need to look no further than Ryan Flaherty during the 2012 season. The team was exceptional that year, fighting it’s way back to the playoffs for the first time since 1997. Flash appeared in 77 games (three more than he played in 2016), but got only 153 at-bats. Yet he was passable enough with both the lumber and the leather.
Of course, there was Joey Rickard last season. He is a bit of an odd case, though, because of his white hot start to the season. Kim had entered Spring Training as the default starter before Rickard took the position in camp. Joey faded over the summer and then ended his season prematurely with an injury. However, his pleasant beginning helped to make the 90 days go by much quicker than it typically does for Rule 5 draftees.
Should Tavarez be on the Opening Day roster based entirely on merit? Probably not. He hasn’t hit as well as Trey Mancini. And he will likely be treated as someone who needs to be juggled around a bit rather than a key cog in the machine, at least for the early days of the season. But if there was absolutely no way for him to help the 2017 Orioles, Showalter and Duquette would have cut bait by now. The fact is he can handle the stick well enough, he’s got good speed and is competent with the leather, which is more than what can be said for almost all of the Orioles outfielders.
Not so bold prediction: Tavarez makes the Opening Day roster and is able to stick out the 90 days on the active roster before a mysterious injury sends him to the DL sometime in late July or early August.