Tony Lombardi goes one-on-one with the Professor of all things Orioles, Roch Kubatko in his School of Roch.
TL: Expecting Brian Roberts to play 140+ games would be consider by most to be unrealistic given that he’s only played in 115 games total over the last 3 seasons. Gauge the quality of utility depth in the infield should Roberts’ injury woes continue.
RK: Given Roberts’ recent injury history, the Orioles wouldn’t allow themselves to go into the season without a Plan B, C, D, E…well, we could go pretty deep into the alphabet. They acquired Alexi Casilla as one safety net, and they also think highly of Ryan Flaherty. Buck Showalter keeps saying that he believes Flaherty can be a full-time player in the big leagues at 3 positions. Second base is certainly one of them.
They also have Yamaico Navarro in the system, though he didn’t dazzle anyone with his glove this spring (made a nice play at third base, but otherwise…). Jonathan Schoop will play some second base at Norfolk, though he’s expected to start at shortstop most of the time. Niuman Romero will be a utility guy at Bowie (at least that’s what I heard a few days ago.) There are enough choices if Roberts is injured.
TL: Based on what you’ve seen so far, what is the O’s lineup we’ll see most regularly in 2013?
RK: The order is going to change, and the names will depend on the opposing pitcher. I’d expect McLouth to get most of the starts in left field, especially because he’s a plus-defender, but it’s not like he tears up left-handed pitching. Reimold will get his share of starts out there. However, he also can be the right-handed DH.
Markakis is expected to be the primary leadoff guy right now, but McLouth will also get some chances, and Roberts eventually could move up from ninth. Buck just wants to slow-play him, as he likes to say, and start him off ninth without the added burden and attention of being the leadoff guy.
Machado could hit second at times. Jones, Wieters or Davis could bat cleanup. Hardy could be sixth or seventh. In other words, there’s not one answer to this question. We do know, however, that Wieters isn’t leading off. Take that one to the bank.
TL: One of the most common arguments made as to why the Orioles will not reproduce their success in 2013 suggests that the bullpen can’t repeat their success from 2012 and therefore they won’t be as productive in 1-run games. Your thoughts…
RK: I understand that thinking because bullpens normally go from extremes and teams routinely tear them down and rebuild them every winter, as the Orioles did for so many years. Hard to expect the same dominance in 2013. And yet, it’s also unfair to think it was just a fluke. These are quality arms. If they stay healthy, they absolutely should remain one of the top units in baseball.
They’re deep, and Showalter knows how to manage a ‘pen as well as any manager in the game. Guys don’t get burned out and they don’t get rusty from underuse. They don’t warm up 5 consecutive nights without getting in a game. He knows how to get the best out of each guy. That alone should bring encouragement.
TL: From what you’ve seen, what Oriole will surprise the most fans this season? Disappoint?
RK: I won’t touch “disappoint.” Don’t need that guy reading it. Surprise is tough because I don’t know how fans are viewing these players. One fan could be surprised while another might have loftier expectations.
But I picked Jake Arrieta to have a breakout year in 2012 and he ended up 3-9 with a plus-6 ERA and a demotion to Triple-A. I also took the Germans and the points in WWII. I’m not real good at this. But I’m going with Arrieta again. His stuff is just too good for him to keep underachieving. He’s a hard-worker, so it’s not a lack of effort. And it’s certainly not a lack of intelligence. He knows where he’s deficient and he’s worked hard to improve in those areas. So he’s my pick to click.
TL: How has Chris Davis looked around the bag at first?
RK: Chris looked like Keith Hernandez early in camp, minus the porn ‘stache, and overall he had a very good spring defensively. Not sure what happened with him last year, but he looked good going to both sides and making strong, accurate throws to second base. He won’t be perfect. None of us are. But he should be much better than the 2012 version.
TL: Could you foresee a Reimold/McLouth platoon that might rival one of the best platoons in O’s history, Roenicke/Lowenstein?
RK: The only reason I don’t think it will be a strict platoon is because Reimold could end up at DH on many nights. Of course, Steve Pearce is around to handle those duties, as well, but I think Showalter likes McLouth in LF and will still want Reimold’s bat in the lineup. He’s already mentioned how he can see ways to play both of them on the same night.
TL: What minor league pitcher and position player impressed you most this Spring?
RK: Kevin Gausman is a beast. Upper 90s fastball and a plus-plus changeup. It’s almost unfair. And he’s got a great attitude. No wonder scouts love this kid. Heck, I’m ready to name my next child after him. “Gausman Kubatko.”
Seriously though, he’s the real deal. Gave up 17 hits in 16 innings, so he’s not a finished product, but he’s not far from being ready for The Show. Jonathan Schoop wasn’t around a lot because of the WBC, but I can see why he was the talk of the Arizona Fall League and why the Orioles think so highly of him. It’s just a matter of settling on a position for him. Big kid. Athletic. Has tools. Terrific attitude. Just wants to play. Doesn’t care where. Buck was highly impressed.
Around The Horn
· Most intense Oriole: I guess I can’t include Dylan Bundy because he’s not on the 25-man roster. Otherwise, you could name this award in his honor. Arrieta deserves mention. He takes this pitching gig quite seriously, and he’s dedicated to staying in top physical condition. Overall, it’s a fun, loose clubhouse. Not a lot of guys punching holes in walls. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t all business once the lights go on.
· Biggest Locker Room Character: Wieters may be the funniest, which probably surprises a lot of people. He’s quick with the one-liners, and Buck will jot them down on occasion so he doesn’t forget them. But Chris Davis and Darren O’Day also stand out. Lots of funny guys in there.
· Two outs, bottom of the ninth, man on and need a run to tie…what Oriole do you want at the plate most? Frank Robinson. Oh, you mean current Oriole? Tough call, but probably Nick Markakis. Just a professional hitter.
· You are building a team and have the pick of Cal Ripken or Eddie Murray in their prime. Who’s your pick? Tough one, but I suppose I’d go with Eddie. And then I’d stress the whole time over skipping Cal.
· The next retired Orioles number will be: Assuming there isn’t a death that factors into this one…maybe Jones. Heck, maybe Showalter if this team keeps going to the playoffs under his watch.
· Most difficult opposing player to deal with: I don’t deal with many of them anymore, so no one comes to mind. I guess wherever Erik Bedard goes. Not that I have any great desire to interview him ever again.
· Best opposing player to deal with: Lots of former Orioles who are now opposing players, though that might be cheating. The media loves Lance Berkman. I heard nothing but great things about Jim Thome for years, and they weren’t exaggerated.
· Best Baseball Movie: Bull Durham, though Eight Men Out is vastly underrated.
· Worst Baseball Movie: The Felix Pie Story. Never saw a need for it.
· Who would play Buck Showalter in the movie BUCKle UP? Philip Seymour Hoffman, because he’s now required to play every manager. It’s in his contract.