With spring training games right around the corner, let’s look at what Baltimore Orioles GM Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter are working with and building around. Sticking with position players, how would you feel with these guys as your core:
At third base, you have a real possibility for a breakout season. The hot corner’s defense isn’t a problem with Machado’s rifle arm, but what can we expect from his offense? He’s going to get close to 500 plate appearances and be exposed to the 162-game grind of the MLB season. Using a limited sample size of 191 at-bats last season, I think he could increase his OPS from .739 to .770 or better. I think his skills at the plate will grow through the season, but I also think the long season will take its toll on him and possibly flatten out his numbers.
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We know what we have with Hardy at short. Last season was a bit disappointing; several offensive categories suffered. It’s disappointing in the sense that his health was not an issue, and he was able to get 146 more PA than 2012. Hardy’s slugging was down over a hundred points, helping shrink his OPS by 130. I think he bounces back in 2013. I don’t think he’ll hit 30 homers again, but I believe he will hit 25 and brings his OPS back over seven. With his increased offense and his continued flare with the glove, I would be grateful to have him as one of the team’s building blocks.
With a healthy Markakis bouncing back and Jones repeating last season’s performance, what becomes of left field? Nate McLouth and Nolan Reimold will likely be a left-field platoon, similar to Earl Weaver‘s risky move with Gary Roenicke and John Lowenstein. Weaver’s foresight into righty-lefty matchups showed just how far ahead of his time he was. Depending on how the platoon works, and if either player gets at-bats as DH, we have potentially 30-plus home runs and 30-plus steals between these two guys. I would try to give McLouth more time in the field and Reimold a little more at DH, hopefully keeping Reimold healthy limiting his field time.
With Davis going into camp knowing he’s the starting first basemen, I think he will prepare differently and be ready to pick balls out of he dirt. His bat will speak for itself, coming off a year hitting 33 dongs with an OPS of .829, I believe you will see him batting clean-up by the All-Star break. If he can work on improving his plate discipline, drop his K’s down a bit from 169 and increase his walks, he will end up with MVP-type numbers.
Wieters returns behind the plate to continue calling great games and gunning runners down. His offense is poised for continued improvement in his fifth season. Coming off his most plate appearances, I think his major league experience will pay off with better plate discipline, pitch recognition and increased power numbers. There’s no reason his offensive numbers won’t continue to increase as with previous seasons.
Going into this season with a core group like this, I can see why Duquette was comfortable not overpaying free agents. These players are cohesive, young and looking to improve on last season’s success. With Showalter putting in the remaining pieces day in and day out, Baltimore Orioles fans will see a team built for the long haul. I think by the All-Star break, any clear weakness (second base) can be addressed with a trade, leveraged by our young arms.