PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - Buck Showalter keeps talking about how hard it is for him to eliminate pitchers from consideration for the 25-man roster this year. He's calling them "good difficult" decisions.
The Baltimore Orioles manager knows about the "bad difficult" ones. He had them two years ago when he was trying to fill out his roster, and he had unenviable choices. Now, he has much better alternatives.
So much attention has been given to the battle for the fifth starter's job that the jockeying for bench positions has gone relatively unnoticed.
A year ago, Ryan Flaherty was the Rule 5 draft choice, and his competition to make the club was Matt Antonelli and Steve Tolleson, both with limited major league experience.
This year, Flaherty is competing with players with substantial big league experience for the last spot.
The Orioles have Russ Canzler, a former International League Most Valuable Player, who can play the corner infield and outfield positions on hand.
They also have several non-roster first baseman/outfield types, some with terrific bona fides, such as Conor Jackson, who once batted .300 for Arizona in a full season and Travis Ishikawa, who played two games at first base for San Francisco when they won the World Series in 2010.
The Orioles also have Jason Pridie, Trayvon Robinson, and two holdovers from last year, Lew Ford and Steve Pearce, all on minor league contracts.
They have so many outfielders that there are probably not enough spots at Class AAA Norfolk.
L.J. Hoes, the system's top outfield prospect must play every day. So must Xavier Avery, who may have to start at Bowie. Both Hoes and Avery played for the Orioles last season, and have already been sent to the minors.
"These guys have all presented themselves well," Showalter said. "Nobody's really taken a back seat. Everyone's still in the mix."
Danny Valencia, who was a contender for one of the bench spots, was optioned to Norfolk on Thursday, and Flaherty is certainly a favorite of Showalter's. He keeps talking about Flaherty's versatility and his willingness to play winter ball.
Flaherty can play all the infield positions, the corner outfield spots and serve as the emergency catcher.
If both Nick Markakis and Nolan Reimold are ready to open the season, Flaherty may get the final bench spot.
Taylor Teagarden will be the backup catcher, Alexi Casilla a utility infielder and Wilson Betemit the left-handed hitting designated hitter.