Just four games into his spring training season, Pedro Alvarez already has reminded the Orioles of his offensive potential. But no matter how many balls he hits into the stands in Florida, manager Buck Showalter is adamant — for now — that Alvarez must earn a spot on the club’s 25-man roster by proving he can play the outfield.
If Alvarez continues to hit as he has in his first few games, he will push that envelope. The Orioles are still built around the home run ball, and Alvarez fits that blueprint.
Making his second Grapefruit League start in right field in Monday’s 7-4 loss to the Boston Red Sox at JetBlue Park, Alvarez hit a solo homer to right field in his first at-bat off right-hander Kyle Kendrick and later added a long single off the right-field wall.
“So much for spring training,” Showalter said when running down his lineup card and pointing out Alvarez.
Asked whether Alvarez could make the team without being having to to play defense regularly, Showalter shrugged.
“What would you do with [Mark] Trumbo?” Showalter said. “How’s that work? I’m open to suggestions. We’ve got a couple other guys it doesn’t work with. … Those things have a way of working themselves out. I’m glad we have the depth and we’ll be glad to have it if we continue to have it this year.”
The Orioles’ emphasis early in spring training was on defensive improvement, particularly in the outfield, and the team’s minor league deals with Michael Bourn and Craig Gentry aligned with that philosophy.
But in recent weeks, the Orioles have shifted to experimenting with assigning defensive spots to some potential power bats.
Their latest move with Alvarez has history. The Orioles mentioned the idea to him in September, but it never materialized. Now both Alvarez and first baseman Trey Mancini are seeing Grapefruit League game action in right field to see whether they can hold their own.
Alvarez has multiple opt-out clauses in the minor league deal he signed last week, but none before May. He easily could be sent to the minors to open the season, but his bat fits well into the Orioles’ power-happy offense.
“He might be getting himself ready for another club,” Showalter said. “We knew that when we brought him in here. People might look around and say: ‘Golly, I can’t believe we didn’t do that.’ “
But with Trumbo taking most of the plate appearances at designated hitter, Alvarez can’t be carried on the roster unless he shows his ability to play the outfield.
Alvarez has had few opportunities to show those skills so far. In the “B” game, he made a diving stop on a ball in the gap to prevent an extra-base hit.
On Monday, he had only one difficult play in right field, making a sliding attempt on a fly ball hit by Marco Alvarez. He couldn’t come up with the catch cleanly, and the ball skipped away for a double.
Showalter said it was a difficult play to make with the high sky at JetBlue Park. “There’s no depth perception, and the wind is really moving balls around,” Showalter said.
The Orioles won’t be convinced overnight, but Showalter needs no reminder of how potent Alvarez can be.
Last season, Alvarez finished the season strong — over a 40-game stretch from July 3 to Sept. 2, he hit .290/.331/.603, with 11 of 22 home runs coming in that span — but once the Orioles moved Trumbo to DH after the September acquisition of Bourn, plate appearances dwindled for Alvarez.
“The outfield is going to be a work in progress for him, just like it was for Mark,” Showalter said. “But people forget he was really good for us offensively for a couple months, and I think the last few days have been a reminder of that. In fact, he’s spent the past few days really open. He’s in the good frame of mind. It’s kind of like, ‘I’ve got nothing to lose. I’m playing with house money.’ You can tell he’s relaxed at the plate.”
With 10 exhibition games remaining until the regular season begins — nine Grapefruit League games and one exhibition at Triple-A Norfolk — the opportunities for innings are dwindling. The Orioles also face an outfield conundrum: They still need to evaluate Rule 5 picks Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander, the latter of whom has yet to play the outfield because of injury.
Joey Rickard and Craig Gentry also are battling for outfield spots on the back of strong spring seasons. Outfielders Seth Smith and Bourn have been slowed by injury but eventually will return.
“I’ve got an idea of what needs to happen for us to trust him out there,” Showalter said of Alvarez. “We’re not at that yet, but he’s working hard at it out there, and it’s an unfamiliar position.”