If you're looking for someone to critique the Orioles' winter additions at third base and shortstop, Cal Ripken seems like the logical person for the assignment. He's played both positions and his opinion always counts.
Ripken has added next month's coaching clinic at the University of Maryland to his busy schedule (more on that later), but he took time earlier this morning to talk to MASN and The Sun in a conference call.
Ripken gave high marks to the trade that brought third baseman Mark Reynolds to Baltimore.
"Mark Reynolds is a fabulous player," Ripken said. "Everyone is quick to criticize the strikeouts, but I never saw it as a problem. A strikeout is an out. It is who Mark Reynolds is. You wouldn't want him to cut down on his swing so he's not as dangerous with two strikes. He's a very productive home run and RBI guy, and he's a fabulous third baseman. He makes a lot of great plays. I like him as a third baseman. And I think the .198 last season was just getting into a hole and not being able to get out of it. I think he'll return to where he normally hits, average-wise. Even last year, he was still very productive with the home runs and RBIs. He's what the Orioles need. I like that move a lot."
Moving over the shortstop, which comes naturally to Ripken, he said: "I've always liked J.J. Hardy. A few years ago in the playoffs, watching him in Milwaukee, he brings home runs and RBIs to the table. And when I watch shortstops, I watch all the things that happen once the ball is hit, and J.J. is always in the right spot. He's always in the right place for the cutoff and relay. He does the little things that I notice. That's the first thing you need - a take charge, active guy in the middle of the field. It looks like he has good leadership qualities and makes good decisions. And the hit-and-run and stealing bases, he's pretty good at that, too. Those are the little things I notice. I think he's a talented player. I like the overall package."
Ripken advises fans not to dwell on the Red Sox's acquisitions this winter. Don't spend too much time fretting over Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Easier said than done, of course.
"You never can measure your success by what everyone else is doing," he said. "Certainly, when the Red Sox strengthen themselves, it's easy to get discouraged, but you've still got to go out and play and you've got to measure your own success by how you get your team ready. The Orioles should take a lot of optimism from how they did the last month and a half of the season. They play in the toughest division and played teams down the stretch that were vying for playoff spots, and they played really, really well against the AL East. To me, you sit back and look at that - that's big, that's important. I think Oriole fans should be optimistic, with a full spring training with Buck (Showalter) and getting the team even further along. I'd never worry what other people do. Worry about what you do and how you can be successful."
Ripken said he hasn't spoken to Showalter about working with the team in spring training or during the season, and he hasn't drawn closer to taking a job in the front office despite all the speculation over the summer after he was spotted again having dinner with owner Peter Angelos.
"My status is kind of the way it's been," he said. "Maybe because my first priority is being free and available to be Larry Sheets' assistant coach at Gilman, and also to run around and be able to watch Ryan play baseball."
Ryan Ripken is a junior at Gilman and has received lots of attention from colleges, for both baseball and basketball. Once he goes off to school, his dad can more closely examine all the career options and more strongly pursue an active role with the Orioles.
For now, the Hall of Famer says he's comfortable just letting things "unfold."
I brought up Jayson Werth's name, since Ripken and the former first-round pick were in the organization at the same time. Werth hit the jackpot with the Nationals, agreeing to a seven-year, $126 million contract during the winter meetings.
"I was always impressed with his physical talent," Ripken said. "He was a catcher back then and I remember him. He was tall. And if I remember right, I played against his dad in winter ball, so there was a connection there that maybe I should seek him out more. He was always impressive with his overall physical talent. He had an athletic frame and he's gone on and found it. He has tremendous power to all fields. He's a great outfielder. I think the intangibles he brings will be missed by the Phillies. He's just a good all-around player. I never thought about contracts and those sorts of things, but I'm really happy that he's developed into the player that he had the potential to develop into."
Ripken Baseball will host the coaching clinic for youth baseball coaches in the Baltimore area on Jan. 15 at the University of Maryland's Hoff Theatre. According to the press release, the clinic "will allow coaches to learn the fundamentals of coaching youth baseball, as well as the Ripken philosophy of teaching the game of baseball to youth in a supportive and positive manner."
The clinic, which is the first of four to be held around the country, will be led by Ripken, his brother Billy and former Orioles pitcher John Habyan. It'll host hundreds of local youth baseball coaches from across the region and will instruct them on the fundamentals of pitching, hitting and defense. They'll receive interactive demonstrations of drills that can be used with their own youth teams.
"We first started doing it because we felt we could reach more kids by helping the coaches," Ripken said. "It turned out to be a nice, interaction that's grown in size. And it's turned into a pretty inside event. It's a great informational exchange. We want to give them some tools to work with. It's also become a good marketing tool with us for kids coming to our camps and tournaments in Aberdeen and Myrtle Beach. We go into certain areas that don't know about Aberdeen and Myrtle Beach and we're able to open that world up. We've had a good time doing them.
"The good part about it is Billy really does come into his own. His humor comes out loud and clear. We make it a very interactive stage setting, an open forum where questions can be asked. It turned out to be a pretty good way to deliver baseball and also do it in a fun way."
The cost per coach is $99, or $75 per coach with a group of five or more. For more information, visit www.RipkenBaseball.com.