The decision the Orioles face with Ryan Flaherty was already one of the most difficult ones of the of the spring before major league camp began, and as the team's days in Sarasota are whittled away, the 26-year-old utilityman has done nothing to make the organization's choice any easier.

Last season, as the Orioles' Rule 5 draft pick, the choice was more definitive. If the Orioles didn't keep Flaherty on the roster for the entire season, they'd very likely lose him.

This year, Flaherty can be optioned to the minor leagues. Given the experience he gained in 2012, the Orioles must decide whether it's best for Flaherty to remain with the big league club as a multidimensional bench player or to go to Triple-A Norfolk to get regular at-bats in preparation to be an everyday player with the Orioles eventually.

“It's not always revealed to you right out of the chute,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “With some conventional thinking about him going down and playing every day, I'm not sure how much of that he needs. That's the debate right now. We're always going to err on the side of [deciding] if he can help us win baseball games in the major leagues, and if so he will come up with us.”

The Orioles believed they got a steal when they plucked Flaherty from the Cubs with the fourth pick of the Rule 5 draft two Decembers ago. A former first-round supplemental pick out of Vanderbilt with a strong pedigree — Flaherty's father, Ed, is the longtime coach of Division III baseball power Southern Maine — his bat projected well to the major leagues. It was just a matter of where he would play in the field — Flaherty came up as a shortstop, but also spent considerable time at second and third in the Cubs' system — and whether he could be an everyday big league player.

And after one season, the Orioles believe the left-handed hitting Flaherty can be that. He didn't play much early on but progressed as the season went along and also benefited from a nine-game rehab stint in Triple-A Norfolk after a bacterial infection in August. Flaherty improved his OPS from .519 in the first half of the season to .773 in the second half.