Where does Jay Payton fit in?
Where does Jay Payton fit in with the team? Is he a starter in left field? Where does he fit in the batting order?
-- Chris S., Annapolis, Md.
Payton's ultimate status is still undecided, but for now, he's slotted in as the regular in left field. It wouldn't be a disaster for the Orioles to break camp with him playing every day, but Baltimore still plans on trying to find a power bat to split time in left field or at first base. And with two months left in the winter, there's still plenty of time.
While Payton may not be a power hitter, he's a well-rounded player who will complement the rest of the team's talent. The veteran is a strong defender in all three outfield slots, and as the outfield's only right-handed hitter, he can spell either Corey Patterson or Nick Markakis against tough southpaws. Payton's also a solid baserunner.
He'll probably bat toward the bottom of the lineup -- perhaps seventh or eighth -- but could also find himself in the two-hole. Either way, he's a huge upgrade over Baltimore's left fielders from last season. Jeff Conine, while still solid at the plate, was losing tread defensively. And Brandon Fahey just wasn't ready to play on a regular basis.
Simply put, if Payton stays healthy, the Orioles won't have to audition Minor League castoffs like Fernando Tatis and Luis Terrero. Payton may not have been an addition that brought big headlines, but he is a player who made sense. If the O's are able to find a bat that can turn Payton into a fourth outfielder, their roster would be even stronger.
Is there a reason the Orioles are sticking with Fahey? He batted .150 or lower in August and September with little to no power.
-- David B., Bethesda, Md.
Fahey thrived in part-time duty, but fell off as he started gaining regular playing time. The rookie was pressed into everyday service by a combo of trades and injuries, and he was asked to do so in a position (left field) he hadn't played since college. When the end of the year came around, he was stretched well beyond his breaking point.
Having said that, Fahey may be fighting an uphill battle for a roster spot. Baltimore added Freddie Bynum at the Winter Meetings, a player who echoes Fahey's versatility but adds some home-run power. And the Orioles have re-signed Chris Gomez, who might make both Fahey and Bynum redundant.
Will the Orioles carry two utilitymen? Perhaps -- but if they add another outfielder, they'll instantly reduce those chances. If Baltimore carries 12 pitchers like it did last season, that only leaves room for four reserves. One would be a backup catcher, one would be Payton and one would likely be Gomez. The last spot would be up for grabs.
What happened to make the O's non-tender David Newhan, and what is his future?
-- **** M., Laredo, Texas
Newhan got caught in the roster squeeze we just mentioned. The fact that he's a left-handed hitter didn't help his cause, and Payton's outfield versatility trumped his main asset. Bynum's presence didn't help, either. The Minor League veteran can play the outfield and the infield, and he runs just as well or better than Newhan.
The one edge Newhan has is in the hitting department, but the Orioles couldn't figure out whether he'd have a role. And that's nothing new for the former infielder, who's overcome the odds at every step of his career. Newhan went to three colleges before turning pro, and seven different organizations before he got his first real big-league audition.
Newhan, the son of a sportswriter, is completely over last year's broken right fibula, which cost him four months. He'll likely latch on somewhere, but his chances of a big-league deal are slim. There are scores of players just like Newhan and Bynum that never make it to the Major Leagues, which illustrates the depth of talent at Triple-A.
Will outfield prospect Nolan Reimold be asked to the big-league Spring Training camp in 2007? What's his status? Do you think his outlook is bright?
-- Bob K., Harrisburg, Pa.
Reimold is one of Baltimore's best non-pitching prospects, but he may have to wait another year for a taste of Spring Training. The Orioles will likely be sorting through their outfielders -- including Fahey and Bynum -- which means that Reimold may have to play at the team's Minor League camp in Sarasota.
That's where he should be at this point in his career. Reimold has shown patience and power at every rung of the organization, but he hasn't progressed too far. The 23-year-old played for Class A Frederick last season, which means he'll probably move up to Double-A Bowie. From there, he's a season or two away from the big leagues.
Reimold can make the case for a rapid promotion with a big half-season at Bowie and an equally convincing half at Triple-A Norfolk, but a full season at both levels might be more prudent. Reimold and Markakis may eventually be All-Star bookends, but it's going to take more time and more patience.