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Orioles will have a crowded outfield during spring training

By Eduardo A. Encina

The Baltimore Sun

7:48 AM EST, January 16, 2014

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SARASOTA, Fla. – The Orioles outfield at major league spring training this year will be crowded.

The club is expected to announce the signing of outfielder Tyler Colvin to a major league deal today, as we first reported last night, pending a physical. He will be the 12th outfielder who will be invited to spring training.

That’s a lot.

Other than starting center fielder Adam Jones and starting right fielder Nick Markakis, that list also includes 10 players who will compete for time in left field: Nolan Reimold, Henry Urrutia, David Lough, Steve Pearce, Delmon Young, Francisco Peguero, Quintin Berry, Xavier Paul, Julio Borbon and Colvin.

Apparently, word has spread that the Orioles offer opportunity.

The Orioles will also likely use players from that mix – specifically Reimold, Young, Urrutia and Pearce -- to help fill in at designated hitter, but when you need innings during spring training for your starters to get ready for the season while also evaluating others fighting for roster spots, filling those innings could be a challenge.

Reimold will take live batting practice for the first time here in Sarasota since being cleared for baseball activities last month, so he’s making the climb back from multiple neck surgeries that have limited him to 56 games over the past two years.

It’s good to see the 26-year-old Urrutia at this week’s minicamp. He’s getting a jump on the competition while trying to show that he can play the outfield in the major leagues. Urrutia looks like he has put on more muscle, too. Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he noticed a little more definition to Urrutia this week.

Since Colvin is left-handed and has a major league deal, his addition probably affects Urrutia the most. He’s known as a good defender, and during a 18-home run season two years ago with the Colorado Rockies, Colvin hit .297 against right-handed pitching. Colvin, 28, fits the mold of many of the Orioles’ offseason additions in that he’s a former first-round pick, and despite some inconsistencies, he could have a high upside.

Colvin can also play all three outfield positions and even made 18 starts at first base in 2012, so his defensive flexibility is also attractive.

The team is excited about the acquisition of Lough, who could be a clone to Nate McLouth as a capable left-handed hitter, above-average defense and with speed on the bases. If his contribution is anywhere close to McLouth's, the Orioles will be happy. He could also be a leadoff option, but like McLouth when he first joined the Orioles, Lough would probably have to work his way up to that spot from lower in the batting order.

While he’s signed to a minor league deal, Young should make the club. Because of his .303/.341/.471 career line against left-handed pitching – and the fact that there are much better defensive options than him – Young should see most of his at-bats as a right-handed designated hitter. Even though he’s a free-swinger in a lineup full of aggressive hitters, it seems like he has become a little more selective over the years. There’s no question that his bat can help the Orioles.

Berry and Paul can also play multiple outfield positions and add some speed on the bases, but they'll likely start at Triple-A Norfolk because they’re both on minor league deals. The Orioles have liked Borbon for a long time, but since he was their minor league Rule 5 pick, he could easily open the season in Triple-A.

Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette really likes Peguero, who is 25 but has played just 35 games at the major league level. Duquette believes Peguero has the tools and ability to be a major league contributor  -- he hit .316/.354/.408 last season in Triple-A – but he just hasn’t received the opportunity yet. He will get that this spring. Peguero is on a major league deal – and has no minor league options remaining – so he must make the club out of spring training or else he’d have to clear waivers to remain in the organization.    

Pearce was the Orioles' starting designated hitter on Opening Day last season, but he battled through an injury-plagued season that included multiple trips to the disabled list for wrist tendinitis. Still, he had a .802 OPS against left-handed pitching last year.

In this case, it’s good to have options – and the Orioles have played matchups well this season – but some tough choices loom ahead in sorting out the outfield mix.