Triple-A Trickledown: Norfolk

Evening, Chiefs fans.  Syracuse is back in town today to begin a four-game series with the Norfolk Tides after dropping three out of four games in Pawtucket.  The Chiefs lost their first four games against the Tides this year down in Norfolk, but the four losses came by a combined five runs – so either way, you’ll want to stay tuned until the final out.

Let’s take a look now at the Tides – the Triple-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles – before their lone visit to Alliance Bank Stadium this year.

Catcher: Luis Exposito, Ronny Paulino, Chris Robinson

40-man member Exposito, who’s just recently been activated from the Disabled List, is an intriguing 25-year-old player who was claimed off of waivers from the Red Sox this season.  He’s got a strong arm and is a plus defender, but there’s work to be done offensively – he’s hitting just .267 with no home runs and seven walks in 28 games this season.  Paulino, a 31-year-old major league veteran, was recently sent down to Norfolk after big league backup Taylor Teagarden’s activation from the DL, while the 28-year-old Robinson likely provides mostly organizational depth at this point.

Luis Exposito

First Base: Joe Mahoney

Mahoney, a 6’6″, 25-year-old first baseman, just made his big league debut with the Orioles 13 days ago, but he was quickly sent back down to Norfolk.  At .259 with only six home runs in 92 games, he’s likely not a big league offensive player yet, but he’s the only active infielder on the 40-man roster and he’s played regularly for the Tides this year.  Baltimore’s survived with basically-average first base play this year from swing-hard-and-maybe-make-contact titans Chris Davis and Mark Reynolds, who have combined for 23 home runs and 170 strikeouts on the season.

Second Base: Bill Hall, Carlos Rojas

Speaking of strikeouts…Hall, who started the season in the majors before being designated for assignment, has been the ultimate king of whiffs this year.  He’s punched out 91 times – to just 13 walks – in 56 games with the Tides.  Hall does have 11 doubles and 11 home runs in 56 games with Norfolk, however.  Rojas, a .222 hitter with one extra-base hit in 35 games, is a 28-year-old who likely provides organizational depth.  Unfortunately for the Orioles, neither of these two appear to be the answer to their major league problems.  Robert Andino, who’s posted a .230/.292/.325 slash line, has been the regular second baseman this year.  Former All-Star Brian Roberts is currently on the DL – and even when he’s been off it, he’s been slowed down to the tune of a .182 average in 17 games.  And right now – with both Andino and Roberts on the DL – it’s Steve Tolleson, up from Norfolk, who’s become the starter.

Shortstop: Blake Davis

J.J. Hardy’s started 90 games for the Orioles this year, though the position’s not necessarily set in stone for Baltimore – he’s hitting just .217 on the season.  But Davis, at .247 with two home runs in 75 Triple-A games, is likely an “in case of emergency” option.  The real long-term option here is likely in Double-A – uber-prospect Manny Machado.  The 20-year-old who was the #2 pick in the 2010 MLB draft is having a solid offensive season, batting .257 with 23 doubles and eight home runs, though he’s committed 17 errors.  But Machado’s likely still in need of some seasoning at the lower levels before coming to Norfolk.

Third Base: Brandon Waring, Zelous Wheeler

Neither the 26-year-old Waring or the 25-year-old Wheeler is much of a prospect at this point, and neither player has ever appeared in a major league game.  Luckily for the Orioles, there’s no shortage of potential third-base options up in the major leagues, with Reynolds, Tolleson, Wilson Betemit and Ryan Flaherty all able to play the position if needed.

Outfield: Xavier Avery, Led Ford, L.J. Hoes, Jamie Hoffmann, Nate McLouth

Avery’s the only 40-man roster member here, and the speedy 22-year-old has already been up in the major leagues a few times this year.  He wreaked havoc against the Chiefs in his only game versus Syracuse this year, collecting two hits and two walks while stealing a base and scoring a run.  But it’s Ford, the former Minnesota Twin, who’s been the team’s offensive standout this year.  He’s hitting .340 in 54 games with a colossal .964 OPS, and though Ford’s 35, those kind of numbers seem certain to catch someone’s eye, whether it be Baltimore or not.  Hoes, a 22-year-old prospect, has also opened some eyes with a .314/.371/.444 line in his Triple-A debut season.  And then there’s McLouth, with an asinine .746 slugging percentage in 59 July at-bats, along with a former major leaguer in Hoffmann – so yes, this is a fairly stacked group.

Lew Ford

However, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis have a firm grasp on two of the major league club’s starting outfield spots, with Steve Pearce and Davis also getting their fair share of playing time.  So outside of an injury, that group’s likely to stay the same, and it seems logical that 40-man member Perez would be the first guy to go up.

Starting Pitchers: Jake Arrieta, Jason Berken, Dana Eveland, Steve Johnson, Brian Matusz

Four of these five starters are members of the 40-man roster, with the exception being Dana Eveland, who was designated for assignment just six days ago.  Tonight’s starter, Matusz, has more than double the amount of major league starts to minor league starts in his career – but at 5-10 with a 5.42 ERA, he’ll be making his third Norfolk start of the season tonight.  Johnson’s back here after making his major league debut a few days ago, while Arrieta’s down with the Tides after a 3-9, 6.13 record in 18 Baltimore starts this year.  It’s a trio of likely future contributors for the big club – but for now, it’s time for extra seasoning.

Relief Pitchers: Tim Bascom, Greg Burke, Pat Neshek, Zach Phillips, Miguel Socolovich, Oscar Villarreal, Pedro Viola

Hey, remember that note about all those starting pitchers on the 40-man roster?  You know, the one from six lines ago?  Well, a whopping one member of the Tides’ relief group is on the 40-man – IL All-Star Socolovich, who just pitched in his first two ever big league games on the 14th and 16th.  There likely won’t be too much of a concern for Baltimore, though – Kevin Gregg’s 3.90 ERA represents the worst mark in a completely stacked major league bullpen.  Outside of Socolovich, another former Twin has excelled here, in Neshek.  The submarine-throwing right-hander’s posted a 2.48 ERA in 32 games, striking out 44 batters to just seven walks in 40 innings.

Pat Neshek

——

That’s all for today’s version of Triple-A Trickledown.  Hope to see you at the park tonight for Breast Cancer Awareness Night, tomorrow for fireworks, or on Sunday or Monday for some more Chiefs baseball.

KB

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