First base is Davis’ do­main

High­est-paid player on team won’t be mov­ing around the di­a­mond

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jon Me­oli

With the 2016 sea­son fin­ished, there’s no bet­ter time than the present to take stock of the Ori­oles’ or­ga­ni­za­tional depth at ev­ery po­si­tion around the di­a­mond.

Over the next few weeks, The Bal­ti­more Sun will break down ev­ery po­si­tion in­di­vid­u­ally and sep­a­rate the play­ers through the sys­tem into three cat­e­gories: who was “the man” there this year, who else was in the pic­ture and who is work­ing through the mi­nors to join them.

In our sec­ond in­stall­ment, we’ll take a look at first base. The man: Thanks to the seven-year, $161 mil­lion con­tract doled out last off­sea­son, first base for the Ori­oles will be the do­main of Chris Davis for years to come. On the whole, that’s not as bad as ev­ery­one seems to think it is.

At the plate, Davis is close to the liv­ing, breath­ing em­bod­i­ment of a true three-out­come player: This year, 51.9 per­cent of his plate ap­pear­ances re­sulted in a home run, walk or strike­out. He had 38 home runs, 88 walks and a league-high 219 strike­outs to go along with a .221/.332/.459 bat­ting line. His OPS of .792 was fifth among Ori­oles reg­u­lars this year, and at the end of the sea­son, man­ager Buck Showal­ter re­vealed that the hand in­jury that caused Davis to miss time this sea­son was more

frus­trat­ing than Davis had been will­ing to let on.

It’s clear some­thing was af­fect­ing Davis, though there’s also a chance he is an ev­ery-other-year type of guy. While Davis’ con­tact prob­lems cer­tainly contributed to the team’s over­all prob­lems in that area, he had a strong de­fen­sive sea­son and was worth three Wins Above Re­place­ment, ac­cord­ing to Base­ball-Ref­er­ The al­ter­na­tives: Four oth­ers saw time at first base this sea­son: Mark Trumbo, Steve Pearce, Ryan Fla­herty and Caleb Joseph. Trumbo and Pearce are pri­mar­ily out­field­ers and are en­ter­ing free agency this off­sea­son, while Fla­herty is a util­ity man who will show up in this “al­ter­na­tives” sec­tion fairly of­ten in the next few weeks. Joseph played two in­nings at first base as a de­fen­sive re­place­ment.

While it was mostly Davis’ job this year, it’s worth not­ing the one cir­cum­stance changed that: the July 31 ar­rival of Pearce. Be­fore he in­jured his el­bow two weeks later, Davis went to right field against left-handed pitch­ing, with Pearce play­ing first and Trumbo serv­ing as des­ig­nated hit­ter. Davis mis­played a line drive in right a few games in, and the Ori­oles never tried it again. The fu­ture: Trey Mancini spent the past few weeks of the sea­son on the ma­jor league ros­ter and im­pressed by hit­ting three home runs in14 at-bats over five games, but served only as the DH. He is the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s top first base prospect, though, and quite pos­si­bly the only bat in the farm sys­tem with a chance to break camp with the ma­jor league team next spring.

Be­tween Dou­ble-A Bowie and Triple-A Nor­folk this past sea­son, Mancini hit 20 home runs and bat­ted .282/.357/.458 in 142 games. Once he came up to the ma­jors, he earned (some­what) high praise from scouts who spent Septem­ber watch­ing the Ori­oles and called his ap­proach at the plate the best on the team.

He’s not un­seat­ing Davis at first base any­time soon, but he could be a use­ful pla­toon bat against left-handed pitch­ing and see some des­ig­nated hit­ter time next sea­son if the Ori­oles don’t have some­one reg­u­larly in that spot.

En­ter­ing the year, it would have been folly to talk about Mancini with­out men- tion­ing Chris­tian Walker in the same breath. Walker, an­other first base prospect, was moved to left field this past sea­son, was the only po­si­tion player who opened the year on the 40-man ros­ter and re­mained on it the whole sea­son but didn’t get called up to the ma­jors.

Else­where in the sys­tem, there’s not a lot of com­pe­ti­tion for Mancini’s man­tle as the top first base prospect. For­mer ma­jor lea­guer Joey Ter­doslavich was the pri­mary first base­man for Bowie after Mancini left and hit .246 with 14 home runs there. At High-A Fred­er­ick, mi­nor league free agent Ader­lin Ro­driguez, 24, won two Player of the Month awards from the Ori­oles en route to a year that ended with him hit­ting .304 with 26 home runs and an .891 OPS. Con­sid­er­ing he’d al­ready spent two full sea­sons in High-A and was in Dou­ble-A last year, he was a bit old for the level but pro­duced none­the­less.

There was some in­trigue at the po­si­tion in the short-sea­son lev­els, where 2016 sev­enth-round draft pick Pre­ston Palmeiro hit .258 with a swing rem­i­nis­cent of that of his fa­ther, Rafael, for Sin­gle-A Aberdeen. He was joined at the end of the year there by 2015 eighth-round pick Sea­mus Cur­ran, who hit .283 with an .839 OPS and five home runs at age 18 in the Gulf Coast League. The skinny: There isn’t a ton of un­cer­tainty here. At last week’s sea­son-end­ing news con­fer­ence, Showal­ter was asked how he would fit Mancini into any fu­ture plans, and he made it clear that Davis wasn’t go­ing to be mov­ing around the di­a­mond to ac­com­mo­date any­one next year. And why would Davis move? Es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing he didn’t re­ally budge this year when the Ori­oles put a man best suited for first base, Trumbo, in the out­field on a reg­u­lar ba­sis in­stead of let­ting Davis spell him with some kind of ro­ta­tion.

Mancini’s im­me­di­ate role will be a part-time one if he breaks camp with the team, though the fact that he has op­tions could mean the Ori­oles’ stock­pil­ing of as­sets in the off­sea­son won’t leave a spot on the bench for him. But there al­ways will be a spot for Davis, the high­est-paid player on the team, as he en­ters the pre­sum­ably good part of his ev­ery-other-year ro­ta­tion.

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