O’s Could Need Walker, Mancini
The Baltimore Orioles are likely to encounter flaws with their current outfield/DH situation, which remains a glaring issue through the spring’s initial exhibition games. The Orioles have time to improve those areas, but top prospects Christian Walker and Trey Mancini could find an opening if the club stands pat.
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Entering this offseason, it looked as if either Walker or Mancini—a pair of first base prospects—could find an opening in the majors as a DH, or succeed Chris Davis at first if he departed through free agency. The Orioles, of course, went on to retain Davis, sign free agent Mark Trumbo, and for now are turning to a combination of players—Trumbo, Nolan Reimold, and Ryan Flaherty—to log time at DH. Jimmy Paredes was in that mix as well, but a sprained left wrist might cause him to miss “significant time,” according to a Baltimore Sun report.
While that doesn’t provide an immediate opening for Walker or Mancini, the instability of that situation may force the Orioles to turn to one, or both, of them at some point this year. For starters, rumors have swirled throughout the offseason that one of those prospects could be shifted to the outfield. In a recent interview with MASN, Mancini expressed a willingness to change positions, while the Sun reported a few days ago that Orioles officials are considering a move for Walker.
Neither player has made an appearance in the outfield during their time in the minors, but that shouldn’t stop the Orioles from trying. If the Mark Trumbo experiment in right field fairs as poorly as expected, the club won’t have much to lose by giving Walker or Mancini a chance in the majors, even if they come to Baltimore with limited experience.
Conversely, Trumbo might surprise everyone and turn out to be serviceable, but the Orioles would likely encounters problems at DH. Before his injury, the switch-hitting Paredes and the left-handed Flaherty profiled as platoon options against right-handed pitching, with the right-handed hitting Nolan Reimold logging at-bats against southpaws. Among that group, Paredes’ campaign last year accounts for the only respectable season at the plate in recent years, but he had never shown glimpses of that success in previous seasons and struggled in the second half of 2015.
If they encounter struggles in right field or at DH, the Orioles will for either Walker or Mancini to step up. Walker has logged two previous major league stints and remains one of the organization’s better offensive players, even though his production was not consistent at Triple-A Norfolk last year as it had been in previous seasons numbers. Mancini, meanwhile had a meteoric rise last year, winning the Eastern League batting title with a .359 clip at Double-A Bowie.
Many observers doubt whether either player can sustain long-term success in the majors, mainly because they’ve both struggled to showcase the power of a prototypical first baseman. That may very well prove to be true (personally, I’d rank the young Jomar Reyes ahead of both players when it comes to power), but that doesn’t mean that one of them cannot at least platoon, or provide a short-term gain over the Orioles’ existing options. There also has to be consideration that their offensive ceilings, as limited as they may be, are probably still higher than more defensive-oriented options such as Joey Rickard or L.J. Hoes.
There is also a third scenario in which one of these prospects helps the Orioles this year. The club could make Walker or Mancini available in a trade, and keep the other as the starting first baseman in Norfolk. One scenario I noted recently is the possibility that the Orioles would acquire Jay Bruce from the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds—who are expected to keep current first baseman Joey Votto—wouldn’t have much use for Walker or Mancini at this time, but the trade suddenly becomes more plausible if one of those players has moved to the outfield.
Unless they are able to come up with a workable solution over the next few weeks, the Orioles will likely find themselves calling on Mancini or Walker before too long. Whichever player ultimately makes and handles the transition to the outfield will have the inside edge, but at this point neither can be counted out.
A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, and Loyola University; Spedden has previously spent time in the Washington Nationals organization as a videographer for the Hagerstown Suns. As a blogger, Spedden is an Editor / Writer for the Suns fan club. Additionally, he contributes to The Nats Blog as a prospect writer, and Ballpark Digest. For BSL, Spedden covers the Orioles Minor Leagues.