Orioles fill final roster spot with Otanez Team 'takes a chance' on young third baseman

February 13, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The Orioles made what figures to be their final off-season acquisition yesterday, claiming 22-year-old third base prospect Willis Otanez off waivers from the Seattle Mariners' organization.

Otanez hit 19 home runs for Single-A Vero Beach in 1994 and reached Double-A with the Los Angeles Dodgers last year. He went to the Mariners in the deal that sent veteran Mike Blowers to the Dodgers Nov. 29.

The acquisition filled the final spot on the Orioles' 40-man roster. The club opens spring training this week, with pitchers and catchers reporting to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Thursday and the first pitcher/catcher workout scheduled for Friday. Otanez will report to major-league spring training along with the position players next week.

The club's rationale in claiming Otanez isn't complicated. He was named the top defensive third baseman in Single-A by Baseball America last year and has displayed decent power at that level.

"We did some background on him and decided to take a chance," said assistant general manager Kevin Malone. "We hope and think he'll end up playing third base at Bowie."

Last year, Otanez batted .260 with 10 homers and 53 RBIs before moving up to Double-A San Antonio, where he hit .240 with one homer and seven RBIs in 100 at-bats. Malone said he hopes a chance to move up in the Orioles' organization will jump-start a slow-developing pro career.

"This is a guy who went back to A ball for a fourth year after hitting 27 doubles and 19 home runs in 1994," Malone said. "I don't think he was very happy about that, and it might have affected his performance last year."

The club also dispensed with another small piece of off-season business yesterday, signing Triple-A third baseman Scott McClain to a one-year deal. That leaves seven players unsigned.

Malone has moved quickly through a long list of one-, two- and three-year players, assuring that there will be little unfinished business when workouts begin. The last significant contract dispute will be settled one way or the other by this weekend. Pitcher Arthur Rhodes will go to salary arbitration Thursday if he does not sign before then.

The Rhodes situation apparently has aggravated Orioles officials. The 26-year-old left-hander went 2-5 with a 6.21 ERA before undergoing shoulder surgery Sept. 8, but that hasn't stopped him from trying to exploit his arbitration eligibility for a significant pay raise.

Rhodes filed for a 1996 salary of $675,000, more than twice the $275,000 he earned last year and the $300,000 figure the Orioles submitted. Even if he gets it, the gain may not be worth the residual hard feelings that sometimes result from a contentious hearing.

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