- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2002

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. When the Baltimore Orioles broke camp last spring and headed north to open the season, their 25-man roster looked something like the Sunday Jumble. Three catchers, three corner outfielders/first basemen/designated hitters, one starting center fielder who also played backup middle infielder in his spare time.
An unconventional roster, to say the least. And one you likely won't see next month when the Orioles again close up shop in Fort Lauderdale.
Vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift and manager Mike Hargrove would like to assemble a more traditional bench on this season's 25-man roster, one that includes veteran backups who can fill in while the organization's prospects develop in the minors.
"If you have a veteran player who has had that kind of experience before and doesn't mind being a bench player, you can send the young player back to play every day rather than have him sit on the bench and be a part-time player," Thrift said. "That way the young player gets to fulfill his talents so that when he is ready to play, he's ready to play."
What it boils down to is this: Some minor leaguers who were rushed to Baltimore last season because of injuries to established regulars likely won't be in the majors come April 1. That includes players like infielder Brian Roberts, who wound up in an Orioles uniform last season after playing only 147 games in the minors, and outfielder Larry Bigbie, who appeared in 10 games with Class AAA Rochester before getting called up.
"We made a mistake by not signing [veteran minor league free agents] in the [2001] offseason," Thrift said. "It not only affected the major league team, it affected the Triple-A and Double-A teams. It set off a chain reaction, forcing a guy from Triple-A to the big leagues who shouldn't be here, then forcing a guy from Double-A to Triple-A who shouldn't be there."
All of which left Baltimore with a bench that was lacking in versatility. The Orioles began the year with two backup catchers (Greg Myers and Fernando Lunar) and three DH/corner infielder/outfielders (Jeff Conine, Jay Gibbons and Mike Kinkade). There was no utility infielder, forcing starting center fielder Melvin Mora to fill in at shortstop or second base when necessary.
That unpleasant scenario should change this spring.
"I would hope so, and I think that it will," Hargrove said. "But we'll wait and see when we get there."
What the Orioles have this year are a host of nonroster invitees in their spring training camp, including 10 position players. While most have little-to-no chance of making the club, a handful of versatile veterans may actually be favorites to fill out Hargrove's bench come April.
Outfielder Chad Allen has 209 games of major league experience and hit .277 with 10 homers and 46 RBI for the Minnesota Twins in 1999, only to suffer a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last August. The 27-year-old was released by the Twins but could make Baltimore's roster as the fifth outfielder if he proves healthy.
Mike Moriarty, 27, spent the last three seasons playing for the Twins' Class AAA ballclub as a middle infielder, and though he has yet to make his big league debut, he would appear to be a strong candidate to assume the utility role with the Orioles.
Other nonroster possibilities include 30-year-old outfielder Ryan McGuire (who has played for the Expos, Mets and Marlins) and 26-year-old outfielder Luis Garcia (who had 19 homers, 82 RBI and a .332 average in 98 games played in the Mexican League last season).
"We have a lot more options this year in camp than we had last year," Hargrove said.
Should some of those nonroster players make the 25-man roster, the Orioles will have the ability to give budding players like Roberts, Bigbie, Luis Matos and Tim Raines Jr. a chance to play every day in the minors.
"Any time you have a kid, especially a young player that you have high hopes for, he needs to play somewhere," Hargrove said. "Youth is usually not served being a bench player."


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