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Amaral in position to play any position; Veteran utility player says he's ready for anything


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Rich Amaral took grounders at first base yesterday and later shagged some balls in the outfield. He easily could have moved around the diamond since he'll be covering so much ground this season as the Orioles' new utility player.

Name a position, and chancesl are Amaral has been there.

Amaral arrived at camp yesterday, the date when position players were scheduled to report. The first full-squad workout takes place today.

He was joined in the afternoon by outfielder Darnell McDonald, chosen in the first round of the 1997 draft, and left fielder B. J. Surhoff soon followed, as space in the clubhouse became more scarce.

Manager Ray Miller said Amaral, who turns 37 on April 1, will work mostly in center field until the exhibition games begin, then will branch out to other positions.

"We've got a left-handed hitter in center [Brady Anderson] and in left field, so you want him to work there in case you give one of those guys a day off," Miller said. "He can play first base, he can play second base and he can probably play third."

Amaral, who signed a two-year contract in December after spending the past eight seasons in Seattle, is ready for anything. That's part of the utility player's creed.

"Our lineup is pretty much set, so I'll fill in wherever they need me. Every team's got to have utility guys who can do different things, and I feel like I can contribute in my own way," he said.

Miller to kids: Be ready

Three of the Orioles' top position prospects, infielders Ryan Minor, Calvin Pickering and Jerry Hairston, are expected to begin the season at Triple-A Rochester. But Miller has spoken to his staff about preparing the young players as if they'll be on the 25-man roster.

"I don't think you should come into this camp thinking, 'Well, I'm going to play in Triple-A this year,' and maybe not be gearing yourself up and doing as much as you possibly can to get yourself ready to open a championship, big-league season, because if somebody gets hurt, there's a chance that you could. Nothing's set in stone," Miller said.

Later in the day, Miller conveyed the same message to the players. "I told them the worst thing they could do was believe what they read or what people are talking about, and in their mind be preparing themselves for the Rochester openings. I said, 'You're in this camp and you have to prepare yourselves to open at Camden Yards because you never know about injuries or trades. Anything in the world could happen.' "

Miller has said Minor won't get as many at-bats this spring as last year because he wants to give more time to some other players, including Willis Otanez, who may be showcased for a possible trade.

Otanez played 116 games at third base for Rochester and drove in 100 runs, but moved to the outfield when he joined the Orioles in August. In his second major-league start, Otanez broke his left wrist while attempting a diving catch in right field in Chicago.

Ponson has shin splints

Pitcher Sidney Ponson became the first casualty of spring, though his predicament isn't deemed serious. He's been told not to do any running because he's bothered by shin splints.

Ponson, who appeared in 31 games as a rookie last season and emerged as the No. 4 starter, will replace the running portion of the conditioning drills by riding a stationary bike until the discomfort subsides.

"The pounding of running aggravates it," said Miller, who added that Ponson's weight (he's listed at 220 pounds) wasn't a contributing factor.

Otero on comeback track

Before Ricky Otero can entertain thoughts of heading north with the Orioles once camp breaks, he first must prove that he can run. Otero's reputation as a speedster took a hit the moment he felt pain searing through his left knee.

Once the starting center fielder in Philadelphia, Otero was trying to work his way back to the majors with Triple-A Rochester when he tore cartilage in the knee while coming to a sudden stop at third base. He tried to keep the injury a secret and continue playing, but finally gave in to the pain.

Otero's season ended in late July after having arthroscopic surgery, which was performed by team orthopedic Dr. Michael Jacobs. He didn't play again until joining Caguas of the Puerto Rican League, where he hit .289 in 37 games.

Otero, 26, was signed by the Orioles as a minor-league free agent in April 1998 after being released by the Houston Astros the previous month. He batted .288 in 87 games, the sixth-highest average in the club's farm system, and hit .329 in July before the injury.

He last played in the majors in 1997, appearing in 50 games for the Phillies in three separate recalls from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He had gotten into 104 games the previous season.

His chances of making the Orioles appear slim, assuming there are no injuries. The starting outfield is set with Surhoff, Anderson and Albert Belle, and Amaral can back up at all three positions.

"First, I've got to show them I can run good again," said Otero, a native of Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, who is the smallest player in camp at 5 feet 5, 155 pounds. "The last three weeks of winter ball, I started running good again."

Pub Date: 2/25/99

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