As camp nears, outfield depth not an issue
Jones coming off third Gold Glove season in center, Markakis nearly as fantastic in right
BALTIMORE -- As the Orioles enter Spring Training, one of the areas they are well covered in is the outfield, with nine players -- and the potential for a 10th in Jack Cust -- headed to Major League camp in Sarasota, Fla., in just a few weeks.
"You look at them, it's probably the best group of outfielders I've come to camp with," manager Buck Showalter said. "I'm pretty excited to see them. I know [outfield/first-base coach Wayne] Kirby is, too."
Heading that group is center fielder Adam Jones, who won his third American League Gold Glove Award last season. Jones led all AL center fielders in games (156), assists (11) and putouts (352) in 2013, and he was third in fielding percentage (.995). He has led AL center fielders in putouts in three of the past four seasons, and combined with shortstop J.J. Hardy, Jones gives the O's a formidable defense up the middle.
Nick Markakis, who was a Gold Glove finalist last season, returns in right field after a fantastic defensive season. The 30-year-old did post a disappointing offensive season and said last month he has started Spring Training preparations earlier this year. Markakis had three surgeries in 2012 and was slowed by a neck injury last spring, with Showalter cautioning reporters to not count out the drive of Markakis to have a big bounce-back year at the plate.
That leaves a lot of competition at left field and for the club's fourth outfielder spot. The departure of Nate McLouth to the Nationals makes camp competition a little more interesting, with the belief that Showalter will likely employ a platoon, at least to start. The left-handed bat of David Lough, who was acquired in a trade with the Royals for Danny Valencia, will likely be one half of that, although the organization hasn't ruled him out as an everyday player.
Lough, who turns 28 on Monday, has played all three outfield positions and was dealt because of the Royals' logjam in the outfield. He hit .286/.311/.413 with five homers and 33 RBIs in 96 games for Kansas City last year and will serve as a backup to Jones.
There are other intriguing options, including the left-handed-hitting Henry Urrutia, whose defense has raised questions. But he is coming off a solid Arizona Fall League campaign. Urrutia, part of this week's minicamp in Sarasota will be watched closely in the field and is also a candidate to fill the team's designated-hitter void.
Right-handed hitters on the current 40-man roster are Nolan Reimold, Steve Pearce and Francisco Peguero, with Reimold, who is coming off his second season-ending neck surgery, being a wild card among the bunch. The 30-year-old Reimold has shown flashes of brilliance at the plate, but he hasn't been able to stay on the field, with a series of serious injuries derailing the past few seasons.
Pearce is a holdover from last year's roster and is a Showalter-type of grinder, posting a .261./.362/.420 line in 44 games last season. The 25-year-old Peguero was signed after the Giants non-tendered him earlier this offseason and was ranked the club's fifth-best prospect entering the season. While playing for Triple-A Fresno, Peguero sustained a concussion in June that forced him to miss 12 games, and he divided his season between Fresno and San Francisco, batting .316 in 70 games at Triple-A and .207 (6-for-29) in 18 games in the Majors.
The club also recently signed Quintin Berry and Delmon Young to Minor League contracts with an invitation to Spring Training. Berry is a fantastic basestealer, having swiped 24 bases without being caught, but his defense is suspect. Young is viewed more as a DH-type only, but he has played 799 games in the outfield over his eight-year career.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.