Daniel Clark: Checking in on the Triple-A Norfolk Tides

Whilst the Orioles continue to gather consistency and momentum, their Triple-A affiliate, the Norfolk Tides, have also been experiencing some struggles. Now 12 games into the new season, the Tides have an extremely disappointing 3-9 record, which is somewhat surprising given the improved level of depth and resulting high expectations for the 2014 season.

Offensively, just one every-ay player is hitting over .300. This is Caleb Joseph (.316 average, .333 OBP, one home run, six RBIs), whilst the next best are Jemile Weeks (.294 average, .390 OBP, two RBIs) and Quintin Berry (.259 average, .394 OBP, one home run, two RBIs). The lack of hitting is concerning for the Tides, in particular when they have runners in scoring position. The team is a combined 16-for-102 with RISP and has left 82 runners on base. This clearly highlights why they have scored just 36 runs in 12 games.

Focusing on the positives, due to his impressive start to the season Joseph appears to have leap-frogged Johnny Monell into the third catching option for the Orioles. The 27-year-old has never reached the majors, but if his impressive form continues, the pressure will remain on Steve Clevenger to retain the backup position to Matt Wieters. Thus far, Clevenger is hitting .200 in five appearances for the Orioles.

Weeks was close to securing a spot on the O's active roster after spring training and his performance thus far for the Tides suggests that an opportunity for the O's will come later in the season. A versatile defensive player with impressive speed on the base paths, he could become a valuable tool in a season where the Orioles will have many close games. The impressive start to the season by Steve Lombardozzi will not help Weeks' case, however Ryan Flaherty's early-season struggles have been well-documented and should they return, patience may eventually run out.

Berry, like Weeks, has a lot of speed and can be damaging on the base paths. In 107 major league games he has swiped 24 bags in 24 attempts; however, he is just 1-for-4 attempts with the Tides this season. The outfielder has started the season reasonably well with the Tides, however an opportunity with the Orioles may have to wait a while, given the impressive form from Delmon Young and the recent improvement from David Lough.

Other performances to note thus far include:

* Alexi Casilla (.189 average, .268 OBP, two RBIs)
* Henry Urrutia (.250 average, .263 OBP, four RBIs)
*
Julio Borbon (.214 average, .353 OBP, one HR, three RBIs)
*
Johnny Monell (.154 average, .267 OBP, 1 RBI)

On the pitching front, the Tides have used six starting pitchers and their performances have varied:

* T.J. McFarland (0-0, 1.00 ERA through nine innings, 10 strikeouts)
*
Mike Wright (0-0, 1.80 ERA through 10 innings, eight strikeouts)
*
Eddie Gamboa (0-1, 2.77 ERA through 13 innings, 14 strikeouts)
*
Kevin Gausman (0-1, 4.63 ERA through 11 2/3 innings, 11 strikeouts)
*
Steve Johnson (0-0, 5.87 ERA through 7 2/3 innings, eight strikeouts)|
*
Suk Min Yoon (0-2, 16.20 ERA through 6 2/3 innings, four strikeouts)

With the early-season struggles being experienced by at least two of the Orioles' starting pitchers (Miguel Gonzalez and Ubaldo Jimenez), the good form of McFarland is pleasing and he may be given an opportunity in the near future if Gonzalez continues to struggle. Gausman had also been impressive prior to Tuesday's outing against the Gwinnett Braves, when he allowed four earned runs in three innings of work.

From the bullpen, Brad Brach was one of the last players cut from the Orioles in spring training and he immediately expressed his disappointment. His start to the season with the Tides has produced varied results, allowing two earned runs through five innings of work.

Kelvin De La Cruz was also impressive during spring training however he too has not started the season overly well with the Tides. De La Cruz has allowed eight runs in 6 1/3 innings of work, with his worst performance coming on Tuesday against the Braves, when he allowed six hits, a walk and five runs in one inning.

The more consistent performers coming from the Tides bullpen thus far have been newly acquired Preston Guilmet (3.00 ERA) and Brock Huntzinger (3.72 ERA); however, both gave up runs on Tuesday. Both possess strong arms and have impressed with their ability to retire hitters late in games. Despite the consistent start from each though, the Orioles bullpen has performed reasonably well thus far and with Troy Patton due to return from suspension soon, it's unlikely either will be given an opportunity in the majors any time soon.

Daniel Clark blogs about the Orioles at The Big Leagues Daily from Melbourne, Australia. Follow him on Twitter: @TBLDaily. His thoughts on the O's appear here as part of MASNsports.com's continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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