Barring unforeseen, Tejada will be O's third baseman

March 06, 2010|By Peter Schmuck

SARASOTA, Fla. — S - It didn't take long for the juxtaposition of converted third baseman Miguel Tejada and emerging third base prospect Josh Bell to create a little intrigue in Orioles training camp.

In the first exhibition game Wednesday, Tejada wrestled with a couple of balls and Bell launched a couple of others into deep space, so you knew it wouldn't be long before the message boards and blogs were buzzing about the various scenarios that might allow both to be in the major league lineup at the same time.

That's why - before this goes any further - I want to assure you of one thing. Miguel Tejada is the Orioles' third baseman and will remain so for the greater part of the 2010 season unless something dramatic happens to make that impractical or impossible.

Bell certainly made a terrific first impression, but two big jacks on a windy day aren't going to send Dave Trembley and Andy MacPhail back to the drawing board to rework the 2010 blueprint.

The plan was always for Tejada to get comfortable at third base and for Bell to get more comfortable hitting Triple-A pitching this season. Maybe he explodes and forces everyone to rethink the situation in August, but there's no spring scenario - other than a rash of disastrous injuries - that is going to put him in the Opening Day starting lineup.

So, no, the Orioles aren't considering moving Tejada back to shortstop to make room for Bell at third base, but thanks for asking. Even if Tejada struggles badly in his transition to third, the next option would be Ty Wigginton.

Still, even though MacPhail would probably bristle at such premature speculation about Bell, it's certainly a nice problem to have. If I recall correctly, there was a lot of grumbling about the deal last year that sent closer George Sherrill to the Los Angeles Dodgers for some third base power prospect nobody around here had ever heard of, but it looks pretty good now that the Orioles have signed free-agent closer Mike Gonzalez and Bell has made such a great first impression.

Maybe MacPhail is smarter than you think.

Bell is a legit major league prospect. He ranks 37th among this year's Baseball America Top 100 and is considered the Orioles' best developing position player. He, like Tejada, has some work to do to be a solid defensive third baseman, but he's a young 23, and the path to a place in the major league starting lineup is relatively short and clearly defined.

The carrot is right in front of him, so you can bet he'll be working hard to be ready if the call comes earlier than planned.

But, no, the Orioles don't appear to have any immediate plans to trade Luke Scott to open up the designated hitter role for Tejada, or Cesar Izturis to make room for him at shortstop. The plan to convert Tejada into a serviceable third baseman is going to go full speed ahead, and I wouldn't underestimate his ability to make the move successfully.

Tejada is a great athlete, and he seems absolutely committed to making this work, showing up bright and early to work with infield coach Juan Samuel on third base technique. If he sometimes wandered into the clubhouse at the last minute - or later - during his first incarnation as an Oriole, he has been one of the first guys through the door every morning this spring.

There are going to be some rocky moments, just as there were when Melvin Mora took over third base in 2004, but Tejada knows this is an opportunity to extend his career and he is lunging at it like it's a sharp one-hopper down the line.

If he succeeds, it will create all sorts of possibilities for the Orioles going forward, including a midseason deal for more young talent if Bell refuses to be denied. But there's also the possibility that Tejada will still be the third baseman next year, since it's hard to predict what a young player will do as he moves up through the system.

Bell looks like he's getting ready to bloom, but you still have to hope Tejada is not going to be a bust.

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "Sportsline" on WBAL (1090 AM) and check out "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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