You saw him during the beginning of the 2012 hanging in the Baltimore Orioles dugout, and more recently on the “Brian Roberts Comeback Tour”, having made stops in Delmarva and Bowie. The man who wrought injury on his own head with his own bat in 2010, who hasn’t played in a major league game since May 16, 2011, is about 11 games from returning to the Orioles lineup, barring any setbacks.
It seemed Roberts’ return might cause a major roster issue for the Orioles, but his arrival could not be timed better. The Orioles have lost everything as of late; their first-place position, seven of their last eight games, their fan-favorite left fielder, recently contracted center fielder and the offensive confidence of their star catcher.
What should be expected of Roberts upon his return? Well, in double-A Bowie, he put up a 1.006 OPS in games. The fact his offense has appeared to bounce back while hitting against some of the better pitchers in the minors is a good sign. He had quality hacks against Phillies’ ace prospect Trevor May, thought he did strike out twice with a walk. Pitch recognition is quite telling for concussion sufferers to determine whether the dizziness/fogginess has subsided. He’s drawn five walks compared to four strikeouts.
When Roberts was on his game in the pros, he was a stolen-base machine and a force to be reckoned with defensively at second base. Unfortunately, these are the areas of the game that tend to suffer upon a return from a serious blow to the head. Trusting yourself to slide and throw your body around doesn’t necessarily come easy after your symptoms have been brooding for over a year. Roberts has made two errors in 37 chances and has yet to attempt a steal in minor league baseball.
Basically, the O’s are going to have to let him continue to work his way back slowly. Using him to DH to start would be advisable, much like the Twins were able to do with Justin Morneau. The O’s don’t have this luxury, as their team seems to be filled with DH types such as Mark Reynolds, Wilson Betemit, Nick Johnson and Chris Davis who need to stay in the lineup. When he does come back, he is going to have to play second base. Playing him two games on, one off for awhile should give the team a sense as to what he’ll be able to contribute. The Orioles will keep Robert Andino‘s bat in the lineup, most likely slotting him in left field when Roberts is in at the four.
The Orioles’ game right now revolves around the long ball, and as their pitching continues to trend gutter-bound, they will need to rely on the bombs even more. Having a high-OBP type at the top of the lineup is crucial for the Orioles (currently have a .312 team OBP, 10th in the A.L.) so they don’t have to continually watch Adam Jones hit solo home runs.