Obando's size, numbers make a big impression SPRING TRAINING

FERNANDO AND OBANDO

March 12, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- When the Orioles opened spring training three weeks ago, Sherman Obando was the biggest curiosity in camp.

Now, with one week of exhibition play completed, he is a strong candidate to make it to Baltimore. Each day, even each at-bat, the big (6 feet 4, 215 pounds) outfielder seems to make an impression.

And the one who has been impressed the most is the one who counts the most -- manager Johnny Oates. "He's shown me everything our scouts said he would," said Oates.

Obando, 23, was a Rule V acquisition from the Yankees in last winter's minor-league draft. He was not protected on the major-league roster even though he hit .281 with 17 home runs for Albany in the Double-A Eastern League, a notoriously tough league for hitters.

The kicker is that, just as they had to do with Darrell Sherman (San Diego Padres) last year, the Orioles must either keep Obando on their 25-man roster or offer him back to the Yankees for half the $50,000 draft price. The Orioles are well aware that the Yankees would re-claim Obando.

Because of the power potential of Obando, the Orioles might be influenced to keep him on the roster even if he's not quite ready to cut it in the major leagues.

The knock on Obando is that he might not have a position, and there is no opening for a designated hitter. He played first base last year, a spot the Orioles have covered amply, and his experience in the outfield is virtually nil.

But Oates says he's not concerned. "I don't have a question about his defense," he said. "Except for getting turned around on a ball caught in the wind the other day, he's played fine out there."

Then, perhaps tipping his hand, Oates said: "He can play right field in our park without any problem. If he hits enough two-run doubles, it would make it even easier."

Obando, who has three doubles and five hits in his first 10 at-bats, is building a reputation as a quiet slugger. He is neither overwhelmed nor overconfident in this big-league camp.

"So far, so good," the Panama native and resident said last night about his play. The night before, he had a pair of hits, including a two-run double, as the Orioles beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 3-1.

Asked if he was getting comfortable in the outfield, Obando paused before replying. "It's coming. I haven't played much in right field.

"But every day [coach] Davey Lopes hits me balls and shows me how to turn."

His physique is impressive, even to the other players in camp. "He's big and strong, and he's got only 5.2 percent body fat," said outfielder Damon Buford, who played against Obando while with the Hagerstown Suns last year. "I'm 5-10 and my body fat is 4.8."

Batting coach Greg Biagini knew only what he had heard and read (in scouting reports) about Obando before spring training started. "I heard bits and pieces, that he was a big, strong kid who had power to all fields," said Biagini.

"I haven't seen anything to disappoint me. What you have to like the most is the way the ball comes off his bat."

Oates is waiting and watching. He gives Obando a strong endorsement, but backs off making a commitment.

"If I've got to be in spring training for six weeks, I'm going to use the time," he said. "I've seen nothing yet to disprove what I've been told, but that's been true of all the new faces we've got on our 40-man roster.

"We didn't draft him with the idea of giving the Yankees $25,000. Our scouts told us that he could help us this year. So far nothing's happened to prove them wrong."

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