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A look at some of the key players and position battles heading into Opening Day

Catcher

Switch-hitter Matt Wieters (.235 AVG, 22 HR, 79 RBI) has always struggled against righties, but last year's numbers were especially low. A bounce back in this area could give more depth to a deep batting order.

First Base

What needs to happen in 2014: Anything close to the MVP-finalist production of last year for Chris Davis (.286 AVG, 53 HR, 138 RBI) would be huge. Pencil Davis in for at least 30 bombs and close to 100 RBI.

Second Base

With Machado out to start the year, expect to see Ryan Flaherty (.224 AVG, 10 HR, 27 RBI) manning third while either top young prospect Jonathan Schoop (.256 AVG, 9 HR, 34 RBI at AAA) or Jemile Weeks (.271 AVG, 4 HR, 40 RBI at AAA) plays second. Early-season play could determine who locks down the job.

Shortstop

The keystone of the defense, J.J. Hardy (.263 AVG, 25 HR, 76 RBI) has put up back-to-back Gold Glove seasons while contributing over 20 bombs at the dish. With Hardy in a contract year, expect to see more of the same.

Third Base

Health is the key for Manny Machado (.283 AVG, 14 HR, 71 RBI). The young Machado is starting the year on the 15-day disabled list. Once he's back in the lineup, his star should continue to rise. Remember: He's still only 21 years old and hit .283 last year.

Left field

David Lough (.286 AVG, 5 HR, 33 RBI), acquired from the Kansas City Royals in a trade, has proven to be a plus defender with a solid bat. He just needs to show he can do it over the course of a full season. But if the oft-injured Nolan Reimold (.195 AVG, 5 HR, 12 RBI) shows he can finally stay healthy, expect to see his power bat added to the lineup.

Center field

With his first 100-plus RBI season, Adam Jones (.285 AVG, 33 HR, 108 RBI) proved he could hold down the middle of the lineup with Davis. Expect him to prove it again.

 

Right field

Nick Markakis (.271 AVG, 10 HR, 59 RBI) put up numbers well below his career averages in the major batting categories. At full health, he could return to being a real spark plug at the top of the lineup.

Designated hitter

Nelson Cruz (.266 AVG, 27 HR, 76 RBI) was in the midst of a stellar season when he was suspended for using a banned substance. With only a one-year deal in Baltimore, Cruz needs to demonstrate he can produce without juicing to set himself up for a big payday.

Starting rotation

Getting to 200 innings for the first time is hard. Proving you can do it more than once is harder. If Chris Tillman (16 W, 3.71 ERA, 179 K) reaches that plateau again, he should establish himself as an ace. Ubaldo Jiménez (13 W, 3.30 ERA, 194 K) turned his career around after working on his delivery in Cleveland. The key to 2014 is for Jiménez to be able to repeat those changes. Last year, Miguel Gonzalez (11 W, 3.78 ERA, 120 K) showed he was a more than capable major-leaguer after taking on more innings; a good spring shows fans can expect a similar output. After being acquired in a trade with the Astros, Bud Norris (10 W, 4.18 ERA, 147 K) wasn't nearly as effective in the brutal AL East. He needs to make the adjustments to pitch more quality starts or risk losing his spot in the rotation. After battling oblique problems, Wei-Yin Chen (7 W, 4.07 ERA, 104 K) must prove he is once again healthy. After that, he needs to show he can log more innings to help save the bullpen.

Bullpen

There are a few spots still up for grabs, and the biggest question is who will take on the closer role. Flame-thrower Tommy Hunter (6 W, 2.81 ERA, 68 K) is seen as the favorite to replace Jim Johnson. To be successful, Hunter needs to find a way to get lefties out. The Orioles have two great options to pitch the 7th and 8th in Darren O'Day (5 W, 2.18 ERA, 59 K) and Ryan Webb (2 W, 2.91 ERA, 54 K). Lefty specialist Brian Matusz (2 W, 3.53 ERA, 50 K) has really found his groove as a reliever. If Matusz can come up with a better plan for getting righties out, expect to see him take the next step, possibly even getting a look as a starter. Long reliever T.J. McFarland (4 W, 4.22 ERA, 58 K) was really effective in mop-up work but went through some pretty rough patches in June and August. A bit more consistency would go a long way. Suk-min Yoon (3 W, 4.00 ERA, 76 K in the Korea Baseball Organization) is still a bit of an unknown. But if he is able to adapt to the major leagues and log quality outings, Yoon could soon find himself as a starter.

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