Contrary to popular belief, Baltimore Orioles’ right fielders were not totally useless last season. In fact, the combination of Chris Davis, Gerardo Parra, Travis Snider, Alejandro De Aza, Delmon Young, and a few others actually finished ninth in all of baseball with a .275 batting average, tenth in slugging percentage at .449, and 13th in home runs with 24. That’s more production than the team would have gotten from Nick Markakis.
More times than not, the player playing right field for the Orioles last year was not completely useless with a bat in his hand. Unfortunately, it is worth noting that many of these same players spent a lot of their time splitting at-bats in left field, batting .210 with a .640 OPS. That is not more production than the team would have gotten from Nelson Cruz.
The inconsistent corner outfield play dragged the Orioles’ offense down all season. At least one player in the lineup was virtually inept all year long. Buck Showalter never seemed to settle on an everyday left or right fielder, and the back-and-forth appeared to affect his players. It takes a certain type of hitter to be successful in a platoon, and it became clear that Travis Snider and Alejandro De Aza are not able to handle being in and out of the lineup a few times a week. Both were released by the Orioles and went on to be somewhat productive elsewhere. Nolan Reimold delivered a solid month of September after finally being given regular at-bats. Having been injured for the better part of five seasons, Reimold could not have been expected to provide much offense being given one start each week.
Unless the Orioles sign Dexter Fowler or Austin Jackson, which is unlikely at this point, this year’s right fielder will come from a pool of internal options. Hyun-soo Kim was signed from Korea, and is likely penciled in to start in left field. A team like the Orioles does not sign a foreign player for $3.5 million to sit on the bench. Assuming Kim gets the bulk of the starts in left field, the Orioles will pick through internal options for this year’s right field merry-go-round.
Many of the players who dragged down the club’s corner outfield performance last year are gone. Snider and De Aza did not last the season. David Lough and Steve Pearce are gone — Pearce signing with Tampa Bay and Lough with Philadelphia. Mid-season acquisition Gerardo Parra found a home with the Colorado Rockies (no matter how crowded their outfield situation may be).
Currently, the following players can be considered (however marginal they may be) options for the Orioles in right field:
- Nolan Reimold
- Dariel Alvarez
- Henry Urrutia
- Efren Navarro
- Joey Rickard
- Mark Trumbo
- Jimmy Paredes
- Chris Davis
Davis and Trumbo may play a few games out in right field. Davis is not crazy about playing the outfield, but has always shown a willingness to do whatever the team asks of him, even playing third base when Manny Machado was injured. It’s not a stretch to think that he will play 10-15 games in right field in 2016, allowing Matt Wieters to rest his body and play a few games at first base. Trumbo, who was a -4 DRS in the outfield last year despite playing only 670.0 innings there, should only be used in the outfield in desperation. Paredes is even rougher defensively in the outfield than Trumbo, and may not even make the 25-man roster when the club heads north from Florida. Paredes enjoyed a hot start at the plate last season, but fell off dramatically once the rest of the league realized he would happily swing at every curveball in the dirt.
Reimold, Alvarez, Urrutia, and Navarro are the most likely candidates to win the starting right field job. Rickard is an intriguing Rule 5 slection. In recent years, the Orioles have done a good job of selecting, keeping, and getting value out of their Rule 5 picks. Examples include T.J. McFarland, Ryan Flaherty, and Jason Garcia. McFarland has been a decent long reliever and spot starter, Flaherty has made himself useful as a utility player, and Garcia has the potential to be a solid middle reliever. Rickard has a nice blend of speed and contact-hitting ability, but is likely not a viable candidate to crack the starting lineup. He will likely fall into the late-inning defensive replacement/pinch-running role occupied by Lough last year.
With Reimold, Alvarez, Urrutia, and Navarro established as the leading candidates to win the right field job, let’s try and break down the pros and cons associated with each player and attempt to determine who has the strongest shot at being penciled in with a big “9” next to his name on the lineup card.
Below is a breakdown of the offensive statistics posted by the group last season.[table “” not found /]
Collectively, the group batted .250 last year. Reimold and Navarro were the only two to receive more than a minuscule sample size of plate appearances. In his 61 games of action, Reimold ranked third on the Orioles last season in on-base percentage. His .344 OBP was better than his career average by 17 points. He struggled most of the season due to sporadic playing time, but gave the Orioles a .274/.391/.466 line in September and October when given consistent at-bats. Injuries have plagued the former top prospect for years, and he has only 434 big-league at-bats since 2012. Sitting on the bench and playing once or twice a week did not allow Reimold to showcase his abilities as a patient, professional hitter with good power. In 2012, Reimold was expected to handle the team’s leadoff duties. Injuries cut his campaign short that year after only 16 games, but he had already homered five times.
Dariel Alvarez and Henry Urrutia are two of the Orioles’ first Cuban signings to reach the big leagues. Urrutia debuted in 2013, but has had a hard time cracking the roster since. He has had a difficult time building muscle and keeping weight on since coming to the United States. His journey to the USA from Cuba was an arduous, lengthy struggle. Before defecting, however, Urrutia was one of the best hitters in Cuba. He batted .397 in his final year in Cuba, and had a higher Cuban batting average than Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Abreu, and Yasiel Puig. Urrutia is not a power threat, but he did hit his first home run for the Orioles last season, a memorable walk-off shot. Last year in Triple-A, Urrutia slashed .291/.345/.409. He began showing an ability to draw walks. In the minors in 2014, Urrutia walked eight times in 65 games. Last year, he walked 40 times in 115 games.
Alvarez has put up solid numbers the past two seasons in Double-A and Triple-A, but there are flaws to his game offensively. He is not patient at the plate, drawing only 19 walks in 135 minor-league games last season. Quite frankly, the Orioles have more than enough free swingers who struggle to reach base by any means other than a hit on the roster. Alvarez has a bit more pop in his bat than Urrutia, but the elder Cuban is a more consistent threat to make contact and deliver a disciplined at-bat. What Alvarez does have going for himself is excellent defense. He is a great defender with a cannon for an arm. At the annual Fanfest in December, Showalter joked that Alvarez could take a shot at pitching if outfield does not work out. It came off as a joke, but it’s not a huge stretch. Alvarez may have the best throwing arm on the team.
Efren Navarro is a recent pickup who has played parts of four seasons with the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim!), posting a .246/.303/.324 line in 130 games. He has played nine seasons in the minors, putting up a .300/.365/.417 line, but only one season with more than 10 home runs. Navarro also has the ability to play first base. He is valuable to the Orioles for his left-handed bat and positional versatility. If Christian Walker cannot win a roster spot in Spring Training, Navarro could start the year as the primary backup to Davis at first base. Still, nothing he has done in his MLB career would indicate that being a productive starter is in the future for Efren Navarro.
L.J. Hoes, the player the Orioles waived to make room for Navarro, passed through waivers, and could get a chance to compete for a spot on the roster. Regardless, Hoes will likely see some time with the big club throughout the year. Hoes was expected to have a chance to win the right field job after being re-acquired from the Houston Astros earlier in the offseason.
Reimold, Alvarez, Urrutia, Navarro. Take your pick. Some sort of argument can be made for each of them. Reimold’s career splits indicate that he handles right-handed pitching about as well as he does left-handed. Unfortunately, he has never been able to stay healthy for an entire big-league season. Reimold showed durability last year, staying healthy for the entire year. This may be a sign that he has turned a corner and could enjoy a mini-revival late in his career. The sample size is still too small to say with any certainty what types of players Alvarez and Urrutia will be. Of the two, Urruita is more polished on offense. If Navarro is starting, things will have gone terribly wrong for Reimold, Urrutia, and Alvarez.
The Orioles may not grab a lot of headlines with their corner outfielders this year, but overall they should see an increase in production. How will it play out, and who will get the right field starts? Your guess is as good as mine. Each player broken down above has strengths and weaknesses. Reimold offers the Orioles the best combination of on-base/power; health is a concern. Alvarez and Urrutia are still raw and untested, but could stand out with a little more polish. Navarro…well…he’s left-handed. Regardless, the Orioles need someone to step up and claim the right field job, forcing Showalter’s hand. In the end, it would not come as a huge surprise to see the Orioles split up their corner outfield playing time, with three or four players getting 250-350 trips to the plate.