Antonelli’s Big Deal

Teams roll the dice on former top prospects all the time, but it’s not often you see one get a guaranteed Major League contract. That’s exactly what the Orioles officially gave infielder Matt Antonelli this week. The former first round pick of the Padres will compete for a job in Spring Training after passing his physical on Monday.

Antonelli spent this past season in the Nationals’ organization, posting a .377 wOBA in 359 Triple-A plate appearances after having surgery for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. He missed all but one game of the 2010 season thanks to left wrist surgery (hamate), and his 2009 campaign consisted of just 59 games due to various sprains (ankle) and strains (thigh). It’s been a bumpy few years for Antonelli, who Baseball America considered the 50th best prospect in the game prior to the 2008 season.

You can understand why the Orioles would add a guy like this. Antonelli’s always shown very strong walk rates in the minors, including 13.1% this year and 13.9% for his career. He also does a nice job of putting the bat on the ball, striking out just 16.4% of the time in 2011 and 15.1% of the time in his minor league career. A .163 ISO (.142 career) is a decent number as well, particularly for a guy capable of playing the middle infield. Antonelli was drafted as a third baseman but shifted to second by San Diego, and he spent the 2011 season bouncing between the three non-first base infield spots as well as left field. The problem in recent years has been injuries, not performance.

The Major League contract is a little odd, just because you don’t normally see players with three straight years of injury trouble and zero big league track record land such deals. For what it’s worth, Antonelli did say on his blog that a dozen or so teams had been in contact with him earlier this month, so perhaps it’s the guaranteed 40-man roster spot that put Baltimore over the top. The O’s are woefully thin on the infield thanks to Brian Roberts‘ continued injury problems, with Ryan Adams and Robert Andino projected to start at second and third, so they did add some much needed depth.

Dan Duquette’s first real move at the helm of the Orioles was a little interesting, not because of the player but because of the contract terms. That’s not to say it was a bad move, just a curious one. Antonelli is exactly the kind of player a non-contender should take a flier on, a middle infielder with a knack for working the count and putting the ball in play. It doesn’t take much for a guy with that skill set to be worth two wins, but Antonelli’s got a lot to prove first. The O’s clearly think he’s worth the risk given the investment they’ve already made in him.



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Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.


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Chris
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Chris
4 years 9 months ago

What happened to Chris Davis and Mark Reynolds? I thought they were supposed to be the CI’s of the O’s in 2012

AK
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AK
4 years 9 months ago

They are, as of now. I have no idea where the writer got the idea that Andino and Adams are currently projected to start. They aren’t.

Anonymous
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Anonymous
4 years 9 months ago

The current plan is that Davis starts at 3B. That’s not a very good plan, as he has been horrendous his entire career at 3B. I’d much rather see Davis at 1B, Reynolds at DH and give one of the other guys a shot at third – this young pitching staff needs all the defensive help it can get.

Matt0611
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Matt0611
4 years 9 months ago

If a young pitcher puts a ball in play that should be an out, but ends up putting a base-runner on because of a sloppy defense, then that’ll lead to a hesitation to pitch in the zone, resulting in more walks, and a hit to said young pitchers confidence.

I never really thought of it like that before, but in hindsight, teams really should focus more on defense to help develop pitchers. You’re absolutely right, this young pitching staff could use all the defensive help it can get.

JCA
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JCA
4 years 9 months ago

The Nationals failure to add Antonelli to their roster this year was curious. Granted, Lombardozzi had some great stats the past few years and needed to be added to their roster this offseason, but Antonelli showed better plate discipline at AAA and AA this year while Lombardozzi became walk-averse, declining from a 10% walk rate to <7%. Given Lombardozzi's weak ISO, there may be a legitimate question whether any major league / high minors pitcher will feat him enough to pitch him carefully and allow him to draw walks. OTOH, Antonelli's versatility and pop might have made him at least a utility player if not a contender for starter. He would seem to have been worth MLB minimum for 2012, while Lombardozzi should not be conceded a roster spot next year. Antonelli displayed skills that would have made him an interesting top of the order hitter were Desmond or Espinosa moved this offseason. Lombardozzi may be the guy for that slot, but I would have thought the team would have conserved its options. Instead, it bid Antonelli good-bye after the AAA season, and with the apparent interest in him from other teams, there seems to be many GMs grateful for Rizzo's decision.

JCA
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JCA
4 years 9 months ago

“Given Lombardozzi’s weak ISO, there may be a legitimate question whether any major league / high minors pitcher will feat him enough to pitch him carefully and allow him to draw walks.”

While it may be a feat if Lombardozzi draws walks in the majors at a rate that would make him a leadoff hitter, I meant “will fear him enough.”

B N
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B N
4 years 9 months ago

You are Cecil! I’ve heard of your feat!

John C.
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John C.
4 years 9 months ago

Lombardozzi is 3 1/2 years younger, was the Rawlings minor leagues gold glove winner at 2b, stole 30/8 SB/CS in 2011 to Antonelli’s 6/6, and has produced consistently (his batting average has actually risen as he’s progressed, offsetting the slightly declining walk rate) over the past 3 1/2 years while Antonelli has put up one good year. I like Antonelli, but I understand why the Nationals went with Lombardozzi. And with Desmond, Espinosa, Lombardozzi and Rendon already on the 40 man roster (and Zach Walters, Jeff Kobernus and Blake Kelso also in the system), as well as three ML roster spots taken up by Harper, Purke and Rendon, the Nationals had no need to spend a ML roster spot to keep Antonelli.

JCA
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JCA
4 years 9 months ago

John – I don’t think you and I have much of a dispute. I agree Lombardozzi deserves a shot and, at this point, is more of a prospect. That said, his batting average improvement was driven by a large BABIP jump and his OBP dropped .020 from his prior seasons. Also, maybe I’m less of an optimist about Desmond than you and Mike Rizzo, and, while I hope Rendon is 2B depth, he is only depth there if Zimmerman is signed beyond 2013. All discussion to this point has said Rendon starts out at 3d before any position switch. Walters, Kobernus, and Kelso are not going to be serious candidates for the 2012 roster, Kobernus’s 4:1 K:BB in A+ ball leaves me skeptical, too. He seems to be Lombo, but less. I can see what the Nats did, and could see the call being based on an apparent surplus and a roster squeeze. I just think it is curious because it looks like they will need an MLB utility infielder next year, here was a guy who looked like he was at least that in AAA last year (his D also seemed good if not golden glove), could have been kept under team control at MLB minimum, and could have been a nice bridge to Rendon if option A (2 of Lombo / Espinosa / Desmond) does not work out.

Anonymous
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Anonymous
4 years 9 months ago

It might be sad to get excited over a minor signing like this, but I really like it. According to Dan Szymborski’s Major League Equivalency spreadsheet, his performance in AAA last year would have equated to a .256/.331/.383 line in the majors. If he is even close to average defensively, he is a Gold Glover compared to Chris Davis and Mark Reynolds. Certainly worth a gamble.

LRG
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LRG
4 years 9 months ago

I’m really familiar with Matt and let me tell u that this kid is a pure ATHLETE and could develop into a really solid major league player. I see him as kind of a Dustin Ackley-lite. Great move Orioles.

Kyle H
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Kyle H
4 years 9 months ago

the same ackley that is a brian roberts-lite? greattt.

DJH
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DJH
4 years 9 months ago

We were excited in San Diego a few years ago – he and Chase Headley were rising stars and untouchable. He was a Massachusetts high school player of the year in both football and hockey, so he is athletic for sure. Still hope he does well and finds a home in the big leagues, seemed like a good kid.

Pants
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Pants
4 years 9 months ago

Davis and Reynolds at the corners? I think this season showed that both are, at best, fringe first baseman defensively, and neither is able to handle third at a major league level.

I think you’d have to assume that without knowing about Roberts’ health, and with the questions at the corners, that bringing in a guy who could be a plus player at either position is a pretty good acquisition.

For now, Andino probably stays as the utility guy, Davis and Reynolds start at the corners, Hardy plays short and Antonelli plays second if Roberts isn’t able.

Obviously, the O’s would love to find a legit bat, preferably who could play third, and who’d push Reynolds to DH, but that doesn’t have to happen this year, since there’s basically no chance of competing in the east this fast.

Johnnycomelately9
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Johnnycomelately9
4 years 9 months ago

For what it’s worth: Keith Law predicted he’d be better than Pedrioa. This article fails to mention that Matt had an awesome year; then started blogging and making videos like crazy, hit below 200 and then got hurt and pulled. Hit under 200 in the minors again and got pulled and shutdown due to nagging injuries. That preseason he said he felt great. I’m glad he bounced back some with the Nats. We’ll see what he does in his first real major league shot.

Tim
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Tim
4 years 9 months ago

The Twins did this with Eric Hacker of all people last year. Using a 40-man spot on him wasn’t a bright idea, and I don’t think there was ever any intention to have him pitch in the majors. I’d much rather have Antonelli, and hopefully he has success with the O’s, but it’s far from guaranteed that he’ll even get playing time.

Kyle H
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Kyle H
4 years 8 months ago

the twins were also supposed to compete last year. The Orioles will most likely not this year

Luke
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Luke
4 years 9 months ago

I would imagine the Orioles only made it a Major League contract in order to sway Antonelli from other suitors. Not a terrible steep price to pay to outbid other teams.

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