Orioles' signing of outfielder Craig Gentry more than just another depth piece

Craig Gentry wasn't just brought in to provide depth. He could make the Orioles' Opening Day roster.

The Orioles were looking to improve their outfield defense while adding a player who could help their speed, and new acquisition Craig Gentry fits that need. But it also added another piece to what’s becoming a very crowded outfield mix this spring training.

The addition of Gentry, who signed a minor league deal with a major league spring training invitation Saturday, gives the Orioles 12 outfielders in camp.

But Gentry’s skill set – his ability to play plus defense, add speed on the bases and play all three outfield positions -- allows him to immediately move up the Orioles’ outfield depth chart. Make no mistake -- Gentry is not merely a depth piece. He has a legitimate shot to make the Orioles’ Opening Day roster.  

And he’s not necessarily competing with Rule 5 picks Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander, who have to be carried on the active roster through the season to fulfill their Rule 5 requirements and remain in the organization. The Orioles have been extremely creative in carrying their Rule 5 picks over recent years, and three off days in the first eight days of the season could allow the Orioles to give one or both players an extended look into the season.

But the player most threatened by Gentry’s addition is outfielder Joey Rickard, who has a minor league option after fulfilling Rule 5 requirements last season. They both offer the same skills as right-handed-hitting outfielders. But in fact, Gentry’s extended track record of success against left-handed pitching might actually put him ahead of Rickard on the depth chart right now.

“You kind of stop your conversation there,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “That’s why Gentry is here. And you know, [executive vice president] Dan [Duquette] has got some other irons in the fire out there that we’ll see [what happens]. This is a little different spring, but you’ve got to be ready to adjust. Someone might show up four or five days from now, especially with these chairs. There’s a lot of good players out there now.”

Gentry is a .268/.350/.357 hitter in 582 career plate appearances against left-handed pitching. Rickard saw great success against lefties in a smaller sample size last season as a rookie, hitting .313/.367/.494 in 90 plate appearances.

After watching Gentry's first workout of spring training, Showalter was quick to compliment what he saw.

"I think the evaluation of Craig won't take that long," Showalter said. "I could see him moving around the outfield today and the infield in the drills. That part of it kind of sticks out. He can really defend."

You might be able to consider this the first camp battle to emerge from the first week of spring training.

The biggest question with Gentry might be his health. When he has been able to stay on the field, he has been productive. But a series of injuries have prevented that in recent years. But if he can stay healthy, the Orioles might have their latest diamond in the rough.

eencina@baltsun.com
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