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With key players returning, O's aim to top '12 season

After ending 15-year drought, Baltimore has playoff aspirations again

With key players returning, O's aim to top '12 season play video for With key players returning, O's aim to top '12 season

On the heels of the Orioles' best season in 15 years, manager Buck Showalter and his club are through talking about 2012.

The team, which went 93-69 and advanced to the American League Division Series, knows the task ahead is daunting. And the O's are out to prove that they belong atop the AL East.

"It's a different atmosphere, different expectations now," reliever Darren O'Day said at last month's FanFest. "I know I'm a proud person and I don't want anybody to be able to say it was a one-year thing. I know the guys in the dugout. I know Buck is the same way. You do it one year, you get lucky. You do it multiple years in a row, then you are doing something right."

Can the Orioles repeat last season's magic without any big splashy moves?

It's a question that will dominate Spring Training, and one that won't be answered until the real games begin. But with a core group -- minus Mark Reynolds -- returning, and a pitching staff that promises to have more depth than a year ago, Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette are banking on the continued improvement of their younger players.

On the offensive side of things, the O's lineup is virtually unchanged, although having a healthy Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis and Nolan Reimold play full seasons should help. So, too, should a middle of the order that features Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis, all 27-and-unders who can be expected to continue to get better.

There are still questions about the team's power at the top of the rotation, though there are better options and more of them, particularly with top prospects Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman waiting in the wings. The Orioles' season will come down to pitching, and there's reason for optimism; if the club can pitch well, it can compete again in the tough AL East.

Heading into Spring Training, here's a quick overview of what to watch, who deserves your attention and who is projected to make the roster come April.

Pitchers and catchers report

Feb. 12

Full squad reports

Feb. 14

First Spring Training game

Home vs. Twins, Feb. 23, 1:05 p.m. ET

Opening Day

Away vs. Rays, April 2, 3:10 p.m. ET

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Who will win the final starting rotation spot?
The Orioles have accumulated some serious pitching depth, and while nothing is set in stone, there figures to be the most competition for the fifth and final spot. Steve Johnson, Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Tommy Hunter, Jair Jurrjens and T.J. McFarland are all options heading into spring, and some of them could end up being moved to the Opening Day bullpen. Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen are expected to be in the rotation, along with Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman, who should have spots barring injury or an abysmal spring.

2. Will Brian Roberts stay healthy?
Roberts is the O's best option at second base, but he hasn't played a full season since 2009. Still, he enters Spring Training hopeful that his injuries -- which include hip surgery and a concussion -- are behind him. If he can stay on the field, Roberts' presence would certainly be a boost for a team accustomed to having stopgap solutions at second.

3. How does left field shake out?
The projected batting order below has Nate McLouth penciled in, but the job could just as easily go to Reimold, who had a brilliant start to the '12 season, which was halted by a neck injury that led to season-ending surgery. McLouth was one of last season's biggest surprises, and his defense -- as a former Gold Glove winner -- is superb. Showalter hasn't tipped his hand as to who will get the job, saying only that these things have a way of working out. It will be closely watched all spring.

2012 record
93-69, second in AL East

Projected batting order
1. 2B Brian Roberts:
  .182 BA, .233 OBP, .182 SLG, 0 HR, 5 RBIs in 2012
2. SS J.J. Hardy:
  .238 BA, .282 OBP, .389 SLG, 22 HR, 68 RBIs in 2012
3. RF Nick Markakis:
  .298 BA, .363 OBP, .471 SLG, 13 HR, 54 RBIs in 2012
4. CF Adam Jones:
  .287 BA, .334 OBP, .505 SLG, 32 HR, 82 RBIs in 2012
5. C Matt Wieters:
  .249 BA, .329 OBP, .435 SLG, 23 HR, 83 RBIs in 2012
6. 1B Chris Davis:
  .270 BA, .326 OBP, .501 SLG, 33 HR, 85 RBIs in 2012
7. DH Wilson Betemit:
  .261 BA, .322 OBP, .422 SLG, 12 HR, 40 RBIs in 2012
8. 3B Manny Machado:
  .262 BA, .294 OBP, .445 SLG, 7 HR, 26 RBIs in 2012
9. LF Nate McLouth:
  .241 BA, .314 OBP, .380 SLG, 7 HR, 20 RBIs in 2012

Projected rotation
1. RHP Jason Hammel, 8-6, 3.43 ERA in 2012
2. LHP Wei-Yin Chen, 12-11, 4.02 ERA in 2012
3. RHP Miguel Gonzalez, 9-4, 3.25 ERA in 2012
4. RHP Chris Tillman, 9-3, 2.93 ERA in 2012

Projected bullpen
Closer: Jim Johnson, 51/54 saves, 2.49 ERA in 2012
Setup man: Darren O'Day, 2.28 ERA in 2012
Setup man: Pedro Strop, 2.44 ERA in 2012

The new guys
INF Alexi Casilla: Insurance for Roberts, Casilla could also find himself in a utility/bench role, if the Orioles second baseman is healthy. Acquired off waivers from the Twins in November, Casilla adds speed and solid glove to the roster.

RHP Jurrjens: This signing is still pending, but Jurrjens is an interesting addition to a crowded rotation competition. Non-tendered by Atlanta, Jurrjens is a former All-Star who has seen his stock nosedive with injuries and a dip in velocity. He's an interesting reclamation project that could pay dividends, if he's able to recapture his previous form.

LHP McFarland: The O's Rule 5 Draft pick from the Cleveland Indians, McFarland will get a look as a starter and reliever this spring. In 2012, he went 16-8 with a 4.03 ERA (73 earned runs in 163 innings) in 27 starts between Double-A Akron (8-2, 2.69 ERA in 10 starts) and Triple-A Columbus (8-6, 4.82 ERA in 17 starts).

INF Danny Valencia: The Orioles acquired Valencia from the Red Sox in exchange for cash considerations on Nov. 28, and the expectation was that the 28-year-old would compete for a bench spot. Primarily a third baseman, Valencia hit .188 with a .199 OBP and a .299 slugging percentage in 44 games this past season with Boston and Minnesota. He placed third in AL Rookie of the Year Award voting in 2010 and enjoyed his best season in '11, when he hit .246 with 15 home runs, and led the Twins with 72 RBIs in 154 games.

1B/OF Russ Canzler: Claimed off waivers from the Yankees on Tuesday, Canzler adds depth at first base, designated hitter and outfield. Canzler is a career .278/.347/.472 hitter in nine Minor League seasons with the Cubs, Rays and Indians. In 30 Major League plate appearances against left-handed pitching, Canzler has hit .400/.419/.667.

INF Yamaico Navarro: The O's acquired Navarro from the Pirates in exchange for Minor League right-handed pitcher Jhondaniel Medina in December to further add infield depth. The 25-year-old batted .279/.366/.491 with nine home runs and 35 RBIs in 66 games with Triple-A Indianapolis and .160/.232/.220 with one home run and four RBIs in 29 games for the Pirates last season.

Prospects to watch
RHP Bundy: The fourth overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Bundy pitched to a 9-3 record and a 2.08 ERA in 23 Minor League starts in his first full professional season last year. He pitched for three affiliates, compiling 119 strikeouts in 103 2/3 innings, and went 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA in three starts for Double-A Bowie before being promoted to the O's. While Bundy has just a few relief appearances under his belt, the expectation is that he will be in Baltimore at some point this season.

RHP Gausman: The young righty could also be in an Orioles uniform this season. The organization's best prospect behind Bundy, Gausman pitched in five games in his first pro season, spending time at short-season Aberdeen and with Class A Advanced Frederick. Baltimore's top pick -- fourth overall -- last year, Gausman was selected as a Draft-eligible sophomore out of LSU and ranks No. 37 on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list.

On the rebound
OF Reimold: To be fair, Reimold isn't looking to bounce back from a terrible season, but rather to stay on the field. Reimold has shown flashes of his power potential, and it's a big year for the 29-year-old to stay healthy and show the O's what he can do.

RHP Arrieta: The Orioles' Opening Day starter last season, Arrieta was among several young pitchers who couldn't find consistent results last season. He will compete for a rotation spot this spring, and try to bounce back from a 2012 campaign in which he went 3-9 with a 6.20 ERA.

LHP Britton: Like Arrieta, Britton struggled to put together long stretches of solid outings, and he will also try to fight his way back into the rotation. Britton has the added benefit of being healthy this spring after starting 2012 on the disabled list with shoulder impingement.

2B Roberts: It's been noted several times already in this article alone, but Roberts hasn't been able to stay on the field. The veteran has been working out at the team's spring complex and his health will be a storyline throughout camp.

Classic departures
CF Jones: Jones will play on Team USA.

RP Luis Ayala: Ayala will pitch for Mexico.

RP Pedro Strop: Strop is slated to be part of the Dominican Republic team.

Long gone
1B Reynolds: The O's declined Reynolds' option and non-tendered him at the deadline, making the infielder a free agent. Reynolds agreed to a one-year deal with the Cleveland Indians.

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.

{"event":["prospect" ] }
{"event":["prospect" ] }