SARASOTA, Fla. -- Brady Anderson just might be the Orioles' No. 1 priority this spring.
They are desperate for somebody to step up and take over the leadoff spot in the batting order -- and Anderson is the only player in camp who fits the mold. And, other than the pitchers, he stands to benefit more from the Glenn Davis trade than anybody, with Steve Finley out of the outfield picture.
"You could say the trade affects him more than anybody else," manager Frank Robinson said. "But Brady will have to step forward and show us what he can do, offensively and defensively.
"He has to prove that he is an everyday player and not just a fourth or fifth outfielder," said Robinson.
On a team that lists only four outfielders, Anderson currently figures as the leadoff hitter -- or the fourth outfielder. He knows the trade of Finley has opened a door.
"It certainly hasn't hurt me any," said Anderson, who was hampered by a shoulder injury most of last year. "I know coming in that I have to perform well to earn a starting spot.
"Last year I was more content to be the fourth or fifth outfielder because I was injured. This spring will be more enjoyable because I'll be able to play in the field," which is something he didn't do the entire spring training last year.
Because of the shoulder injury, which he says is completely healed, Anderson spent less time in the field last year than anytime in his memory. Not being available for defense throughout spring training and early in the regular season severely curtailed his playing time. And a .231 batting average did nothing to enhance his situation.
All of which makes this exhibition season, which begins next Thursday, crucial for Anderson, 27.
"This is a decision year for Brady," batting coach Tom McCraw said after yesterday's rain-shortened workout. "He's got to do it now. In this game you can go from being a prospect to a suspect in a short period of time."
McCraw and Robinson feel that Anderson has the tools to give the Orioles what they need, a legitimate leadoff hitter, but that he needs to make adjustments to be completely successful. "We had a talk about what kind of hitter he has to become," said McCraw.
"Brady had some good spurts last year, but he has to become more consistent. He'd go along OK for a while, but then he'd hit one out [a home run] and his thinking would get messed up.
"He has to learn to use the whole field -- like Bill Ripken did last year. It's a mental adjustment that he has to make for himself."
Getting Anderson to play within his ability will be one of McCraw's priorities in this camp. "He's an exciting player when he's producing," said McCraw. "But he's got to make up his mind that he's going to steal 35-40 bases and score 100 runs for the Orioles. He's got to convince himself that he's going to get on base and let Cal [Ripken], Glenn [Davis] and Randy [Milligan] drive him in 100 times."
According to McCraw, patience at the plate is the key for Anderson. "Brady has a good command of the strike zone, but he's got to learn to let the ball come to him," said McCraw. "In the past he's had his body out front all the time. I don't know the reason, whether he's worried about getting jammed or what.
"But the result is a lot of soft fly balls to leftfield. If he lets the pitch travel six more inches, those balls are line drives."
Without going into specifics, Anderson realizes that offensive consistency is going to determine his fate. "I've got to keep my slumps to 20 or 30 at-bats instead of 60," he said.
If he can stay in the lineup on a regular basis, Anderson figures he can give the Orioles what they want at the top of the lineup. "I stole 15 bases in 234 at-bats last year," he said, "so I would say I would steal a minimum of 30 if I hit well enough to play regularly.
"That's a part of my game that I don't have to worry about," said Anderson. "I know I'll steal bases, and I won't get thrown out very often."
That Finley provided the opportunity is a touch of irony because the two had been very friendly rivals.
"I heard about the trade before it was announced," said Anderson. "Curt [Schilling] called and told me about it, and then I called Steve.
"Curt was more open about how disappointed he was," said Anderson, who came to the Orioles with Schilling in the Mike Boddicker trade in 1987. "When I talked to Steve I don't think he wanted to admit his disappointment.
"I know how he felt. When you get traded, especially when you're young, it's kind of scary. You don't really know what to expect.
"But we've talked a few times since the trade was made, and I think it will work out to be a good situation for Steve," said Anderson.
Finley has been penciled into the Houston lineup as the everyday leadoff hitter. The buddy he left behind with the Orioles doesn't have that luxury. At least not yet.
But Brady Anderson will have first crack at the Orioles' No. 1 offensive priority -- filling the No. 1 spot in the batting order.
* INSIDE PITCH: Rain confined most of the Orioles' second full squad workout indoors yesterday, but Robinson said it was only a distraction, not a setback.
* PAY DAY: Bob Milacki became the second Oriole in two days to agree to a contract calling for the same salary he made last year.
The righthander, who was 5-8 in an injury-plagued 1990 season after going 14-12 in 1989, signed for $235,000. The day before third baseman Craig Worthington signed for $207,500.
The Orioles have seven players unsigned -- Gregg Olson, Randy Milligan, Dave Johnson, Sam Horn, Mike Devereaux, John Mitchell and Juan Bell.
* PRICE IS BACK: The Orioles today signed lefthanded reliever Joe Price to a minor-league contract with Rochester.
However, even if he should make the clud, free-agent rules prevent him from becoming an Oriole until May 1.
The Orioles did not re-sign Price after last year, when he was 3-4 with a 3.58 ERA, because of back problems. He then declared himself a free agent, but apparently found the market a tough place to bargain.