While the Orioles season came to its merciful conclusion, one player performed well with almost no one noticing.
Renato Nunez, who the Orioles recalled from Triple-A Norfolk to replace Manny Machado on the roster after the All-Star break trade, had statistics that bear closer scrutiny.
Nunez was acquired off waivers from the Texas Rangers on May 13, and went to the Tides.
When Machado was traded, many assumed that utility infielder Breyvic Valera, who was part of the package the Orioles received from the Los Angeles Dodgers, would take the superstar’s place.
Instead, it was Nunez, who had 30 games of major league experience with Texas and Oakland over the past three seasons.
The 24-year-old hit just .174 in seven July games, but hit .268 with a .360 on-base percentage in August, and batted .313 with five home runs and 11 RBIs in September.
In 60 games with the Orioles, Nunez batted .275 with seven home runs and 20 RBIs and a .336 OBP.
His Wins Above Replacement with the Orioles was 1.3, better than Adam Jones’ .2 and Trey Mancini’s -.1.
Nunez’s defense at third base looked shaky at first, but he worked hard with infield coach Bobby Dickerson, and his Defensive WAR was actually .1 even though he committed seven errors.
Some of his numbers were quirky. He hit just .235 at Oriole Park and none of his seven homers came there. But his on-base percentage was .350 at home, higher than it was on the road.
Nunez started 56 games at third, more than any other player, and while two others who started there, Jace Peterson and Steve Wilkerson are back, Nunez will have the advantage.
Peterson is back on a minor league contract, and might have to battle Wilkerson, another utility player, for a spot.
The Orioles don’t have a qualified third baseman in the minor leagues close to being ready.
Drew Dosch, the third baseman at Norfolk the past two seasons, hit decently but was subpar defensively. With a record 56 players used by the talent-hungry team, Dosch was never a consideration.
Ryan Mountcastle, the 36th overall pick in the 2015 draft, who was initially tried at shortstop, was converted to third base in 2017, and failed to impress.
Mountcastle made 16 errors in 81 games at Double-A Bowie and had a .912 fielding percentage. His bat could be a major league one. Mountcastle hit .297 with 13 home runs and 59 RBIs at Bowie.
Former Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette was convinced Mountcastle could play third base in the major leagues. He was apparently the only one in the organization who felt that way.
With Mike Elias now in charge, he’ll have the call on where to play Mountcastle. He may be tried in left field or at first base. While few young players come to the major leagues as a designated hitter, Mountcastle could do that.
The 21-year-old wasn’t called up to the Orioles in September because they didn’t want to start his service clock prematurely. Mountcastle doesn’t have to be placed on the 40-man roster until next fall.
In January 2014, the Orioles thought they had signed a future star in 16-year-old Jomar Reyes.
Reyes has failed to impress and has spent the last three seasons at High-A Frederick.
In 2018, Reyes made 26 errors at third in 101 games for an abysmal fielding percentage of .889. Despite the Orioles’ high hopes for Reyes, his bat hasn’t made up for his fielding. Last season, Reyes hit .262 with eight home runs and 48 RBIs.
Unless the Orioles sign or trade for another third baseman, and it looks as if Nunez will be the Opening Day starter next season.
Alvarez leaves organization
Pedro Alvarez, who started five games at third base in 2018, signed a minor league contract with the Miami Marlins this week.
Alvarez signed one-year contracts with the Orioles during each of the last three spring trainings.
He was the second overall pick in the 2008 major league draft and led the National League with 36 home runs in 2013 for Pittsburgh. The Pirates didn’t tender him a contract after the 2015 season, and he was a valuable addition to the 2016 Orioles.
Alvarez hit 22 home runs in 2016, tried to learn the outfield at Norfolk in 2017, and after that didn’t work out, he returned to the Orioles again in 2018.
After hitting .180 in 45 games, the Orioles outrighted him to the Tides, where he finished the season.