By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
5:21 PM EST, February 3, 2014
Now that longtime Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts has departed to wear the pinstripes of the New York Yankees, Ryan Flaherty finally has the opportunity to become an everyday major league player.
Several candidates could fill the vacancy at second base, including trade acquisition Jemile Weeks and top position player prospect Jonathan Schoop, but the 27-year-old Flaherty is undoubtedly the leading candidate for the role.
Flaherty also could shift across the diamond to start the season if All-Star third baseman Manny Machado isn’t back from left knee surgery in time for Opening Day. But ultimately Flaherty’s future is at second base, and this season offers the utility player his first opportunity for regular playing time.
“Every player wants to get everyday at-bats,” Flaherty said Saturday at Orioles FanFest. “Obviously, there’s 25 guys on the roster, and there’s only room for nine or 10 [every day]. It’s definitely good to try to get into a rhythm, but you have to earn that, and that’s something you have to prove you can do. We’ll see what happens this year. I’m excited for it.”
Flaherty, who has usually spent the offseason back home in New England, stayed in Baltimore for much of this winter and worked out with Orioles strength and conditioning coach Joe Hogarty. Flaherty said he has gained nine pounds this offseason.
He also spent this offseason working with former Orioles shortstop Mike Bordick and outfielder B.J. Surhoff.
“I was able to pick those guys’ brains a lot,” said Flaherty, who was the Orioles’ selection in the Rule 5 draft before the 2012 season. “Both of those guys had long careers, and I tried to learn a lot from those guys.”
After Roberts suffered a hamstring injury in the third game last season, Flaherty struggled when given an opportunity to play every day. He batted just .133 in 30 games, and that slow start led the club to option Flaherty to Triple-A Norfolk in mid-May for 10 days.
Upon his return to the major leagues, Flaherty hit .276 through the remainder of the season, although his playing time dwindled after Roberts came back June 30.
Flaherty, who came up as a shortstop through the Chicago Cubs minor league system, said Roberts — who played second base for the Orioles for most of the past 13 years and was the club's most-tenured player — helped him “a ton” with learning how to play second base.
“Before last year, I hadn’t played second base very much,” Flaherty said when talking about Roberts’ influence. “A lot of what I learned, I have to give credit to him for sure. … When you develop a relationship with someone and all of a sudden they’re gone, it’s tough. But it’s part of the business. It’s part of the game. The show moves on, you know.”
With Roberts gone, the Orioles can now invest in finding their second baseman of the future. And the battle for the second base job will be among the most interesting storylines of spring training.
Weeks was acquired in December from the Oakland Athletics in the trade for Jim Johnson. The organization still thinks highly of Schoop, but the 22-year-old could benefit from more time in the minor leagues.
The Orioles also re-signed Alexi Casilla on a minor league deal and will have non-roster middle infielders like Alex Gonzalez, Cord Phelps and Ivan DeJesus Jr. in major league camp.
But for the first time in his career, Flaherty sees an unobstructed path to becoming an everyday player.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Flaherty said. “You’ve got to take advantage of it, and like I said, we’ll see what they think of everything, but I’m excited to get going and it’s definitely a great opportunity.”
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