The Baltimore sports scene is blessed with a bunch of talented bloggers who bring their unique perspective to the conversation. Each week, I hope to chat with one of them in a regular feature called Blogger on Blogger. This week, I exchanged emails with Stacey Long, who blogs about the Orioles for the blog Camden Chat.
MV: What do you think 2013 will bring for Manny Machado? What are realistic expectations for the kid?
SL: Defensively there is nothing to worry about regarding Machado. He played a fantastic third base last season and that was without much practice at the position. I expect he'll be even better this season now that he has some time at the position under his belt. Offensively, I think it's important for fans to remember that Machado is only 20 years old. He's a very talented 20-year-old, but he'll be playing 2013 in the majors when most his age are still minor-league prospects. It's fair to assume that Machado will improve at the plate, but I don't think he'll put up star numbers just yet. He'll certainly improve his on-base percentage, which was low last season at .294, and put up a solid, if not spectacular season at the plate. He might have disappointing stretches at the plate as he adjusts to major-league pitching, and 2013 will be a building block on his way to a fantastic career.
MV: There have been a lot of positive developments from Brian Roberts this spring. He is swinging the bat well, he stole a base head-first over the weekend and, most importantly, he has avoided injury. Assuming he stays healthy the rest of the spring, should the Orioles rely on him as their full-time leadoff hitter?
SL: I think that if he stays healthy for the rest of the spring, he will start the season as the leadoff hitter. But I don't know if that's the right decision. It's been three years since Roberts has been a full-time player and he's 35 years old; it's far from certain how he'll produce no matter what he does in the spring. There are other players that I think could do a better job at the top of the lineup (such as Nick Markakis, if he's healthy). It seems like the prudent thing to do would be to bat Roberts further down in the lineup and if he shows the skills to get on base the way he did back in 2009 and before, then move him up to the top.
MV: How do you see the Orioles rotation setting up for Opening Day, most notably that fifth and final starting spot? Who will get the fifth spot, who should get the spot and will it end up mattering?
SL: Unless something crazy happens, Jason Hammel will get the start on Opening Day and will be followed by Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez. If Chris Tillman doesn't have any setbacks with the abdominal soreness he was experiencing, he'll be the fourth starter. As for the fifth starter, that's a tough one. Going into spring it seemed that Zach Britton had a leg up on the competition, but he hasn't been great of late. Jake Arrieta has put up several strong performances but he still seems to be struggling with pitch counts. I do think it will be one of them, with Brian Matusz and Steve Johnson being the long shots. If there is one thing we learned about Dan Duquette last year, if a player isn't performing and there is someone in the minors capable of doing better, he won't hesitate to make a change. So in that sense, the fifth spot in the rotation doesn't matter too much. But at the same time, due to their schedule the Orioles will need to use their fifth starter more in the first month than normal, so if they want to get off to a good start it'll certainly help if their fifth starter can perform well.
SL: Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy will both probably start at Double-A Bowie (Bundy has already been optioned there), and from there it will just be a matter of how they progress. Some scouts at spring training have commented that Gausman right now could be more major league ready than Bundy, but I expect we'll see them both up with the Orioles at some point this season. Whether that's for a September call-up or more depends both on where the pitchers are and how the team is playing.
MV: Two weeks or so out from Opening Day, what currently concerns you most about this ballclub?
SL: A lot of the Orioles’ wins in 2012 were of the one-run or extra-inning variety, both of which seem unsustainable, historically. And Dan Duquette did little to improve the team in the offseason, so the thought that they might not be able to keep up the success they had last year is certainly at the forefront. Beyond that, the real question is the starting pitching. While they did well last year, none of the starting pitchers has a track record of success. How they perform will dictate how the season goes.
If you are a blogger who is interested in participating in this feature, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.