Jack Cust, the power-hitting prospect obtained in the Chris Richard trade last spring, has yet to break through in the major leagues, and he is out of minor-league options. An article by Joe Christensen in today's Baltimore Sun gives a positive assessment of Cust's chances of making the Orioles' roster:
Though Cust's numbers are down this spring and he is viewed as a one-dimensional player -- all bat, no glove, and ... please ... no base-running -- team officials privately say he's a lock to make the roster.
Baserunning gaffes notwithstanding, the knock on Cust has always been more or less twofold: (1) lousy defensive skills and (2) high strikeout totals. His defense is a genuine concern, but it is less so if he can be made a full-time DH. The strikeouts don't bother me so much because of his extremely high walk rates. When a player walks as much as he does, it indicates that he takes a lot of pitches and goes deep into counts. If Cust wants to make an effort to reduce his strikeouts, he could alter his approach with two strikes (e.g., shortening his stroke, being less selective). But even if he doesn't cut down on the strikeouts, he seems to be able to contribute enough when he's not whiffing—through decent batting averages, walks, and extra-base power—to be a net positive as a hitter.
However, if Cust were striking out a lot and not walking much, that would be more troubling. It would suggest that he was prone to hacking indiscriminately at all kinds of pitches, and major-league pitchers would be able to exploit that tendency by throwing him more balls out of the strike zone.
If a roster decision comes down to keeping either Cust or B.J. Surhoff, I would keep Cust in a heartbeat. Surhoff has more defensive value, but his range has diminished over the years, and in any case Cust can out-hit him enough to more than compensate for his own defensive shortcomings. Moreover, Cust has a fairly good chance to stick beyond this year, and the same cannot be said for Surhoff. If the Orioles' plan called for them to win now, Surhoff might be less of a gamble than Cust. But they are clearly building a team for the long haul, and for that reason I think it is wise that they apparently want to keep Cust around to see if he can become a full-time player.
Anyway, Cust almost certainly will make the Opening Day roster because of the injuries to Jerry Hairston, Mark McLemore, and Omar Daal. When those players come back—and it's not guaranteed that all of them will, as Hairston could be traded, McLemore may not make the team anyway, and Daal could be released—the Orioles may make a decision on Cust then. But if Cust can show even a hint of his eye-popping minor-league production, he could make an easy case to stay with the team for the long term.