As we move closer to 2016, the Orioles still aren’t sure who’s batting leadoff for them on opening day, a game that marks the major league debuts of Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim and first baseman Byung Ho Park.
How convenient that the Twins visit Camden Yards for the first series.
Manny Machado hit atop the order in 111 games this year, but the Orioles would like to move him down and take better advantage of his run-producing skills. Kim, signed to a two-year, $7 million deal on Wednesday, owns a career .406 on-base percentage in 10 seasons with the Doosan Bears.
It would be the natural assumption that Kim instantly becomes the leading candidate to replace Machado, but the Orioles may not want to give him that responsibility right out of the gates. He may better profile as a No. 2 hitter, or he could drop down further while easing into major league competition.
There’s plenty of time to figure it out. The Orioles haven’t seen him take a single swing against Grapefruit League pitching.
The Orioles never seem to go with the prototypical leadoff guy, mostly because there aren’t many of them floating around. They stuck with Nick Markakis and had no qualms about using Machado, who batted .300/.364/.512 with 24 doubles and 23 home runs in 496 plate appearances atop the order. He batted .218/.344/.346 with one double and three home runs in 93 plate appearances in the second slot.
* Manager Buck Showalter was asked at the Winter Meetings earlier this month about the type of outfielder he preferred, whether it be a power hitter or a guy with better on-base skills.
“I take each case as it comes,” he replied. “You look at it, there’s not that many prototype leadoff hitters anymore. They’re getting harder and harder to find the way that we used to view them.”
Showalter has been handed an on-base guy who also hit 28 home runs in the KBO this year. Where he bats will be one of the more interesting storylines of spring training.
* Do the Orioles need more diversity in their lineup? More speed?
“It’s all about scoring runs,” Showalter said. “Can you score runs? How you go about it. Everything comes with a price and comes with a caveat. What about this guy? Well, he’s got medical issues. What about this guy? Well, he wants seven years. What about this guy? It requires trading your best prospect for him. So that’s where you go back and forth on it, and that’s why free agents, that’s why you want to develop your own.
“So far, with the exception of (Mark) Trumbo, we haven’t liked the reciprocal part of it.”
* Reliever Brad Brach won’t close or be used as the primary set-up man. Otherwise, it’s wide open.
His role, as Showalter says, is to be ready when the phone rings and to get outs.
“I think it’s going to be how it’s been the last couple of years,” Brach said. “I think I’ll just slide in hopefully the seventh or eighth. If Darren (O’Day) needs a day, maybe the eighth inning. Besides that, I’m just going to go out there and pitch whenever they need me.
“I know I say that a lot. It’s like a broken record, but it is kind of the case with Buck. You’ve just got to be ready for anything.”
Brach registered a 1.92 ERA in his last 42 appearances since June 11 and he led Orioles relievers with 89 strikeouts in 79 1/3 innings. The only negative mark came with the 17 inherited runners out of 29 that scored.
“He graduated a little bit,” Showalter said. “I think he got out of his own way. He had periods where he’d get off his horse, but he got right back on it. It’s about the trust that he allows me to have in him, and when he’d take a little step back, I knew that next time out he wasn’t going to wallow around in self pity and he’s going to get after it again. That created a lot of trust for everybody in Brad.”
* The Orioles already are preparing for the draft in June, knowing they could have quite a haul. They’re willing to part with the 14th overall pick to sign a pitcher such as Yovani Gallardo, who turned down the qualifying offer, but they’re not going to surrender it for just anyone. They won’t be reckless simply because they have excess.
“We talked about something the other day that would require that,” Showalter said. “It would have to be something that really fits. But we would if we had to. But one of our big days is going to be ... in June, we got seven picks in the first 100 in the draft. I don’t know if we’ve ever had that. This is big for us. We can solidify our already strong system.
“That’s who we are. We’ve got to hit this draft like we have. We’re not drafting the first three or four, like when we got Matt (Wieters) and we got Manny. (Kevin) Gausman was, what, fifth or something? Those kind of jump out at you.
“We’re not going to give it away just because it’s there. Fourteenth is a pretty good player. I’m sure our guys will be looking at a lot of those Friday night pitchers around the country. We’ve already got them lined up. I know a lot of people are looking forward to the draft.”