Almanzar faces long odds to make Orioles

Almanzar faces long odds to make Orioles
December 16, 2013, 12:00 pm
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Before last Thursday’s Rule 5 draft, Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said it was “a crapshoot.” In 2011 and 2012, the Orioles had the most success of any team in the Rule 5. Duquette was hoping it would continue.

Ryan Flaherty and T.J. McFarland were the last two selections, and they both stuck with the team the entire season. Flaherty could even be the team’s starting second baseman in 2014.

This year, the draft didn’t seem as talented, at least that’s what 30 teams thought. Instead of taking 15 players as they did last year and 12 in 2011, teams made just nine draft selections.

The Orioles had the final pick and it was Michael Almanzar, a third baseman from the Boston Red Sox organization. At first blush, it looked as if Almanzar had little chance to make the Orioles. Four days later, it looks the same.

Almanzar hit .268 with 16 home runs and 81 RBIs for Double-A Portland. In 2012, he hit .300 for Single-A Salem.

With Manny Machado at third and Chris Davis at first, Almanzar’s other position, there shouldn’t be much room for the 23-year-old, who signed with Boston in 2008.

Almanzar had never played above Single-A before last season. Flaherty had played parts of two seasons in Double-A for the Cubs, and batted .305 with some power. He also had 49 games at Triple-A.

Flaherty wasn’t facing great competition for the utility position. He beat out Matt Antonelli and Steve Tolleson for the job.

McFarland pitched well during spring training and he, too had a more impressive resume than Almanzar. He had parts of three seasons in Double-A in Cleveland’s organization, and in 2012, won 16 games at Akron and Triple-A Columbus.

He’s expected to start next season at Norfolk after an impressive stint in Venezuela. The Orioles hope to make him into a major league starter, and envision him as a possible swing man next season.

Almanzar’s road to the big leagues looks a lot longer. The Orioles have another corner infielder, Danny Valencia, who hit well in the big leagues late in the season. Valencia is also a right-handed hitter.

Should Machado’s rehab from knee surgery go slower than anticipated, perhaps there’s a spot and Almanzar grabs it—at least for a time.

If Brian Roberts re-signs, and that’s still possible, Flaherty and Valencia are heavy favorites to get spots, and that would hurt Almanzar’s chances. Jemile Weeks’ presence won’t help, either. Non-roster infielder Cord Phelps could be another

He’s also hurt by not having any outfield experience. He’s played only third and first. Almanzar might have to best either Nolan Reimold or Steve Pearce, both accomplished big leaguers, to make the team as a right-handed DH. Both Reimold and Pearce have injury histories, and Almanzar is another option. He’d also have to outplay Francisco Peguero, who was recently signed.

The Orioles could offer him back to the Red Sox, but if they don’t want him, perhaps a deal can be worked out, and Almanzar would be able to play at Norfolk, which is probably his proper level.

Strangely, the player the Orioles drafted in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 has a much better chance of making the team, it seems, than Almanzar.

Julio Borbon, has 288 games of major league experience, and it’s rare that any player taken in the Triple-A part of the draft becomes a major league contributor.

Borbon is a left-handed hitter, which puts him ahead of Almanzar. He plays the outfield, which Almanzar doesn’t, and the Orioles could use an extra left-handed hitter.

Best of all, he offers roster flexibility. Borbon doesn’t have to be kept on the major league roster. He’s a career .304 hitter in the minors, and while he’s slipped markedly since 2009 and 2010, he’s still worth a shot.

It’s rare that Rule 5 draft picks even make a major league club. The most recent big-name player to be picked was Everth Cabrera, who San Diego took in 2008. Cabrera was an All-Star selection this year before being caught up in the Biogenesis mess.

It’s more likely that Almanzar goes the way of Adrian Rosario, the Rule 5 pick the year before Flaherty. In spring training 2011, Rosario was impressive, but clearly not ready for the majors and quickly was returned to Milwaukee. He’s still never pitched above Double-A, and was last spotted in the Mets’ organization.