The Orioles’ spring training camp will be littered with competitions in a few months. Not the filthy, gulls circling variety. A much smaller scale, but still littered
Jobs won’t be handed to catcher Chance Sisco and outfielder Austin Hays, two of the top position prospects in the organization. They will be given the opportunity to head north for the March 29 opener against the Twins at Camden Yards, but the rest is up to them - and whatever other moves are made by executive vice president Dan Duquette.
It isn’t entirely under their control.
I’ve written about Hays’ situation and how the Orioles must decide whether he’s ready to be their everyday right fielder or work in a platoon/reserve role, or whether he should make a stop at Triple-A Norfolk to continue his development.
They’re not closing doors on him. Let the situation play out.
Is Duquette hoping that Hays wins a job?
“I think if we get a little more depth in our outfield, we’ll have that covered,” he said during Thursday night’s “Orioles Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 The Fan. “And he’s real good against left-handed pitching. He hits left-handed pitching consistently and he does some damage against left-handed pitching with power. And he can play a position in the field, so he’s going to be a good ballplayer.
“If we decide to give him more at-bats for experience in the minors, we can decide that in the spring, but he’s got the kind of skills where he should be able to develop into an everyday player for us.”
Hays, a third-round pick in 2016 out of Jacksonville University, was included among the September call-ups and went 13-for-60 (.217) with three doubles, one home run and eight RBIs in 20 games. He collected 11 hits in 31 at-bats from Sept. 16-Sept. 23.
“I think he has all the tools, I think he has all the skills,” Duquette said. “He came to the big leagues quicker than anybody else in that draft. You can see his tools. Here’s a guy who can throw, he’s an aggressive baserunner, he’s a pretty solid baserunner, and he hits and he’s got power.
“He doesn’t have big, big power, but he’s got opposite-field power. He can hit the ball out the other way. And to me, if you’ve got power to hit it out the other way, that tells me that you’ve got power. If you can’t hit the ball out to the opposite field, then you don’t really have big league power, what the scouts would call light tower power. But he has all the tools.
“Whether he needs more seasoning, maybe he does. I think pitchers after they saw him, they saw he was very aggressive and they challenged him and made some pitches, so he’s going to have to make an adjustment. Whether he’s ready to do it on an everyday basis at the start of the season, I don’t know. I guess we can find that out. But I really like his tools I like way he goes about it. I like the way he runs down the ball in the outfield, I like his arm and he should be a good contributor for us.”
Hays’ aggressive approach at the plate allows him to blend with the rest of the hitters, which leads us to Duquette’s annual quest for an improved on-base percentage. The Orioles ranked 27th in the majors this summer at .312.
“When you talk about run production, it starts with getting on base and getting a consistent on-base capability,” Duquette said.
“Really, the whole lineup, they have to understand that when you take a pitch and you pass the baton to the next guy, you’re doing a good service, because over the course of a long season it’s a game of attrition. You take a pitch and the other guy’s got to throw more pitches, and then you’ve got RBI opportunities for your hitters with me on base and then they have to bring in the middle relievers and that’s when you can do some serious damage. That’s when a lot of our guys hit their home runs. So it’s really a whole culture and I think we could do a better job of understanding the value of working in the strike zone.
“When our guys work in the strike zone, we’ve got some really dangerous hitters and every hitter is a better hitter when they’re working in the strike zone and swinging at strikes.”
Chris Davis has vowed to swing at more pitches after losing his aggressiveness and taking too many called third strikes. The bat has to leave his shoulder, even if it seems to contradict the above message.
Try this: Don’t chase so many pitches outside the zone and don’t let so many pitches sit in the zone.
While Duquette tries to balance out the lineup with more left-handed bats, he’s also counting on Davis to become a force again in the middle of the order.
Two seasons into his seven-year, $161 million contract, Davis has batted .221/.332/.459 with 38 home runs, 84 RBIs and 219 strikeouts in 157 games and .215/.309/.423 with 26 home runs, 61 RBIs and 195 strikeouts in 128 games.
“We’re going to need Chris Davis to step up and do what we asked him to do when he signed the contract. There’s no question about that,” Duquette said.
“His left-handed bat balances out our lineup and he’s going to have to come back and perform at the level that he did in prior years. Not last year. Last year, he didn’t have a very good year. But we’re going to need him to step up.”
There’s no competition at first base. The job belongs to Davis. But we’ll find out whether Sisco can earn a spot and how the Orioles fill out their rotation, perhaps holding a competition for the fifth spot among a bunch of in-house candidates. The utility infield job could be wide open, and there’s usually intrigue with the last bullpen spot.
Shameless plug alert: I also need to step up because I’m appearing on “Wall to Wall Baseball” from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. on MASN.