2015 Orioles preview: Steve Pearce

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With Opening Day just over two weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2015 Orioles every day as they try to defend their American League East title this season.

March 9 – Adam Jones
March 10 – Chris Tillman
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Zach Britton
March 13 – Chris Davis
March 14 – Wei-Yin Chen
March 15 – Jonathan Schoop
March 16 – Travis Snider
March 17 – Kevin Gausman
March 18 – Alejandro De Aza
March 19 – Tommy Hunter
March 20 – Manny Machado
March 21 – Brad Brach

OF/1B Steve Pearce

Opening Day age: 31

Contract status: Will become a free agent after the 2015 season

Minor-league options remaining: None

2014 stats: .293/.373/.556, 21 HR, 49 RBI, 51 R, 5 SB, 383 PA

Why to be impressed: Easily the most surprising story of the 2014 season, Pearce emerged as one of the Orioles’ best offensive players with a club-best .930 on-base plus slugging percentage and had the second-best walk rate (10.4 percent of plate appearances) behind Chris Davis. His .322 batting average on balls in play suggests Pearce experienced good fortune in 2014, but it wasn’t enough to make you think he can’t remain a productive regular in the lineup.

Why to be concerned: Pearce will be 32 in April and is coming off his first major league season in which he received more than 200 plate appearances as clubs will now have a bigger book on how to pitch to him. Though he’s always thrived against left-handed pitching in his career, his .856 OPS against right-handers in 2014 was dramatically higher than his career .700 OPS against righties, which leads you to believe there will be a substantial market correction.

2015 outlook: It’s easy to be skeptical of Pearce’s 2014 numbers after he languished for years as a fringe bench player bouncing back and forth between the majors and Triple A, but his approach at the plate makes him a decent bet to remain productive even if his numbers against right-handers return to his career norm. Manager Buck Showalter loves his work ethic and the Orioles are counting on Pearce to continue to contribute with Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz no longer in the mix. A .930 OPS in 2015 would be asking too much, but I’ll gamble on the feel-good story of 2014 posting an OPS above .800 and reaching the 20-homer mark once again in an everyday role. At the very least, his ability to draw walks will be a nice asset for a lineup that has few patient hitters.