When you think of the Baltimore Orioles, a lot of questions likely fill your head. What does the future hold for Matt Wieters? Who is going to be the closer? What is the state of the rotation? Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun (click here for some of his coverage) helps us answer these questions and more in our latest Ask the Expert. I want to thank him for taking the time to participate in this as well as the tremendous insight he shared with us. So, without further adieu, let’s get to it:
1) What have you heard regarding the Orioles plans for Matt Wieters? Is it more likely that he reaches the majors in April or June? How do you think he’ll perform once he is recalled?
Jeff Zrebiec: The Orioles say that Wieters will start the season at Triple-A with Gregg Zaun holding down the fort. I really wonder what they’ll do if Wieters has a great spring, sort of like Nick Markakis did several years ago to force his way onto the roster. But I have to take team president Andy MacPhail at his word and he has maintained all along that Wieters will start the season in the minors. It’s hard to say when he’ll be recalled and that probably depends on how he’s performing against Triple-A pitching. If he’s dominating it like he did in Single and Double-A, I think you’ll probably see him make his big league debut in mid to late May. As for how he’ll perform, I think it will be an adjustment and it may take him a while. But this kid has performed at every level, so there is no reason to think he won’t be productive.
2) The Orioles rotation after Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara appears to be one big question mark, though some would argue that even those two are no locks for success. How do you see the top 2 performing and who do you see emerging at the backend of the rotation?
Jeff Zrebiec: Guthrie is miscast as a No.1, but that’s no fault of his own. He’s a good pitcher who would have a spot in any rotation. I see him maintaining a below 4.00 ERA, but the division and ballpark he plays in and the team he plays on could be tough on his record. As for Uehara, I’ve never seen him pitch so I hesitate to predict what he’ll do. But it’s important to point out that most major league teams saw him more as a reliever than a starter, which may not bode well in the A.L. East. As for the backend of the rotation, it’s not a pretty picture. Mark Hendrickson probably has the lead for one spot. The candidates for the other two include injury question marks Matt Albers and Troy Patton; reliever/swingman types like Danys Baez, Brian Bass and Brad Hennessey; and Hayden Penn, Radhames Liz and Chris Waters who have all had little big league success. The Orioles would still like to add a veteran free agent starter, such as Braden Looper or Jon Garland.
3) Chris Ray or George Sherrill, who has the lead in the closers role at this point? Who do you see ultimately finishing the season with the job?
Jeff Zrebiec: Sherrill is the clear leader. Ray didn’t pitch in the majors all of last season after having Tommy John surgery and they want to ease him back in less-pressurized situations. I think manager Dave Trembley has the confidence to use Ray, Sherrill and Jim Johnson interchangeably, but I expect Sherrill to get the lion’s share of save opportunities early. As for who finishes the season with the job, that’s hard to say because Sherrill could be a prime trade candidate. I do think Ray, depending on how he pitches and how he feels, will see his role expand as the season moves on.
4) The Orioles have 5 OF’ers who all have the potential to take that next step in 2009 in Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Luke Scott, Felix Pie and Luis Montanez, though Markakis is already entrenched as one of the better players in baseball. Of the other four, who do you see as the most likely to take the next step and why?
Jeff Zrebiec: I think Jones is the most likely to blossom. He really looked like he was starting to emerge last year before he broke his foot in early August. He spent the offseason on a rigorous workout regime and says he’s added 15 to 20 pounds of muscle. The talent and the tools are there. Jones just has to be a little more selective at the plate. But I think he’ll be much more comfortable in his second full season as the starting center fielder and with the Orioles.
5) Both Aubrey Huff and Melvin Mora enjoyed renaissance seasons in 2008. What do you think led to those years and what are the chances that they have similar success in 2009?
Jeff Zrebiec: In Huff’s case, he changed his offseason routine by necessity. For most of his career, he spent offseasons working on his swing to the point of overkill. However, last year, he had hernia surgery and didn’t pick up a bat until spring training. He claims that helped him keep things simple, rather than over-analyzing his swing and stance. Mora got off to a slow start last year, but took off after he got a cortisone shot in his shoulder. He felt much better and that showed with the results. He had shoulder surgery this offseason, but he should be ready for the season. Regardless, I think he and Huff will both have a hard time replicating their production last year. Both are entering the last years of their contracts, so that could be a real motivating factor.
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