Answers to some O's questions for '10
Rising stars from '09 need to keep it up next season
BALTIMORE -- With the new year upon us and a new season standing just a few months away, it seems like an appropriate time to start asking and answering questions related to the Orioles. Some of these issues will be answered during Spring Training and still others will be clarified during the regular season, but these are the topics that the Orioles find confronting them.
1. Can Adam Jones sustain his first-half excellence for a full season?
Jones has missed much of September due to injuries in each of the past two seasons, so his first challenge will be able to finish the year intact. But even before he went down with a severely sprained ankle last year, Jones was wallowing in an extended slump that saw him hit .222 over his final 39 games. Jones is one of the team's best conditioned players and is just beginning to figure out how good he can be, so there's no reason to think he's a two-month flash in the pan.
2. Is this the season Matt Wieters breaks out into an All-Star-level talent?
Wieters had a remarkable Minor League career, a body of work noted for its complete lack of adversity as he rocketed through Baltimore's farm system. The backstop's Major League career presented the first obstacles he'd ever faced, and he rebounded from a slow first half to bat .301 with a .351 on-base percentage after the All-Star break. Wieters batted .313 against right-handed pitchers during his first-year apprenticeship, and all indications are that he'll hit the ground running in 2010.
3. How will closer Mike Gonzalez react to switching leagues?
Gonzalez doesn't seem to think he'll have much of an adjustment period in switching to the American League, and his job may actually help in that respect. As a relief ace, the Orioles only need Gonzalez to get three outs a night as opposed to working his way through the batting order multiple times. Gonzalez answered some much tougher questions last year, when he set career highs in games, innings pitched and strikeouts to prove that his surgically repaired throwing elbow is sound.
4. Is Felix Pie closer to the player we saw in the first half or the second half?
Pie is a true enigma, and the Orioles aren't any closer to an answer on this score than anybody else. Pie flamed out as a starter during the first half last season and almost got exposed to waivers at midseason to make extra room on the roster. The youngster worked hard to get his batting stroke under control, though, and thrived both offensively and defensively down the stretch. Now, the Orioles are obliged to play him on a regular basis and to find out exactly how good he can be.
5. How will the Orioles cope with growing pains from three young starters?
With safety in numbers. The Orioles don't expect a straight line to stardom for Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman or Brian Matusz, and they know there will be days when their young arms learn lessons the hard way. Baltimore hopes to cover for that process with consistent veterans Jeremy Guthrie and Kevin Millwood, but it won't hurt to have even more prospects waiting in the wings. The Orioles still have David Hernandez, and they'll have Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton waiting if the first wave falters.
6. Who will bat cleanup and carry the bulk of the RBI duties in 2010?
Jones appears to be the early best bet to bat cleanup, but his best fit might be higher in the batting order. Right now, the Orioles seem set to bat Brian Roberts leadoff, and Nick Markakis will probably wedge into the third spot. That leaves Jones as the team's biggest power threat, and his presence there could allow Wieters to bat fifth. If Baltimore elects to bat Jones second and Markakis third, then Nolan Reimold would probably slot in as the next best choice to hit cleanup.
7. How will the Orioles find playing time for part-time slugger Luke Scott?
The Orioles must be excited to even have this kind of question crop up, because they've rarely had the kind of depth that would make a player like Scott sit through limbo. Scott has demonstrated an ability to hit right-handed pitching, but the Orioles like Reimold and Pie more in left field and feel a need to cycle the other through the designated-hitter slot. That means that Scott will have to stay hot to earn playing time, and it also means that manager Dave Trembley will have to be creative to play everyone.
8. Can Guthrie bounce back to the pitcher he was in 2007 and '08?
Guthrie blew up last year after posting two consecutive sterling seasons, an anomaly that could best be tracked to pitching in the World Baseball Classic in Spring Training and serving as the only veteran in the rotation for much of the year. Guthrie will have much less pressure on him in 2010, thanks to Millwood's presence and the continued maturation of Baltimore's youngsters. And now that he'll be slotted lower in the rotation, Guthrie should have every opportunity to rebound.
9. How will former starter Koji Uehara react to a role in Baltimore's bullpen?
Uehara thrived as a closer in Japan, but he signed with the Orioles largely because they were the only team that viewed him as a starter. The veteran was only able to make 12 starts last year, and Baltimore isn't sure whether his arm can withstand such a rigorous workload. Uehara will instead be counted on to pitch some high-leverage innings a couple times a week, and it's anybody's guess as to whether his stuff -- or his heavily mileaged arm -- will respond to the late-inning scrutiny.
10. Are Brandon Snyder and Josh Bell ready to make the big league leap?
Both Snyder and Bell appear to be a half-season away from the Major Leagues, which explains Baltimore's willingness to sign Garrett Atkins and the ongoing flirtation with signing a veteran first baseman. The Orioles want Bell and Snyder to earn their promotions as opposed to being called up, because they're the best the organization has to offer. With that said, Baltimore will find roster space and playing time as soon as Bell and Snyder demonstrate they have nothing left to learn in the Minors.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.