NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Orioles added their latest reclamation project Wednesday, agreeing to terms with first baseman Conor Jackson on a minor league deal with an invitation to major league spring training, executive vice president Dan Duquette announced.
Jackson, a 2003 first-round draft pick of the Diamondbacks, put together three straight seasons of at least a .294 average, .368 on-base percentage, 12 homers and 60 RBIs from 2006 to 2008 with Arizona. But he's played in more than 60 big league games in a season just once since 2008, shuffling between the majors and minors within four different organizations during that span.
Since Duquette took over last season, the Orioles have done well scouring for undervalued players and giving them chances. Last season, the Orioles picked up Nate McLouth after he was released by the Pittsburgh Pirates and signed Lew Ford from the independent league Long Island Ducks. Both played key roles for the Orioles down the stretch after signing minor league deals and initially playing at Triple-A Norfolk.
Jackson, 30, brings power potential (15 homers in 2006 and 2007), a .351 career on-base percentage and defensive flexibility — he could be an option at first base, left field and designated hitter.
He spent last season playing for the Chicago White Sox's Triple-A team in Charlotte, posting a batting line of .277/.363/.434 with nine homers and 41RBIs.
He has a .283/.381/.436 line against left-handed pitching for his major league career. His best season came in 2006, when he hit .291/.368/.441 with 15homers and 79 RBIs.
"He had a couple of good years and we will see if he can recapture his form that made him a potential power hitter," Duquette said.
Along with Jackson, the Orioles are inviting Ford, outfielder Jason Pridie, right-hander Daniel McCutchen, right-hander Adam Russell, catcher Allan de San Miguel, catcher Jose Gil and catcher Chris Robinson to major league spring training. San Miguel (Australia) and Robinson (Canada) are slated to participate in the World Baseball Classic.
Adding in Rule 5 draft?
Duquette said the Orioles are still looking to be active in this morning's Rule 5 draft, which is essentially the final event of the winter meetings before teams leave town.
Last season, the Orioles took infielder Ryan Flaherty from the Chicago Cubs with the fourth overall pick in the draft.
This year, the Orioles have the 23rd pick but still figure to make a selection.
The Rule 5 draft allows teams to select certain minor leaguers who have been left off other clubs' 40-man rosters for $50,000.
Those eligible players — ones signed at age 19 or older who have remained in the organization for at least four years, or those signed at age 18 or younger who have been in the organization for at least five years — must stay on the selecting squad's 25-man roster all season or be offered back to the original club for $25,000.
Two former Orioles farmhands are listed among the top Rule 5 prospects — left-hander Jarret Martin and right-hander Randy Henry. Henry was dealt to the Texas Rangers for backup catcher Taylor Teagarden, and Martin was sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the trade that bought pitcher Dana Eveland to Baltimore.
Orioles sign Czech lefty
The Orioles have signed left-handed pitcher Jan Novak, an 18-year-old from the Czech Republic, to a minor league contract.
Under Duquette, the Orioles have ramped up their international scouting efforts, and that includes tapping Europe. Novak is the first player the new Orioles regime has signed out of Europe.
"Our interest in expanding our international scouting efforts, that's been going on all year," Duquette said. "But to sign a young left-handed pitcher, that shows our guys are out working. That's progress."
Novak participated in the MLB European Academy, an annual three-week camp for top European prospects held in Italy, the past three years. Novak also pitched for the Czech Republic in the International Baseball Federation 18-and-under AAA World Championships in Seoul, South Korea, in July.
Around the horn
Russell, whom the Orioles signed to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training, was 1-2 with a 3.03 ERA in 36 relief appearances with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011. He pitched in the minors this past season for the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Angels. … Steve Smith, a candidate for the Orioles' third base coach vacancy, has dropped out of the running. Smith, a former third base coach with the Rangers under Buck Showalter, will remain in retirement to spend more time with his son, a college senior baseball player. … The MLB Stand Up to Cancer charity auction ends late tonight. Two of the three Orioles items — to be an Oriole for a day and the bus trip to a Washington Nationals game — were among the 10 highest bids.