Orioles' Andino still figuring out where he fits

Utility infielder doesn't appear to have a spot on roster and will likely be claimed off waivers

March 25, 2011|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

SARASOTA, FLA. — — Nearly one year ago, the Orioles traded for infielder Julio Lugo, and Robert Andino immediately assumed he'd be done with the club.

He figured he'd be put on waivers, claimed by another organization and would get another fresh start as a utility infielder.

Andino, indeed, was waived last April by the Orioles.

But no one claimed him, even though Andino had spent the previous full season in the big leagues and even though he made the league minimum salary. He had no choice but to accept an assignment to Triple-A Norfolk and again toil in the minors.

"I've tried to forget about that, to be honest with you," Andino said. "I had to go down there and play. What else could I have done? I'm over that. I am past that."

He was there for five months, hitting .264 with 13 homers and 16 stolen bases. He led the Tides in RBIs (76), runs scored (72) and games played (132). He also was briefly suspended for an exaggerated rant after an umpire's questionable call.

Andino finally was promoted to the majors on Sept. 1. He made the most of his month back, hitting .295 with two homers and four doubles in 16 games. He played second base, shortstop and third, and drew praise from new manager Buck Showalter for his versatility and athleticism.

He appeared to be the favorite for the club's utility infielder slot in 2011, but the Orioles traded for shortstop J.J. Hardy and re-signed former starter Cesar Izturis to be a backup. Again, it looked like the end of the Orioles' road for Andino, who turns 27 next month and is now out of options and can refuse an assignment to Norfolk.

This spring, though, seems to be a different story for Andino. For one, he's no longer obsessed with whether he makes the club.

"It goes through my mind, but I try not to think about it because it is out of my control what happens. So I've just got to worry about what I can control," he said. "You've always got more to show. In this game, you can always do better. But you just pray for the best, hope for the best and whatever happens is going to happen."

Secondly, Andino now has another important supporter in his corner. In the offseason, Showalter hired Jim Presley to be the club's new hitting coach. Presley previously held that position with the Florida Marlins, and was there when Andino first arrived in the majors.

"He runs well, he's got juice," Presley said of Andino. "He knows his role and he knows what he is trying to do. Good kid, great athlete. He is going to help us."

Third, the consensus, both in the Orioles front office and among major-league scouts, is that Andino doesn't get through waivers this time without being claimed. There is a dearth of middle infielders and there are several teams with starters that have less talent and upside than Andino.

"I think people need utility infielders this year and I don't think he can get through the waiver wire myself," Presley said. "That's my opinion."

Showalter said that whether a player would be claimed is not part of his thought process when formulating his roster. He has to take the best 25 players available, regardless of their contractual situation.

"It has nothing to do with it, having an option or not having an option," Showalter said. "It's, 'Is he our best fit?' The only time you use the word option is. 'Is he our best option to be an extra guy?' He's got a chance. He's in the competition."

That said, Izturis, a good defender and a respected veteran, is slated to make $1 million this season and is considered a lock to make the roster as the primary utility infielder.

With the Orioles also expected to keep Felix Pie as the club's fourth outfielder, and with catcher/corner infielder/outfielder Jake Fox bashing his way onto the roster with nine spring homers, there's likely one bench spot available if the Orioles break with 12 pitchers.

Essentially, the last spot is between Andino and reserve catcher Craig Tatum, who does have a minor-league option remaining. If the Orioles take three catchers – including Fox – Andino would be the odd man out. It's possible the Orioles would look to trade him before Opening Day. Unlike last year, Andino's not attempting to figure out the scenarios.

"I can't worry about what everybody else does," Andino said. "I have to worry about what I do."

So far Andino has had an adequate but unspectacular spring. He has hit .250 with two homers and 10 RBIs in 48 at-bats. The Orioles have also noticed more maturity from the former Marlins' second-rounder.

"He's got some age on him," Presley said. "When he was 18, 19, 20 years old, he was acting like that, like 18-year-olds would. I think he is kind of over that and he is going the right direction."

Within the next week, he'll know whether his future is in Baltimore.

"In this game, somebody is always watching. I feel like I know this team pretty good. I have been here a couple years," Andino said. "Hopefully it will happen, but if it doesn't, it doesn't. That's this game and that's life and you just have to keep moving forward."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

twitter.com/danconnollysun

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