What are the five biggest questions for spring training?

What are the five biggest questions for spring training?
February 10, 2013, 9:00 am
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With spring training just two days away, the Orioles have many fewer questions heading into this year than last. They do have some mysteries, and jams that must be unbroken.

Here are five questions that need to be solved before Opening Day on Apr. 2.

1) Who will be the fifth starter?

Two weeks ago, the answer could have been either Jair Jurrjens or Joe Saunders. Jurrjens’ signing still hasn’t been made official and the longer the delay the less likely it looks. Saunders spurned an offer from the Orioles and signed with Seattle instead.

Tsuyoshi Wada won’t be ready to start the season.

Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton and Steve Johnson are the top choices. Rule 5 draft choice T.J. McFarland will get a chance as will Todd Redmond, who was picked up on waivers from Cincinnati on Friday. Zach Clark, a career minor leaguer in his first Orioles camp will also get a look. Even Tommy Hunter, who looked solid in the bullpen late last season could find his way back into the rotation.

Dan Duquette may continue to look for additional help during spring training though there aren’t many appetizing options.

Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez enter camp as the favorites for the first four starters.

2) Will any newcomers be in the bullpen?

Jim Johnson, Luis Ayala, Pedro Strop, Darren O’Day, Troy Patton and Brian Matusz return. Even though Matusz would like to be considered for a starting spot, the bullpen is the best option for both the Orioles and the left-hander.

Hunter is the best bet for the long man, but in case of injuries or ineffectiveness, one of the players who doesn’t make it as the fifth starter, Arrieta, Britton or Johnson could move into the pen.

3) Will Chris Davis be able to play first base?

Since the Orioles jettisoned Mark Reynolds and didn’t make a move to add a big bat or first baseman, it’s Davis’ job. He insists he’s better than he’s shown in the past, and it will take a lot for Buck Showalter to move someone else in there and Davis back to designated hitter.

Davis’ 33 home runs last season makes up for a lot of defensive shortcomings and many of his 169 strikeouts, too.

Duquette picked up Travis Ishikawa, signing him to a minor league deal in December, and he’s around to play first if Davis struggles.

4) Will Brian Roberts be back?

Roberts has worked long and hard to get back to second base, and though the Orioles are hoping he’ll be productive for the final year of his four-year, $40 million contract, there are a number of options if he can’t play.

Alexi Casilla was picked up from Minnesota, and he’s a great basestealer, something the team lacked. Ryan Flaherty will have to fight for a job this year, but he played some second base last season. Utilityman Yamaico Navarro was acquired and non-roster infield Niuman Romero is also around.

5) Are any surprise players likely to make the roster?

If Roberts is hurt, then maybe Navarro or Romero have a shot. There’s no clear DH, but Danny Valencia and Russ Canzler from the right side and Wilson Betemit from the left are the top choices.

Taylor Teagarden is the leader for the backup  catching job, but Luis Exposito and Luis Martinez, who cleared waivers this week, are around in case he’s hurt again.

Chris Dickerson could make the roster as a backup outfielder. Ishikawa could stick as a reserve first baseman or maybe Mark Hendrickson’s re-invention as a sidearming lefthander will be successful.