O's first base prospect Mahoney not getting ahead of himself

March 05, 2011|Peter Schmuck

SARASOTA, Fla. — — Orioles first base prospect Joe Mahoney passed "the look test" the first time he passed in front of manager Buck Showalter.

No shock there. If you wanted to produce a computer-generated image of the prototypical major league first baseman, all you would need to do is plug in Mahoney's height (6 feet 6), weight (240 pounds), left-handed power swing and all-around athleticism.

"That's what they look like,'' Showalter said after Mahoney delivered a big performance in Saturday's 4-4 tie with the Boston Red Sox, and it wasn't the first time he had made some glowing reference to the rangy 24-year-old who apparently is too tall to keep his head down.

Of course, there's more to the perfect profile than just appearance, which is why Showalter was happy to see Mahoney take the field in front of the biggest baseball crowd in the history of Ed Smith Stadium and put on a show.

He went to the plate four times and came back with three hits, a walk, an RBI and a stolen base. In other words, he delivered a performance worthy of his status as the Orioles' reigning Minor League Player of the Year, and he did it knowing full well that making a good impression this spring could push him up the depth chart at first base at a time when the O's do not have anyone targeted for the position next season.

"It's a big step just being in major league camp,'' Mahoney said. "Last year was also a big step. I just need to go out there and keep doing my best and hopefully keep making those steps."

He's not a can't-miss prospect. The Orioles drafted him in the sixth round of the 2007 First Year Player Draft and he has spent most of his minor league career at the Class-A level. The front office is very pleased with the progress he made in 2009 and 2010, but he really hasn't gotten a lot of attention from outside the organization.

That may be about to change. Though Saturday's performance was only an exhibition game and it was against a Red Sox roster split between Sarasota and a home game against the Florida Marlins in Fort Myers, it was still an eye-opener, and there are only so many chances to make that kind of a statement when you're playing behind Derrek Lee and a handful of utility candidates who also need innings at first base.

"No doubt,'' Showalter said. "The first thing they need to do is get an opportunity and I'm going to run them out there. That's not going to be the case in a week or so [after the first roster cuts]. They need to have that attitude even in batting practice. They get a chance to impress us every day."

Mahoney seems to understand that. He will be the first to tell you that winning the organization's top minor league honor for the 2010 season doesn't mean all that much in the major league clubhouse in 2011. He was even reluctant to dwell too much on the previous four hours, because what's important is not behind him.

There could be a chance to break through next year if he can build on last year's performance at Frederick and Bowie, but he shies away from talk about possibly being in a good position to succeed Lee, who is not signed beyond this season.

"I try not to think about that,'' Mahoney said. "Anyone will tell you, the game is hard enough. If you start thinking about that kind of stuff, it just becomes more of a challenge. I'm trying to focus on doing the right stuff every day. Hopefully, that will build up to being the next first baseman."

In the meantime, he is happy to accept whatever guidance Lee is willing to give while they work out together at first base.

"He's a wealth of knowledge,'' Mahoney said. "He's a Gold Glover … an All-Star. I learned a lot in just one day around him. I really hope to work with him as much as I can. I look at him as a mentor."

That's basically his approach with all of his more experienced teammates, and it appears to be working for him.

"It's my first major league camp and I'm trying to keep my ears open and my mouth shut,'' he said. I just want to watch these guys. They've had long big-league careers and I hope to have one, too."


Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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