- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. Brian Roberts is absolutely certain that he can make a valuable contribution to the Baltimore Orioles this season. He is also convinced that another year in the minor leagues would do very little to enhance his development.
Unfortunately, the second baseman has yet to sway the Orioles into sharing his assessment.
Roberts, 25, is trying to make the Opening Day roster as a utility player. His assets include outstanding speed, the ability to hit from both sides of the plate and 113 games of big league experience.
Just in case that wasn't enough to make him an attractive backup, he honed his game by playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. He hit .322 with two homers, 22 RBI, 12 steals and 28 walks.
It proved to be a worthwhile experience, one he hopes will enable him to be part of the Orioles' 25-man roster on Opening Day.
"I want to make the team. Whatever role it is, I don't care," he said. "That's why I went to Puerto Rico. I got 225 at-bats; I wanted to show them I was ready, that I didn't need any more seasoning."
In that regard, his trip to Puerto Rico may have been for naught.
"We've got to decide with Brian whether it's in our best interest, and his best interest, to let him go out and get everyday at-bats somewhere or keep him as a utility player," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said.
Roberts is competing against veterans Jeff Reboulet and John Valentin. He's faster than both of them, but lacks their experience.
"I think in the past we've had to bring people up before they were ready to be brought up, and in some instances it's retarded their development," Hargrove said. "It may be that, when it comes down to it, it's best for Brian to go out and get everyday at-bats than to come and sit here as a utility player."
The last thing Roberts wants to hear in late March is that the Orioles want him in Class AAA Ottawa to get at-bats on a regular basis. As far as he's concerned, he's been there and done that.
"My goal is just to play well and see what happens," Roberts said. "I don't come in thinking about competing against this person or that person. I'm just going to play. It's their decision if I make the team."
Roberts played in 38 games with the Orioles last year. He was called up from the minor leagues on May21 and given the second base job, but didn't hit well enough to stick around.
Jerry Hairston took over at second base, and the Orioles didn't even bring Roberts back when the rosters expanded to 40 players on Sept.1.
"I think a lot of people misunderstood us not calling Brian up last year as to mean we didn't like him or that we didn't see him having a future with this ball club," Hargrove said. "That's not the case at all."
In an effort to enhance his value as a utility player, Roberts has been working with the outfielders this spring and might be used in center field.
"We feel his best position is second base, but we also feel he's a good enough athlete to be able to play other positions," Hargrove said.
Valentin hangs in there
There's a certain degree of confidence that comes with playing 10 years in the major leagues, even if you're operating with a reconstructed left knee and a minor league contract.
John Valentin faces stiff competition in his bid to become a utility player with the Orioles, but he's barely given it a second thought.
"I don't feel like that's going to be a problem as long as I'm healthy, and I'm healthy," Valentin said before yesterday's 15-6 rout of the New York Mets.
B.J. seems to be back
If the early part of spring training is any indication, it's time for B.J. Surhoff to start making plans to spend the summer in Baltimore.
Surhoff started in left field yesterday and continued his torrid hitting spree, going 1-for-2 and driving in two runs. Over four games, he's 5-for-9 (.556) with five RBI.
Asked if Surhoff has virtually assured himself a spot on the team, Hargrove replied, "He's not doing anything to hurt himself."
Surhoff, like Valentin, emerged from the free agent market by signing a minor league contract with the Orioles.
Finally, a good deal
One of the better deals of the Syd Thrift era was the one that sent John Bale to the Mets for Gary Matthews Jr.
Matthews is now the starting center fielder for the Orioles, while Bale is seeking to earn a roster spot with New York. Bale entered in the fourth inning yesterday for the Mets and was yanked after allowing seven runs and six hits while retiring only two batters on sacrifice flies.
The uprising started when Matthews led off the inning with a single. Matthews finished 3-for-4 with three RBI.

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