The Orioles enter 2014 without a proven starter at second base, although they do have considerable upper level depth at that position. Ryan Flaherty is the favorite to win the starter’s job while Jemile Weeks will get a long look after coming from Oakland in the Jim Johnson trade. Alexi Casilla and Ivan DeJesus Jr. will be in camp on minor league deals and both have potential value as MI backups. Cord Phelps is non-roster depth at this point, but still young enough to carry some level of upside. The Orioles hope Jonathan Schoop can be the long term solution at second, but first he will need to put some solid numbers at Norfolk next season. All six of those guys have significant AAA (or above) experience.
Major League Starter
Ryan Flaherty (Bats: L; Throws: R; Age: 27)
I already made a case for Ryan beginning the season as the Orioles everyday second baseman. In short, I genuinely believe that he is more than just the best of a mediocre lot. Flaherty has shown himself to be an above average defender already and it is not too far away from providing positive value on offense. With two incomplete major league seasons under his belt, the sample is far too small to categorically state that Flaherty is a .680 OPS guy from here on out. His improvement from 2012 to 2013 and then from the first half of 2013 to the second half paints the picture of a player who might already be taking the next step forward. A .250/.320/.420 line from Flaherty seems reasonable. If that is coupled with strong defense, he can be a valuable everyday second baseman in 2014.
Major League Back Up
Jemile Weeks (Bats: S; Throws: R; Age: 27)
Ask tomorrow and you might get a different answer, but as of this moment my gut tells me that Weeks sticks on the Major League roster. Weeks has little experience at shortstop but he is also out of options. I think he likely makes it through waivers, but I still have the feeling that (possibly because he was part of the trade for Jim Johnson) that the Orioles won’t want to risk it and will carry him on the opening day 25-man. Weeks is a similar offensive player to Casilla with more upside, so you would not be losing a whole lot. In this case, Flaherty would like shift over to shortstop when/if needed.
In any event, Weeks will have to show he can hit more like his 2011-self if he is going to stick around on the major league roster for very long.
Alexi Casilla (Bats: S; Throws: R; Age: 29)
Casilla resigned with the Orioles this winter as a major league free agent after being used sparingly during the 2013 season. His strengths are that he is a high percentage base stealer and a strong defender at both second base and short stop. He doesn’t hit much but if Flaherty shows the ability to handle everyday duties at 2B that should not be a big issue. Since he is on a minor league deal, it is no hassle to start Alexi in Norfolk but he also has a very strong chance of breaking camp as the backup middle infielder.
If Casilla begins the year in AAA, he likely floats around between 2B and SS.
Jonathan Schoop (Bats: R; Throws: R; Age: 22)
Schoop has always gotten a pass – an entirely justified one mind you – for playing at each level of the minors at a much younger age than the average player. He will repeat AAA Norfolk next season at the age of 22, which means he will still be amongst some of the younger players in the International League but not so young that a legit prospect should not be able to put up some decent numbers. Schoop’s .255/.301/.396 line from 2013 is by no means terrible, but the organization will not doubt what to see improvement on that line before considering calling him up for a long-term looksee. The organization seems relatively confident that he can demonstrate that improvement and at the very least, be a legitimate starting option at the start of the 2015 season.
Schoop probably plays mostly at second base next year since the Orioles’ view that as his eventual destination in the Majors.
Ivan De Jesus Jr. (Bats: R; Throws: R; Age: 26)
De Jesus Jr. came to the O’s this winter as a somewhat under-the-radar minor league signing. On the surface, it might be easy to label him with the dreaded AAA tag but that might be a bit premature. Despite being 26 years old, he has never gotten much of a chance in the Majors (80 PA’s spread over three seasons), while his minor league numbers only reveal a lack of power (.300/.371/.396 career line). De Jesus Jr. is more in the typical line of Dan Duquette depth signings with the good walk rate and a demonstrated ability to reach base.
De Jesus has played a lot of short and a lot of second during his minor league career which could make him an interesting reserve candidate sometime in the upcoming season. A platoon with Flaherty at 2B or simply a strict backup MI role could both be in the cards.
Cord Phelps (Bats: S; Throws: R; Age: 27)
Acquiring Phelps and placing him on the 40-man roster was one of the first moves (2B or otherwise) the Birds made this winter, but since then the 27 year old as slid down the depth chart and was even designated for assignment off of the 40-man. Like De Jesus, Phelps has struggled in limited Major League chances but he has also shown to be adept at reaching base in addition to being a solid overall hitter (.283/.370/.439). At one point in time, Phelps and Jason Kipnis had a Jerry Hairston Jr./Brian Roberts early-2000’s thing going on in the Indians organization, with fans and personnel split over who had the brighter future. Phelps appears to be the Hairston in that duo, but the point is that he does have the pedigree of being a highly thought of prospect. It is a longshot that he contributes to the Orioles next season, but as 5th or 6th option, the organization could do far worse.
Phelps might be squeezed to AA Bowie but I'd wager he'll start the season at Norfolk and recieve some at bats at 1B and DH in addition to 2B.