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O's Reyes faces tall task to stay at third

Dominican pushing 6-foot-6, but determined to remain at hot corner
March 16, 2015

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Among the 10 Major Leaguers to log the most innings at third base last year, Nick Castellanos was the tallest at 6-foot-4. The average height was 6-foot-1.

You don't see many third baseman checking in at 6-foot-5 or taller. It's tough to man the hot corner if your limbs are too long. Class A Delmarva manager and former 6-foot-7 third baseman Ryan Minor is living proof it's possible, though.

"You have to really [be] detail-oriented with everything," said Minor, who played more than 100 MLB games at third with the Orioles and Expos. "Everything is a little more exposed because you're taller."

Minor's big league career is an apropos talking point for the Orioles farm system right now. Last February, Baltimore invested $350,000 in 6-foot-3 Dominican third baseman Jomar Reyes, hoping the big-bodied 16-year-old could develop into a power bat on the left side of the diamond.

Just over a year later, Reyes is much taller than his listed 6-foot-3 height -- Fangraphs' Kiley McDaniel reported Baltimore estimates Reyes at 6-foot-6 now, and he was standing nearly eye-to-eye with Minor during practice at the Orioles' Buck O'Neil Complex on Monday.

That height could be a disadvantage at third for Reyes. Third basemen rely on agility and precise footwork, routinely taking fewer than three steps to snag ground balls. A lower center of gravity is advantageous, Minor said.

Despite the growth spurt -- which McDaniel estimates has pushed Reyes to 240 pounds -- Baltimore is hopeful the Dominican can develop and remain at third long term. Team personnel cite his arm, hands and footwork as reasons for optimism.

"You can see some athleticism in such a big body," Orioles director of player development Brian Graham said. "We want him to be a third baseman. He profiles there."

Baltimore has a specific regimen in place to give Reyes the best chance possible to stick at third. He's eating and working out to develop strength without taking on too much mass or losing flexibility. He's on a specially tailored throwing program designed to keep his arm slot in an ideal spot for his big frame. On Monday, he put in an extra half hour of work with Minor and Orioles infield coordinator Kevin Bradshaw, refining his mechanics throwing to second base.

"You have to make sure you take into account that your footwork has to be right," Minor said. "I had to focus on making sure my footwork was good on every throw. … That's something we're trying to get him with the throwing program and everything."

While Baltimore is hoping Reyes can contribute defensively at third, the reason he's shot up to No. 11 among the Orioles' top prospects is his stick. The right-handed hitter batted .285 with a .758 OPS in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last summer.

His offense is advanced enough that the team is considering a jump to Class A Delmarva this season, potentially on Opening Day.

"I think Spring Training will be interesting, just to see how far along he can get to see if he can open the season with Delmarva," Graham said. "It would be great to have a young third baseman playing at 18 years old for the whole season in Delmarva, but there's a whole maturity thing that needs to be considered, as well, and if they can handle the role mentally."

Emotional maturity is likely the biggest obstacle for Reyes right now. The team didn't say his makeup is a concern -- rather, pushing any 18-year-old to the South Atlantic League is a risk. If Baltimore determines Reyes has the fortitude to handle the ups and downs of full-season ball, an Opening Day assignment to Delmarva is a strong possibility.

"I haven't seen anything that would say otherwise, but you never know until you get thrown into the fire," Minor said of Reyes' makeup. "That's one of those things we'll have to just watch and clean up if he does something that we don't feel is right. We'll just have to correct it and do the things necessary to make him a better player at the end of the year than he was at the start."

Bundy at full bore

Baltimore's top prospect, Dylan Bundy, has seen an uptick in his velocity and improved command this spring, Graham said. That has the Orioles encouraged as Bundy continues to work his way back from Tommy John surgery. The right-hander hit 95 in a Major League Spring Training game last week, but more importantly to Graham, he's also been locating his pitches better than last season.

"The command is the last thing to come," Graham said. "He's definitely taken a step forward. He's better now than he was in August of last year when he last pitched. Certainly, from a velocity standpoint and command and health, he's going to continue to get better."

Graham said fans can anticipate Bundy starting the season with Double-A Bowie, although that's not set in stone. After "extensively researching" Tommy John patients and their post-surgery careers, the Orioles plan to limit Bundy to around 100 innings this season, Graham said.  

O's expecting Connaughton post-Madness

When Baltimore penned right-hander Pat Connaughton to a contract last summer, it allowed him to finish out his basketball career with Notre Dame. Now that the 6-foot-5 Massachusetts' native has led the Irish to a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, rumors have surfaced that NBA teams could try luring Connaughton into a pro basketball career via the NBA draft this summer.

The Orioles, though, are fully expecting Connaughton to report for baseball activities once Notre Dame's season wraps.

"I spoke with Pat on Thursday," Graham said. "He's executing his throwing program, and he's excited about coming back to pitch. Right now, his priority is basketball. That should be his priority, and it's fun to watch him play.

"We support him no matter what. At the end of the day, he's going to be a pitcher in our organization, so we'll wait until that time comes."

Harvey's split put on the shelf

Hunter Harvey turned a few heads -- including his manager's -- when he showed up to Spring Training flashing a split-finger fastball. Harvey's father, Bryan Harvey, used the splitter effectively during his nine-year Major League career, but Harvey hadn't thrown the pitch as a professional prior to this spring.

For now, though, Baltimore has asked Harvey to pocket the splitter, preferring he focus on his fastball, changeup and curveball.

"The split has been put on hold," Graham said. "The split for a 20-year-old pitcher, that's not something we're going to advocate for right now. That's been put on hold. His dad had a great split-finger. That might be part of his repertoire down the line, but right now, we've put that on hold."

Jake Seiner is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner.