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Which Orioles player is poised to be a spring training standout?

Several O’s could join the storied ranks that include team greats like Jake Fox.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In case you’re new around here, allow me to introduce you to Orioles spring training legend Jake Fox.

Fox spent parts of two seasons with the O’s in 2010 and 2011. Sandwiched into between those campaigns was a spring training performance that remains a part of team history. In 27 games, Fox slashed .297/.325/.797 with 10 home runs and seven doubles. It was impressive, and it nabbed Fox a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Unfortunately, those positive vibes didn’t last long for Fox. He played in just 27 games for the Orioles that year, spending most of his summer down in Triple-A. Now 37 years old, Fox has not been back in the big leagues since 2011.

It has become an annual tradition for those of us in the Orioles-occupied portion of the internet to speculate on who will be “the next Jake Fox.” So, let’s give it a go for 2020! Here are some likely candidates:

Ryan Mountcastle

The organization’s top offensive prospect not named Adley Rutschman feels like the favorite for this type of thing. Mountcastle has a legitimate chance to break camp with the Orioles, so he should get plenty of at-bats to wow fans and analysts alike.

This will be Mountcastle’s third spring training with the big league team. He has appeared in 33 total spring contests in the last two years and has yet to exert his talent on the Grapefruit League. Coming off of a 25-home run performance with Triple-A Norfolk in 2019, this could be the year that he bursts onto the scene.

Pat Valaika

There is a reason that Mike Elias has claimed Valaika twice this winter. That dude can hit a little bit. He smacked Triple-A pitching around last season to the tune of a .320/.364/.589 slash line with 22 home runs and 124 wRC+ in 84 games while playing all over the diamond.

Valaika has not done nearly as well when facing major league pitching up to this point in his career (55 wRC+ in 433 MLB plate appearances). But spring training opposition is often sprinkled with minor league hurlers, which could lead to success for the 27-year-old this spring.

Ryan McKenna

It wasn’t clear whether McKenna would be added to the 40-man roster this off-season, or be left vulnerable to the Rule 5 draft. The front office decided to protect him, which comes with an invite to spring training. Now the 2015 draft pick will get a chance to show off his well-rounded skillset.

McKenna lit the Carolina League on fire to start the 2018 season, posting a 1.023 OPS in 67 games with the Frederick Keys. Since then, he has played nearly 200 games for the Double-A Bowie Baysox over the last two seasons. Unless something drastic occurs, he is likely ticketed for a spot right back in Bowie until he can get over that hump.

That doesn’t mean McKenna won’t put on a show in Sarasota. He may not capture many eyes with his power, but he is speedy on the base-paths and gifted enough to play center field, which could make him into highlight reel in the meantime.

Dilson Herrera

Herrera hasn’t played in the majors since 2018. Instead, he spent all of last season with the Mets Triple-A affiliate, where he hit 24 home runs and 29 doubles in 407 at-bats. That was, by far, a career-high number of round-trippers for the 25-year-old. Like many others, he benefited from the juiced ball used in both the big leagues and Triple-A last season.

In all likelihood, the O’s would prefer to have Herrera as a depth option with the Tides in 2020. But given the team’s lack of major league infield options he should see plenty of time with the big league squad this spring.

Cody Carroll

Can a pitcher be “the next Fox”? Well, it’s my blog, and I do what I want!

Carroll missed out on almost the entire 2019 season with a lower back injury, pitching in just two games with the Gulf Coast team towards the end of the year. The Orioles then sent him to the Arizona Fall League for extra work, where he allowed seven hits, seven walks and two runs while striking out 11. He should be a full go for the spring.

As a reminder, Carroll was part of the package that came to Baltimore in exchange for Zack Britton in 2018. In 17 innings later that season, Carroll struggled with command, walking 13, striking out 16 and allowed 17 runs. But he features a big fastball that could possibly dominate opposing hitters in the spring and put him in position to make the big league bullpen.

Zac Lowther

The southpaw Lowther is going to begin his season in Triple-A after dominating the Eastern League to the tune of a 2.55 ERA, .197 batting average against and 154 strikeouts in 148 innings. It was a continuation of a professional career that has yet to to look like a challenge for the bespectacled 23-year-old.

There is something about Lowther’s delivery that makes hitters uncomfortable. His fastball sits in the high-80’s, but his stride length is extremely long and he hides the ball well. Oddities like that could lead to an impressive line for the Xavier product once it’s all said and done. Regardless of his spring performance, Lowther is likely to see big league action by the end of 2020, and is a contender for a rotation spot a year from now.

What do you think, Camden Chat? Will one of these chaps steal the show at Ed Smith Stadium? Or will someone else entirely stake their claim to “The Jake Fox Award”?