1. When will top prospect Matt Wieters make his debut?
Wieters is regarded by many analysts as the best prospect in baseball. He appears to be about as ready as possible for the Majors, but the Orioles don't appear comfortable with the idea of starting him on Opening Day. The switch-hitter will likely spend the first month of the season at Triple-A Norfolk, a gambit that could delay his first shot at free agency by a year.
Uehara, a former Rookie of the Year and two-time Sawamura Award winner in Japan, comes to the Orioles looking to begin the next stage of his career. The 33-year-old has fared well in international competition, but he's never faced Major League-caliber batting orders for an entire season and will have a lot to prove in his first go-round with Baltimore.
The Orioles have just two firm starting slots, those belonging to Uehara and staff ace Jeremy Guthrie. Rich Hill is widely believed to have a leg up on the third spot, but Baltimore will sort between several arms -- Danys Baez, Radhames Liz, Brad Hennessey, John Parrish and Mark Hendrickson among them -- to flesh out the back end. The starting staff will likely be a work in transition all year, and Baltimore may evaluate a few prospects after the All-Star break. 2008 record
68-83, fifth place in American League East Projected batting order
1. 2B Brian Roberts:
.296 BA, .378 OBP, .450 SLG, 9 HR, 57 RBIs in 2008
2. 3B Melvin Mora:
.285 BA, .342 OBP, .483 SLG, 23 HR, 104 RBIs in 2008
3. RF Nick Markakis:
.306 BA, .406 OBP, .491 SLG, 20 HR, 87 RBIs in 2008
4. 1B Aubrey Huff:
.304 BA, .360 OBP, .552 SLG, 32 HR, 108 RBIs in 2008
5. CF Adam Jones:
.270 BA, .311 OBP, .400 SLG, 9 HR, 57 RBIs in 2008
6. DH Luke Scott:
.257 BA, .336 OBP, .472 SLG, 23 HR, 65 RBIs in 2008
7. C Gregg Zaun:
.237 BA, .340 OBP, .359 SLG, 6 HR, 30 RBIs in 2008
8. SS Cesar Izturis:
.263 BA, .319 OBP, .309 SLG, 1 HR, 24 RBIs in 2008
9. LF Felix Pie:
.241 BA, .312 OBP, .325 SLG, 1 HR, 10 RBIs in 2008
1. Jeremy Guthrie, 10-12, 3.63 ERA in 2008
2. Koji Uehara, 6-5, 3.81 ERA in Japan in 2008
3. Rich Hill, 5-8, 5.06 ERA in 2008
4. Mark Hendrickson, 7-8, 5.45 ERA in 2008
5. Radhames Liz, 6-8, 6.72 ERA in 2008 Projected bullpen
Closer: George Sherrill, 31/37 saves, 4.73 ERA in 2008
RH setup man: Chris Ray, sidelined in 2008
RH setup man: Jim Johnson, 2.23 ERA in 2008 The new guys
Uehara: The first Japanese player signed by the Orioles, Uehara represents a new frontier for Baltimore. The Orioles have talked at length about expanding their international scouting department and crossing borders to find intriguing new talent, and now they have tangible proof that they're able to do it.
Zaun: A wisened veteran, Zaun will likely start for the first month of the season and then revert to tutoring Wieters upon the latter's promotion to the Majors. The switch-hitter was briefed on that potential outcome before he signed his contract, and Zaun enthusiastically accepted it, signaling that his starting days might be done.
Pie: An athletic speedster, Pie will play left field against right-handed pitchers. The former center fielder was acquired from the Cubs in exchange for southpaw Garrett Olson, and the Orioles think Pie's addition will enable them to field one of the youngest and most defensively skilled outfields in the Major Leagues.
Izturis: The slick-fielding veteran was brought in to stabilize the shortstop position, a challenge that faced the Orioles for most of last season. Baltimore went through five starting shortstops last season, and none of them really seized the job. Izturis, while not much of a hitter, has a fine defensive reputation and will likely bat toward the bottom of the order.
Ty Wigginton: Regarded as a super-reserve, Wigginton can chip in at second base and both the infield and outfield corners. He'll likely start three or four times a week, poaching playing time from Mora, Pie, Scott and Huff. Wigginton specializes in pasting left-handed pitchers, a noted weakness for Baltimore in recent seasons.
Ryan Freel: Like Wigginton, Freel is pretty much a luxury of a bench player. The hard-charging utilityman is capable of playing second and third base and all three outfield slots, and he should bring speed, patience and an ability to hit left-handed pitching to the bench. Freel will likely platoon with Pie, yielding to Wigginton occasionally.
Prospects to watch
Wieters: What else is there to say? Wieters, the fifth overall pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, had an absolutely stunning debut last season, thriving at both Class A Frederick and Double-A Bowie. Wieters was named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year and appears to be ready to make his mark in the Majors.
Brian Matusz: The young lefty has yet to play in a full-season professional league and will likely split his year between Frederick and Bowie, much like Wieters did in 2008. The southpaw starter is regarded as a potential fast-riser, though, and could prove to be so well polished that he leaps ahead of Baltimore's other advanced pitching prospects.
Chris Tillman: The 20-year-old righty, who came over in the Erik Bedard trade, had an excellent first season in Baltimore's organization. The hard-throwing Tillman thrived at Bowie despite being one of the youngest players in the league, and if he continues his success, he'll likely be in line for his big league debut sometime after the All-Star break.
Jake Arrieta: A former fifth-round draftee, Arrieta had a breakout year in his first full professional season, serving notice that he might be able to rise quickly through the organization. Arrieta went 6-5 with a 2.87 ERA at Frederick, and he'll likely start at Bowie and perhaps jump even higher if he gets off to a fast start.
Nolan Reimold: He appears to be frozen out of a job this year, thanks to the twin acquisitions of Pie and Wigginton. That just means that Reimold will get a chance to prove his worth at Triple-A Norfolk, and the Orioles hope to see the fleet-footed and power-hitting outfielder round out his game against upper-level pitching.On the rebound
Chris Ray: The righty missed all of last season while recovering from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow, and the Orioles want to bring him along slowly before returning him to pressure situations. Ray will likely start out as a setup man, but he could swipe some save opportunities from Sherrill as the season progresses.
Baez: Like Ray, Baez spent the season on the sidelines after Tommy John surgery. But unlike Ray, the Orioles are considering giving him an expanded role right away. Baez has requested an opportunity to compete for a rotation slot in Spring Training, and the Orioles are curious enough to evaluate him in that role.
Troy Patton: One of the key pieces in last winter's deal for Miguel Tejada, Patton missed all of last season after undergoing corrective surgery to repair a slight tear of the labrum in his left shoulder. Nobody's sure how much of his stuff will return, but Patton will be watched carefully in spring and will likely start out at Norfolk.
Matt Albers: The righty had the same injury as Patton, but he elected to go with a strengthening program as opposed to surgery. That program had him out for the entire second half of the season, and the Orioles aren't sure what to expect this year. If he's healthy, Albers should make the club as a middle-inning bridge reliever.
Daniel Cabera: The big right-hander got five years to stick in the rotation, and instead of slowly developing, he seemed to incrementally regress. The Orioles elected not to offer the talented enigma a contract for the 2009 season, and Cabrera will get a chance to prove them wrong with the Washington Nationals.
Garrett Olson: The Orioles also cut ties with Olson, who struggled through a really difficult rookie season last year. Prior to the trade, the southpaw was looking like a favorite to earn a rotation berth this season, but the trade for Pie scuttled that notion. Olson has since been traded again, this time to Seattle, and may face the Orioles this season.
Ramon Hernandez: When Hernandez was traded to Cincinnati, it effectively signaled the beginning of the Wieters Era. The Orioles didn't want to split time between the veteran and their prized prospect, and they thought it might work out better for everyone involved if they excised part of his contract by sending him elsewhere.
Kevin Millar: One of the clubhouse leaders for the Orioles the past three seasons, Millar wasn't invited back for another campaign in Baltimore. The Orioles want to cede his spot at first base to Huff, and they believe they've helped their overall defense by acquiring Pie and slotting Scott in the vacated designated-hitter role.
Jay Payton: The veteran became disenchanted with his fourth-outfielder role last year, and Baltimore tried to get younger in his absence. Reimold looked like a decent bet to fill Payton's cleats at one point, but after acquiring Pie, the Orioles can let a number of players -- including Scott, Freel and Wigginton -- sub in the outfield.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.