BALTIMORE -- With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Sarasota, Fla., in less than two weeks, it's not too early to start dissecting the Orioles' 2013 roster. The Around the Horn series takes a position-by-position look at the club's projected starters and other options heading into Spring Training. Today: First base.
When Chris Davis entered his first Spring Training with Baltimore last year, the expectation was that he would get every opportunity to prove he could be the club's solution at first base. But a poor defensive first half -- in which the Orioles collectively were at or close to first in the Major Leagues in errors -- and several injuries changed things considerably.
Mark Reynolds –- who struggled at third base -- was moved across the diamond, with rookie Manny Machado eventually taking over at the hot corner and Davis filling in anywhere necessary. His named appeared in five different positions in 2012, including a memorable appearance as a relief pitcher at Fenway Park that led to one of the Orioles' most remarkable extra-inning wins.
This spring, Davis again enters camp slated to be the club's first baseman, and with Reynolds gone to Cleveland and in lieu of any big offseason moves, the Orioles enter 2013 virtually unchanged from a year ago.
Davis, who is already in Sarasota working out at the team's spring facility, is focused on proving he is a better first baseman than what he showed in 2012.
"I was disappointed last year the way things worked out at first," Davis said at the team's recent fan fest. "I felt like I didn't play anywhere near where I was capable of playing. But we had a lot of injuries, guys going down in the outfield and with the pitching thing, all the crazy things that happened, I'm definitely looking forward to being the first baseman every day this year."
Davis started 38 games at first base, committing four errors in 374 chances for a .989 fielding percentage. He also played the corner outfield spots for the first time in his big league career, finishing with a .977 fielding percentage, and started the most games (60) as the club's designated hitter. Without a clear-cut DH this season, Davis –- who hit well in that spot -- would be a favorable option for manager Buck Showalter to rotate into that role on occasion except there's no clear cut backup to him at first base.
In 139 games last season, Davis hit .270 /.326/.501 with 33 homers and 85 RBIs, and he said earlier this winter his mindset this spring was to get ready to play 162 games at first base. It's a good one to have considering it's his job to lose. The Orioles don't have a whole lot of other options on the 40-man roster at first base and the organization –- since losing Reynolds —- has signed Travis Ishikawa and Conor Jackson to Minor League deals with invitations to big league Spring Training.
The 29-year-old Ishikawa posted a .257/.329/.428 line with four homers and 30 RBIs in 94 games (49 starts) last year with the Brewers, and spent the previous three seasons with the Giants. A left-handed hitter who owns a .266/.333/.416 career line against right-handed pitching, Ishikawa is a superb defender and has a career .995 fielding percentage at first base.
Jackson, signed during December's Winter Meetings, is the kind of smaller signing executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has made numerous times The hope is the 30-year-old can regain some of the power potential from his earlier years.
Jackson has shuttled back and forth from the Minor Leagues the past four seasons and he spent all of 2012 playing for the White Sox's Triple-A Charlotte affiliate, compiling a line of .277/.363/.434 with nine homers and 41 RBIs. His best season in the Majors came in 2006 with Arizona, when he hit .291/.368/.441 with 15 homers and 79 RBIs and he followed that up with another 15-homer season in '07.
Wilson Betemit, who is on the 40-man roster, is listed behind Davis on the depth chart at first base, and while not considered a particularly swift defender, he does owns a career .992 fielding percentage there. Betemit, who struggles against left-handed pitching, is expected to be more of a platoon player and could fill the bulk of DH duties while occasionally playing the field.
With the Orioles unable to attain the middle-of-the-order bat they wanted this winter, Davis –- along with Matt Wieters and Adam Jones –- will be relied on heavily to help resuscitate a lineup that struggled down the stretch last season. And while fans have been disappointed by the club's lack of activity, Davis –- like most of his teammates -- is excited that the core has remained intact.
"That was kind of our niche going into last season, we didn't have any big-name players," Davis said of a club that reached the postseason for the first time in 15 years. "Jones getting his contract [extension] last year was huge, but we pretty much have the same group of guys that we did last year and we were able to be successful. So I look forward to that this year."