Carroll County Times
Carroll County

O's Duquette content with contingency plans for Roberts

With less than two weeks remaining until the Orioles report to spring training, second base remains among the team's greatest uncertainties.

In a perfect world, veteran Brian Roberts returns to his customary position and stays there. But it isn't.

The 34-year-old has battled concussion symptoms all offseason and hasn't been healthy since 2009, when he set career highs with 56 doubles and 79 RBIs while matching a career best with 159 games.

Over the first two seasons of a four-year, $40 million extension he signed in February 2009, Roberts has been limited to just 98 games because of a variety of injuries, the most significant being the concussions he suffered late in 2010 and last May.

"We have to be very careful with the concussion and the protocol coming back," Baltimore executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said at Orioles FanFest on Jan. 21. "So I think we just have to have a little patience and let that play out. I'm hopeful that Brian will be with us and be able to play and help the ballclub. If he's not, we made some contingency plans.

"He's hoping to be ready when we get to Sarasota."

Pitchers and catchers will hold their first workout on Feb. 19 while the first full-squad workout is five days later.

And as Duquette said, the Orioles have some backup plans in place in case Roberts isn't ready or can't stay healthy.

The first one is Robert Andino, who had a breakout 2011 season filling in for Roberts. Andino nearly doubled his career games played by seeing action in 139 last year, including 94 at second base.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter spent much of last summer praising Andino for his growth as an all-around player. The 27-year-old infielder capitalized on his first chance to play almost every day in the majors, batting .263 with five homers, 13 steals, 22 doubles, 36 RBIs and 63 runs scored.

Baltimore also brought in two former first-round picks who are candidates to play second if needed - Matt Antonelli, Duquette's first free-agent signing with the team, and Rule 5 pick Ryan Flaherty.

Antonelli, the San Diego Padres' 2006 first-rounder, turns 27 on April 8. He signed a major-league deal with the Orioles in November after his first season back from a major hand and wrist injury, which required surgery in 2010. He was limited to 60 games from 2009-10 before playing 90 games split between Class AA and AAA in the Washington Nationals' system last year.

He batted .298 with a .390 on-base percentage, 31 extra-base hits, including eight homers, and 31 RBIs in 2011. Before the 2008 season, Antonelli was ranked the 50th-best prospect in baseball by Baseball America, and that year, he went on to play 21 games with the Padres at age 21.

"Last year, I got to reestablish myself at Triple-A, and now I'm hoping that I can establish myself as a big-league player," Antonelli said at FanFest. "I'm not too old and I'm hoping that I can get up there and stick, and help this franchise for not just one year but for years to come."

The right-handed-hitting Antonelli came up as a second baseman, but played at second, third, short and left last season. Duquette lauded him for his defense and ability to get on base.

Antonelli said he signed with Baltimore because the team expressed interest and it seemed like a good fit for him to push for a job. Even with the questions surrounding Roberts, Antonelli said he isn't approaching spring training as if he's competing to become the starting second baseman.

"I don't know exactly where everyone's going to fit," he said. "I just know that I'm going to go into spring training like I do every year and do the best I can to win a spot, and just let the coaching staff and the front office determine what's going to happen.

"But I just want to do my best. Everyone wants a starting job, but I just want to make the team."

Duquette called Flaherty a "sleeper" to make the squad. The Orioles selected the Chicago Cubs' 2008 first-rounder in the Rule 5 draft and have to keep him on the 25-man roster all year or offer him back to the Cubs.

Flaherty, 24, split last season between Class AA and AAA, batting .280 with 19 homers, 31 doubles, 88 RBIs and a .347 on-base percentage. While it's more of a comment on the lack of depth in the system, he was ranked Baltimore's seventh-best prospect in Baseball America's most recent top 10.

Last season, he played 63 of his 132 games at second base while also seeing time at first, third, short, left and right.

"He's got some possibilities, and he's a left-handed hitter," Duquette said. "He's also a good on-base guy."

So although Andino is the Orioles' lone experienced alternative if Roberts isn't ready Opening Day or can't stay healthy, Duquette is content with the number of contingency plans available.

"[Showalter] likes Andino, and we also signed Matt Antonelli, who's a top-quality second baseman, and Ryan Flaherty can play second base," he said. "So we've got options there."