What do you think the five-man rotation might look like? The Orioles have had no pitching for years, so when might this change?
-- Charles S., Dunedin, Fla.
Charles is writing from Dunedin, the Spring Training home of the Blue Jays, which will actually have an Orioles sighting this spring for the first time in several years. Barring another trade or signing, Baltimore appears to have crystal-clear clarity in the rotation, which will likely feature Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie and youngsters Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz.
Tillman and Matusz have been listed among the most highly touted pitching prospects in baseball, but that doesn't mean it will be a straight line to success. The Orioles expect them to have some growing pains along the way, which is why they traded for Millwood, who should be able to help Guthrie in settling the staff and saving the bullpen two out of every five days.
And if that doesn't seem like enough arms, Baltimore also has David Hernandez and Jason Berken in line to compete for bullpen jobs and talents like Jake Arrieta, Brandon Erbe and Zach Britton in the Minor Leagues. Now, the Orioles need to let their young guns learn on the job and prosper, a process made easier by the team's safety in numbers.
Even if it's easier, it's hardly a foolproof process. Three seasons ago, the Orioles had a homegrown pitching core of Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera and Adam Loewen with prospects Hayden Penn and Garrett Olson waiting in the wings. And how did that work out? Bedard was traded, Cabrera imploded and Loewen suffered a string of injuries that ended his pitching career. Penn and Olson were both traded, and high-octane arm Radhames Liz was never able to put all his gifts together.
Now, they're going to try again with a brand-new class. Baltimore's pitchers have perhaps the league's toughest assignment in that they have to face Boston, New York and Tampa Bay for a third of the schedule, but that may actually help in the long run. After all, if you can learn to neutralize those batting orders, you can compete with virtually anyone in baseball.
After signing Mike Gonzalez, are the Orioles going to name him the closer or have a competition?
-- Christian G., Blanchard, La.
The Orioles are saying all the right things about holding a competition, but the reality is that the job is there for Gonzalez to take. Baltimore worked several incentive clauses into the southpaw's contract that reward him if he is the team leader in the Rolaids Relief standings, and everyone the Orioles have on staff seems better suited to a less demanding role.
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Take Jim Johnson, for instance. Johnson, who spent much of 2008 setting up for George Sherrill, moved into the closer's role shortly after the Orioles traded their incumbent to the Dodgers. Johnson held his own in August but then collapsed to a 12.27 ERA in September, a run of adversity that convinced Baltimore that he's better suited to stay in his setup job.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, has proven to be fairly consistent regardless of his role. The left-hander has allowed opposing hitters to bat higher than .220 just once in the past six seasons and has racked up fairly high strikeout rates over his career. Still, Gonzalez has been a full-time closer for just one season in his career, thanks largely to a trade to a deep bullpen in Atlanta.
Last year was a big one for Gonzalez, because he proved that he's over the elbow troubles that sidelined him for much of the 2007 and '08 seasons. Gonzalez racked up career highs in appearances, strikeouts and innings pitched last season, and the Orioles will allow him to ramp back a bit in terms of quantity in order to let him work in the most stressful situations.
Do the O's have any strong prospects at shortstop in the farm system?
-- Karnail S., Kashmir, India
The Orioles do have a couple interesting players at shortstop, a position that has been in flux since they traded Miguel Tejada. Baltimore signed prep infielder Mychal Givens last season to a lucrative bonus, but he signed too late to play and is a few years away from even being on the radar. Pedro Florimon, by contrast, has just begun to emerge.
Florimon, an undrafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic, signed when he was 17 and began his Baltimore tenure in the Dominican Summer League. The lanky switch-hitter spent two seasons there before coming stateside, where it's taken him some time to put his game together. Florimon was adequate in rookie ball, but he batted .197 in his first run at Class A Delmarva.
Florimon improved to .223 with a .298 on-base mark at Delmarva in 2008, and then he seemed to take off last year. The 23-year-old batted .267 with a .336 on-base percentage for Class A Frederick, earning himself a spot on the 40-man roster. Florimon is now considered a legitimate prospect and will be monitored closely over the next few seasons.
Baltimore also has Blake Davis in the upper levels of the farm system, and he'll get a chance to rebound from an injury-plagued campaign. Davis hurt himself in Spring Training last year and only got 230 at-bats, his least since his first professional season. The Orioles think he has the glove to stick at shortstop, but he'll have to prove he can at the game's highest level.
With the Orioles in search for help at the corners, what ever happened to Scott Moore?
-- Steve T., Fort Wayne, Ind.
Moore, a former first-round draftee, has seemingly been a forgotten man in Baltimore due to injuries and adversity. The 26-year-old broke camp with the Orioles in 2008, but he didn't see much playing time before ultimately being demoted to Triple-A Norfolk. Moore tore two ligaments in his right thumb that season and nursed an aggravation of the same injury last season.
Now, he finds himself blocked by Garrett Atkins and Ty Wigginton at the big league level, and as Steve mentioned, the Orioles may still be looking to add a first baseman this winter. Add in the fact that Baltimore has hot prospects in third baseman Josh Bell and first baseman Brandon Snyder, and it's hard to see just how Moore will get a shot to leave his mark.
But that's just on paper, and reality has a way of cooking the books. The Orioles want Bell and Snyder to get some time in at Norfolk, and Wigginton and Atkins may be moving on after the 2010 season. That means that if Moore hits, the Orioles may be able to make room for him. But first, as with several other players, he has to prove he's healthy.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.