With Matt Antonelli (and his Major League contract) getting sent down, it looks like Rule 5 pick Ryan Flaherty is going to be getting first crack at the utility infielder job for the Orioles this year. The 25 year-old, who was selected from the Cubs’ system, has to stay with the O’s all season or be offered back to Chicago.
Flaherty has no big league experience, and only 186 plate appearances at Triple-A (where he hit .237/.277/.399 in 2011). In 428 career PA at the Double-A level, he hit a slightly more impressive .282/.364/.472, with pretty good plate discipline numbers (11.7% walk rate, 15.7% strike-out rate) and some pop (15 home runs). Flaherty came up as a shortstop (and even played a handful of games there last year), so while his defense is unlikely to be plus around the infield, he should at least be an upgrade over the likes of Mark Reynolds.
The struggles at Triple-A (where he had more than 4 K’s per walk) leave me somewhat doubtful of Flahrty’s ability to hit enough to be much better than a replacement level player. This Spring he’s at .273/319.477 with 9 K’s and 2 walks – Antonelli, by contrast, hasn’t hit for average (.194) or power (ISO of .000), but still has a higher OBP (.333). (There’s also a slight BABIP difference – .324 to .250 – but these are some really small sample sizes.)
Giving Flaherty the first opportunity makes some sense since it’s either now or never (or, I suppose, the O’s could trade for him). I could even be convinced that he should be starting for the team over Chris Davis (.283/.298/.500 this Spring, 14:1 strike-out to walk ratio), allowing the team to move Reynolds to first. That’s more of a performance thing though, since the O’s want to see what Davis (and, it seems, Flaherty) can do.