So I spent some time this weekend trying to figure out which players will be on the roster at Triple-A Norfolk this year. Tough task and I didn't even look much at the pitching yet, since there are still so many pitchers competing for jobs with the Orioles that will likely wind up with the Tides.
Projecting today what will be on the field in Norfolk in a few weeks is a dicey proposition at best and frustrating to do. There are many years where you just move players up from the previous level, but this isn't one of them.
The Tides figure to be a team made up of players with previous Triple-A time and, in some cases, some major league experience, rather than a group of up-and-coming prospects that will be making their Triple-A debuts. Some fans won't like that at all, because the roster will be littered with names they don't know very well from the past, but the Orioles also should not move players to Triple-A that are not ready for that just to make it look like the farm system is productive.
That they don't seem willing to do.
Right now, the only player that seems likely to move up from Double-A Bowie among position players is Joe Mahoney and that is not a 100 percent lock. In my opinion, he should be playing every day for Norfolk this year after producing a .923 OPS in Double-A in 2010 and an OPS there of .846 last year. He has now played in 137 games with the Baysox and it's time to see what he can do at the next level.
It seems that few of his 2011 Baysox teammates will join him though on the 2012 Tides. After hitting .259 with 156 strikeouts, Xavier Avery, still very much a decent prospect, needs to go back to Bowie and work on everything from his defense to his base stealing to making more consistent contact. Nothing wrong with a 21-year-old high school draft pick with solid tools having to play again at Double-A.
LJ Hoes also will likely start in Bowie, I believe. He hit .305 in 95 games there last year and his bat began to show more pop as the year went on. Nothing wrong with him reuniting with Bowie batting coach Denny Hocking to build on the progress that started last year and also continuing to work on his defense in the outfield. By the way, it seems to me that Hoes' days as an infielder are just about over, although he could still see limited time on the dirt.
So what does all this mean for the Norfolk roster?
Let's start with the infield where Mahoney could be at first base but Jeff Larish could also see time there. What if Nick Johnson starts at Triple-A? That is his position also. Mahoney could also get his at-bats with some time in the outfield and/or time at DH, as could the other pair.
Ryan Adams seems the likely candidate to start at second, but Matt Antonelli could also play some there. The starting Triple-A shortstop is anyone's guess with players like Blake Davis, Steve Tolleson and Carlos Rojas possibilities there. Rojas is the best defender of the three and if they want a top glove at that important position, he may have a leg up on the competition.
Josh Bell projects at third and Antonelli can play there also. Bell could also get some time at first base. It looks like the Norfolk infield will not have a set position where you see the same player almost every night.
Who will play in center field? If Avery does not get moved up and I project that he won't, that could leave either Antoan Richardson or Josh Barfield there.
If he doesn't make the Orioles, Jai Miller would be a candidate to patrol center for the Tides. But as a player that has been outrighted once already to the minor leagues, Miller, who is out of options, could refuse an assignment to the O's minors if it comes to that and elect free agency. The Orioles may want to send him to Norfolk in a few weeks, but whether he ever gets there is up to him.
The corner outfield spots could be manned by a host of players new to the organization this season and mostly unknown to many fans. Players like Scott Beerer, Cory Aldridge, Edgardo Baez and Tolleson. Davis also played about 40 games in the outfield last season.
As for the Triple-A catchers, if Ronny Paulino winds up with Baltimore that leaves John Hester to go to Triple-A and catch. But who else? There don't seem to be many other catchers in the system right now that the club feels is ready to catch at that Triple-A level. Maybe Brian Ward would be one, but the Orioles could be scanning the waiver wire late in camp for higher level minor league catchers. They also could be looking for center fielders on that waiver wire.
Several players that played for Norfolk last year or might have moved up this year are now gone from the organization, a list that includes Tyler Henson, Matt Angle, Kyle Hudson, Brandon Snyder and Greg Miclat.
So, no, there will not be many up-and-coming prospects on the Tides in 2012. That should not come as a surprise to anyone since the O's just don't have many at the higher levels. You can't force them there if they are just not ready.
That doesn't mean Norfolk will have a poor team or record this year. Trying to predict a Triple-A club's win-loss record is more dicey than trying to figure the roster. A team of up-and-comer types might be exciting to watch but struggle to a poor record. A team with more veteran players could jell together and form a solid chemistry and play winning ball. Or that team could find some players disappointed they are not in Baltimore and lose plenty of games.
As for Triple-A, it's anyone's guess.
The Wright guy: Orioles' 2011 third-round draft pick Mike Wright got into last night's exhibition game against the Yankees. Not only did he get into the game, but it was in the fourth inning and the right-hander went on to pitch 2 1/3 scoreless innings with no walks and four strikeouts.
For more on Wright, here is a story I wrote about him last August when we spoke at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen.
Showing off the jewelry: The Frederick Keys picked up their 2011 Carolina League championship rings last night at Ed Smith Stadium.
Some of last season's Keys players showed off the rings via their Twitter accounts last night. Here is a picture from Steve Bumbry, another from Kipp Schutz and one from Aaron Baker.