Orioles beat writers Eduardo Encina and Jon Meoli talks the moves the Orioles have made this offseason and who's left on the market. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
The home ballpark at the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate in Norfolk isn't the easiest to hit the ball out of, but this year's batch of Tides seems poised to try and do nothing but that.
If there's been one guiding principle to the Orioles' offseason plans this year, at both the major league and minor league level, it seems to be to sign guys whose forte is power.
This week's addition of first baseman Jesus Montero, a one-time top prospect due to his power potential behind the plate, represents the latest in a string of signings, waiver claims and Rule 5 draft picks that show the team that hit the most home runs in the majors in three of the last five years will do everything possible to achieve that in 2017.
Most of these signings, save for catcher Welington Castillo, are ticketed to the minors come April, but all represent lottery tickets for a team that, at this point, has to replace 47 home runs from outfielder/designated hitter Mark Trumbo, 22 from designated hitter Pedro Alvarez, and 17 from catcher Matt Wieters. That alone is a third of the team's 253 home runs from a season ago, and they're getting creative with possible ways to replace it.
It started early in the offseason, with the addition of minor league free agent David Washington from the St. Louis Cardinals. The first baseman/outfielder saw his power numbers spike from 15, 16, and 16 home runs in the 2013-2015 seasons to 30 a year ago between Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis. Still, he's a career .250 minor league hitter with a high strikeout rate.
On Dec. 2, the Orioles claimed slugger Adam Walker off waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers. He'd only recently been waived by the Minnesota Twins, the organization that had benefited from his big-swinging approach throughout his minor league career. Walker, 25, hasn't hit fewer than 25 home runs in any of his four full minor league seasons, with 27 last year in Triple-A and 31 a year earlier in Double-A.
However, those home runs come with jaw-dropping strikeout rates, with his 202 strikeouts most in all of the minors last season.
At the end of the winter meetings, the Orioles used one of their two Rule 5 picks on a power bat, Cleveland's Anthony Santander, a corner outfielder who hit 20 home runs in High-A Lynchburg last year. He can't join the growing power brigade at Triple-A this year because he has to spend the entire season on the 25-man roster (or disabled list, which is a possibility due to his shoulder surgery this offseason), but certainly fits a mold that's been set.
An early December minor league free agent, Logan Schaffer, kind of bucks that trend — his career high in home runs came when he hit 11 in Triple-A Nashville in 2011, but it hasn't much stopped.
Minor league free agent second baseman Sean Coyle drew Dustin Pedroia comparisons for his powerful swing from a small frame in his early days in the Boston Red Sox system, and though his bat has fallen off of late, he has seasons of 14, 16 and 16 home runs on his minor league resume.
Add all of these newcomers to a returning group of Tides that could include first baseman Trey Mancini and will almost certainly see returns of outfielders Dariel Alvarez (four home runs in 2016 after hitting 31 combined in 2014 and 2015), Mike Yastrzemski (two double-digit home run years in his last three seasons), and Christian Walker (62 home runs in the last three seasons, including 18 last year) and the vast expanses of Harbor Park will certainly be tested.
All told, it's not the worst strategy. If even one of these players can replicate his minor league production in the big leagues for the minimum salary, it's a boon for the Orioles. The chances of that panning out? They don't call them lottery tickets for nothing.