Who is Ryan Flaherty and where does he fit in with the 2012 Orioles?
That's the exact question manager Buck Showalter is trying to answer right now.
The former Cubs 2008 first-round draft pick is fighting for the O's utility spot along with a handful of others. He has yet to crack a big league roster, but in four minor league seasons has played first base, third base, second base, shortstop, left field and right field. His defensive versatility could offer the O's some much-needed depth.
"The ability to play other positions gives the manager flexibility," Flaherty said. "Growing up, my dad always told me as a little kid, 'Hey, learn how to play every position.' You know, I always just wanted to play shortstop and he said, 'No, on top of that, learn how to play the outfield and first base.' If you can do that and hit a little bit it can definitely only help you."
The 25-year-old was chosen by the Orioles in last winter's Rule 5 draft. Because of that, he carries a little more weight than the players in camp who are there on minor league deals, or the 40-man roster players who still have options.
As a Rule 5 player, Flaherty has to make the Orioles' 25-man roster and stay there all year. If not, he would go back to the Cubs for half of the $50,000 price the Orioles paid for him. If he makes the active roster, he can be placed on waivers, but can't be optioned to the minors or designated for assignment.
The Orioles most likely don't want to send him back to the Cubs, so he'll have every opportunity to show what he can do this spring.
"You take advantage of every day you get to go out there and show what you can do," Flaherty said.
Flaherty doesn't take anything for granted. He knows what it's like to be a coveted first-round pick as well as a player who, four years later, the Cubs left exposed in the Rule 5 draft. In Flaherty's world, making a big league roster is far from a given, and in Orioles camp, the battle for those final bench spots are pretty tight.
"It's the highest level of baseball and they're going to have good players there, so it's going to be competitive no matter where you are or what organization you're in and that's the case here in Baltimore," Flaherty said.
After arriving at spring training, Flaherty wasted no time seeking out former Oriole and new MASN broadcaster Mike Bordick.
"(Bordick) moved around from shortstop to second base to third base. He just talked about being consistent. If you're looking for consistency, you know, that was him. He made every play that was hit to him," Flaherty said. "He's helped me understand what it's like to move around and things you can do pregame."
Bordick and Flaherty share a common bond: Both hail from Maine, which isn't exactly a baseball hotbed. Growing up there, a kid with big league dreams had to be creative.
"It's definitely tough. You're stuck indoors for like seven or eight months out of the season. You only get about four good ones outside," Flaherty said. "You tried to find empty gyms to go throw in and empty batting cages to go hit in. You end up playing catch up a lot with the kids that are in the warmer weather."
For Flaherty, 2012 is not about catching up. It's about starting to reach some of that potential the Cubs saw in him in 2008, that same potential O's executive vice president Dan Duquette was willing to take a chance on.
The belief is the utility spot is Flaherty's to lose. But, as was said before, nothing is a given in Flaherty's world.