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Thoughts on O's pitching coach search, Gold Glove finalists and prospect Dariel Alvarez

It appears that the Orioles' search for a new pitching coach is reaching its final turn.

A decision is expected to be made by the beginning of next week. I’m hearing Monday could be the day.

In their interviews with four external candidates, the Orioles came away impressed, but that was expected. Now it’s just a matter of coming to an agreement on which one is best fit to replace Rick Adair.

While internal candidates like Bill Castro, who took over the pitching coach role when Adair took a leave of absence in August; Triple-A pitching coach Mike Griffin; Scott McGregor, who filled in for Castro as bullpen coach; and director of pitching development Rick Peterson are being considered, it’s clear that the Orioles’ search is focused elsewhere. Four external candidates have emerged as the front-runners: former Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee, current Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis, Rangers bullpen coach Andy Hawkins and Braves minor league pitching coordinator Dave Wallace.

Time is of the essence. With other clubs around baseball making managerial hires — the Nationals reportedly filled their opening Friday with Diamondbacks bench coach Matt Williams — and filling vacancies, coaching staffs are being assembled. There’s no doubt that the Orioles’ four external candidates will have jobs somewhere next season, whether with their current teams or another employer. They’re that highly thought of.

Sometimes, it’s all about timing, and the Orioles currently are looking at a good time. But they can’t drag their feet.

Right now, the most intriguing candidate might be Willis, who has been Seattle’s pitching coach since the middle of the 2010 season. He is still under contract with the Mariners as they search for a manager, but the Orioles were given permission to interview him.

Now there’s word that Willis’ former manager in Seattle, Eric Wedge, is interviewing for the Chicago Cubs' managerial vacancy next week. Wedge and Willis go far back. Willis was Wedge’s pitching coach from 2003-2009 in Cleveland, where he worked with Cy Young Award winners CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee. Willis has been Wedge’s pitching coach in Seattle for the past three seasons.

Wedge’s possible return is in its beginning stages, so there’s no reason for the Orioles to necessarily worry. And for Willis, stepping into a role with a newly competitive Orioles organization has to be attractive. Let’s keep in mind that this job is far more attractive than it was three years ago, and Adair has to get some credit for that.

Willis, 52, also has shown the ability to develop younger pitching at the major league level. He did that in Cleveland with Sabathia and Lee. That’s something the Orioles have focused on and know they must do to remain competitive. Moving east, closer to Willis' North Carolina home, might also be attractive.

I’m not saying Willis will get the job. It’s way too difficult to handicap it because, as said before, all the candidates could easily slide into the role. But he seems like a good fit.

-- Six Orioles players were named finalists for this year’s Gold Glove Awards on Friday. The awards will be announced at 8 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN2.  

While all six are unlikely to win, it still goes to show how the Orioles are now being better recognized on a national stage. Voting is done by major league managers and coaches along with a defensive metric that will account for 25 to 30 percent of the vote.

I expect third baseman Manny Machado to win. I think center fielder Adam Jones and catcher Matt Wieters have good shots at winning their positions for the third time. Shortstop J.J. Hardy is certainly deserving of winning back-to-back awards, but he faces some tough competition from fellow finalists Alcides Escobar of the Kansas City Royals and Yunel Escobar of the Tampa Bay Rays.

I said it Thursday in my story explaining the impact of the new defensive metric on the voting, and I still think first baseman Chris Davis and right fielder Nick Markakis are dark horses to win.

The Orioles led the majors with six finalists. The Royals and Dodgers were second with five players each.

The Royals are an interesting team to look at. Much like the Orioles, their defensive strength is built up the middle, with catcher Salvador Perez, Escobar at shortstop and Lorenzo Cain in center field. Add in some blossoming athletes in left fielder Alex Gordon and first baseman Eric Hosmer, and it makes for a solid group that could remain competitive because they make plays defensively.

It reminds me of the Orioles a bit. And honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if Perez and Escobar win the Gold Glove over Wieters and Hardy, respectively.

While we’re on the subject of Gold Gloves, a significant amount of credit should go to the coaches and scouting personnel who put the fielders in a position to be great. There is so much data out there now, from spray charts to second-level analytics, that it’s unwise not to take advantage of it. Some people might tell you that some managers’ refusal to use defensive stats have cost them their jobs.

-- Orioles prospect Henry Urrutia is raking in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .429 in eight games, but another Cuban outfielder is having an impressive fall.

Dariel Alvarez is hitting .257 in 10 AFL games and has hit safely in seven of his past eight games, with four extra-base hits (three doubles, one triple).

The Orioles have been especially impressed with Alvarez’s defense, particularly his arm strength, so much so that it could help accelerate his progress through the minor league system. Alvarez, 24, entered the fall with just 22 professional games under his belt after being signed as an international free agent, but he’s also two years younger than Urrutia.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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