SARASOTA, Fla.—The Orioles might begin the 2019 season with a familiar theme, but with a different twist. On the 25-man roster, the Orioles might have three Rule 5 draft choices.
One is Pedro Araujo, the right-handed reliever who needs to spend the first 17 days with the Orioles to erase his Rule 5 status. The other two are infielders who could make an impact.
In six of the past seven seasons, the Orioles have started the season with at least one Rule 5 draft choice. Last season, they began with three — Araujo, right-handed pitcher Nestor Cortes and outfielder Anthony Santander.
This year, they have shortstop Richie Martin, the first overall choice in last December’s Rule 5 draft, and utility man Drew Jackson, who was chosen by the Philadelphia Phillies and traded to the Orioles for international signing bonus money.
The 24-year-old Martin, who was Oakland’s first choice in the 2015 draft, was taken from the Athletics after hitting .300 for Double-A Midland last season.
Jackson, who is 25, was Seattle’s fifth-round pick in 2015 and was taken after he hit .251 with 15 home runs and 46 RBIs for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Double-A Tulsa team in 2018.
Martin looks to be the leader in the starting shortstop competition, surprising not only with his solid and, sometimes, spectacular defense but with his offense. Through Friday, Martin was hitting .391 with four RBIs.
“I didn’t get very many at-bats the past two big league spring trainings I was in,” Martin said. “At the end of the day, it’s the same game. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at. These guys are a little more polished. You’re playing the same exact game, just different level pitchers.”
Martin has been praised by manager Brandon Hyde for making the routine plays. Martin said he takes “a lot of pride” in his defense.
“I made it a focus a couple of years back,” Martin said. “I want to be a staple on defense, be solid on defense and take pride in making the routine play. That just comes with repetition, in the offseason, before games. My opinion on defense is [the] only way you get better is just doing it over and over and over. It’s not just going to pop up and you’re going to be a good defender. You have to work at it, you have to take those fungos and take balls live off the bat and get different reads, different positions, and that’s the only way you’re going to get better.”
Jackson is hitting .393 in 15 games and has played second base, shortstop and center field.
“Both our Rule 5 guys are exciting players, athletic.,” Hyde said. “They do a lot of different things.”
Jackson seems to have pulled ahead of major league veteran Alcides Escobar, who is also a contender for the starting shortstop job, for a utility spot.
“This is what I wanted, as much opportunity as I can get,” Jackson said. “That’s what they’ve given me. I’ve played in pretty much every game. You can’t ask for much more, going out and playing.”
Jackson thought he could play even more positions than he already has.
“I went into camp thinking I was going to play as many positions as I can,” Jackson said. “I think I even had more under my belt. I can play the corner outfield spots, third base. I think they know that I’m versatile, wherever I can play, wherever they put me, I think I can play. I know I can play.”
Jackson isn’t counting on being on the Orioles’ Opening Day roster.
“Obviously, that’s a goal, but I told myself, just come in and do work every single day, and just leave it out there,” Jackson said. “No matter what happens, I look back, knowing I do my best, that’s all I can do.”
With 16 days remaining in spring training, Hyde is impressed.
“We’re going to keep moving him around the field,” Hyde said. “I love his versatility, plays the game really hard, which I love. He really enjoys it. He’s got a great attitude, wants to learn. Both those guys are really coachable. They want to get better, and they work on it every day. Those guys have both been a pleasure.”