Will Joel Guzman return to the Orioles next season?

Joel Guzman was one of the top hitters on the O’s farm last year. He hit .279-33-98 at Bowie, leading the O’s farm system in homers and runs batted in.

In 130 Baysox games, he recorded 21 doubles, scored 87 runs, slugged .519 and had an OPS of .863. He led the Eastern League in homers and total bases, was 2nd in RBI and 5th in extra-base hits.

Guzman is a one-time top Dodgers prospect, who signed with Los Angeles as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican in 2001. At the time, his signing bonus of 2.25 million was a record for an international prospect.

When Guzman signed with the Orioles in February, the O’s became his third organization in three years.

Guzman had more at bats at DH than any other spot last summer, but also played some in right field and at first base. He is certainly not noted for his defense, but some reports say it is average.

The right-handed hitter, who just turned 26, is now a minor league free agent. His agent, Josh Zeide, said Guzman has five clubs that are interested including the Orioles.

“We are in discussion with a number of teams and are exploring the right fit for Joel at the Major League and minor league levels,” Zeide said.

“It really comes down to the team and their needs and how that fits with what Joel brings to the table. That is a power bat from either corner outfield or corner infield spot. He just turned 26, so has some good prospects for the future.

“There is some interest there (from the O’s). The Orioles should be familiar with what he brings to the team.”

There is often a big difference between a big league and minor league free agent. A minor leaguer isn’t so much going for the top dollar, but more likely the team where he has the best chance to make the Majors.

Last year, that team for Guzman did not turn out to be the Orioles. He stayed with Double-A Bowie all year. So does that mean Guzman should scratch Baltimore off his list for 2011?

“The past is the past. It was an opportunity for the organization to get to know Joel as a person, the work ethic and leadership he shows. They should have a really good feel for him as a player, on and off the field.

“He certainly enjoyed the year, he would have liked to go to the playoffs, but they fell a little short. He was complimentary of the organization and how he was treated.”

The O’s have let Zeide know they would happily take Guzman back, but they don’t seem to view him as someone with a good shot to make the big leagues entering this spring.

Guzman, who has had 56 Major League at bats between the Dodgers in 2006 and Rays in 2007, hit much better last year than he had the previous two years. Plus, some felt he was playing “down a level” at Double-A.

Guzman’s last three seasons:
2008 at Durham (AAA): .248-20-72
2009 at Harrisburg (AA): .281-12-57
2010 at Bowie (AA): .279-33-98

So he hit one more homer at Bowie last year than he hit the previous two years in 345 more at bats.

Some would call him a good 4A type player that the O’s can find out there again if they need one. Others may see him as a late bloomer who last year showed his true potential.

If there is a club out there that is willing to give Guzman a 40-man roster spot, he would probably jump at the offer. More than likely, he will probably have to sign a minor league deal with a spring training invite with a club.

Zeide indicates his bottom line is not about the bottom line. Guzman wants a chance to return to the Majors more than he wants an extra few dollars right now.

This is what Zeide said when I asked him what is most important in picking Guzman’s organization for 2011.

“The organization’s view of Joel as a player in terms of his Major League viability and their willingness to give him an opportunity to produce at the highest level.”

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