Orioles face middle infield decisions; New start times a hit; Eller's role might change - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Orioles face middle infield decisions; New start times a hit; Eller’s role might change

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

Nowhere in the Orioles’ lineup is more uncertain than the middle infield. Last season, manager Brandon Hyde used either Richie Martin or Jonathan Villar at shortstop in every game while either Villar or Hanser Alberto played second.

Villar played in all 162 games, and with a week to go before the December 2 deadline for 2020 contract offers, his future continues to be uncertain.

The Orioles could offer him a contract and risk taking him to arbitration. MLBTradeRumors estimates that Villar could receive $10.4 million in his final season before he can file for free agency.

Villar had his best season as a major leaguer in 2019, hitting .274 with 24 home runs and 40 steals. However, the Orioles might not want to spend that much this year. They could offer him a contract next week and then try to trade him before arbitration season, or they could hold on to him and try to deal him next summer.

They also could elect to not offer him a contract, making him a free agent.

If Villar isn’t back, that doesn’t necessarily mean Martin, who was a Rule 5 draft choice last December, will inherit the job at shortstop.

The Orioles had to keep Martin all season or offer him to the Oakland Athletics, from whom he was drafted.

He hit .208 with a .260 on-base percentage and slugged .322 for a weak .581 OPS.

In the field, he committed 10 errors in 117 games at shortstop, although he made a number of exceptional plays. Villar made 12 errors in 97 games at shortstop.

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Executive Vice President/General Manager Mike Elias has said that finding middle infielders would be a priority this offseason.

Martin played the 2018 season for Midland, Oakland’s Double-A affiliate, and he hit .300 and had a healthy .807 OPS, but since he struggled offensively for the Orioles, some time at Triple-A might help.

Interestingly, Martin played his best in September, a time when rookies are supposed to be hitting the wall. He hit .379 and in 17 games.

Martin hit .284 in the second half after hitting just .166 in the first half.

Martin also showed his athleticism on the basepaths, stealing 10 bases while getting thrown out just once.

Martin didn’t show much power, driving in only 23 runs.

Although the Orioles drafted a number of middle infielders last June, most notably 18-year-old shortstop Gunnar Henderson, there aren’t any infielders who played for Triple-A Norfolk or Double-A Bowie on the 40-man roster.

The best infielder prospects, Cadyn Grenier and Adam Hall, appear to be multiple levels away from playing for the Orioles.

Grenier, a teammate of Adley Rutschman at Oregon, was the 37th overall pick in the 2018 draft, and he hit just .208 at High-A Frederick after he returned to Low-A Delmarva for the beginning of 2019.

Hall, who played with Grenier for the first half of last season with the Shorebirds, hit .298 and had a .780 OPS for Delmarva.

He’s expected to start 2020 with Frederick, and it’s possible Grenier stays back there, too.

Some fans were intrigued by Mason McCoy, who began 2019 with the Keys, and after hitting .379 in 27 games, was promoted to Bowie.

McCoy had a hot start for the Baysox, but hit just .214 after July 1, and had only one home run.

He has defensive limitations, and isn’t considered among the Orioles’ top prospects.

If Villar isn’t back, and Martin begins next season with Norfolk, the Orioles’ starting Opening Day shortstop will come from elsewhere.

New starting times meet with approval: As disappointed as many fans were over the cancellation of FanFest, it seems that another decision the Orioles recently made has been popular with fans.

The announcement that the Orioles will begin weekday night games before Memorial Day and after Labor Day at 6:35 p.m. might not increase attendance greatly, but it shows the club is listening to its fans.

With the average time of game at three hours, five minutes, the earlier starts mean that most games will end before 10 p.m., and encourage families to attend occasional weeknight games while school is in session.

It also will help workers in downtown Baltimore who may want to attend games will friends and colleagues and want to get home at a reasonable hour.

The Orioles are adding some weekday afternoon games, too. Excluding Opening Day, there will be five day games, but none after July 22.

There also will be more 4:05 p.m. starts on Saturdays, nine in all. Just four Saturday games will begin at 7:05 p.m.

Eller as minor league hitting coordinator? The Orioles haven’t named a successor to Jeff Manto, who was fired as the team’s minor league hitting coordinator.

Perhaps Tom Eller, who coached Delmarva in the season’s first two months and then moved on to Short Season Aberdeen, could get the job.

Eller, the longtime coach at Harford Community College, tweeted the following on Friday: “The last three days have been incredible working with our new minor league hitting coaches. I can’t wait to get this thing rolling!”

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Camden Brooks

    November 25, 2019 at 7:45 am

    I would think Martin begins in Norfolk. If we don’t keep Villar, I’d expect us to sign somebody on the cheap to play SS. Although I’d be surprised if that person would be much better than Martin, who I believe would show decent improvement over last year’s numbers.

  2. Fareastern89

    November 25, 2019 at 7:59 am

    Thanks for the updates, Rich. I’m looking forward to those weekday afternoon games.

  3. Orial

    November 25, 2019 at 8:29 am

    Rich I don’t know if that annoying shift is used in the minors as much as the majors but it seemed to be a detriment in Martin’s developement. Always putting him in awkward defensive positions. Appeared he struggled with that aspect. That being said his spot next year will depend on the Rule 5,FA pickup,and of course Villar. I would guess AAA for various reasons(offense). Early starts seems ok now that the O’s have lost a lot of the Northern VA fan base(hard to get to Balt on time from there)

  4. Boog Robinson Robinson

    November 25, 2019 at 8:41 am

    I’m all for keeping Martin with the big club. If this is just another lost year in the tank….errr…..rebuilding process, why not give him every opportunity now? He’s already 24, and I really don’t believe sending him to Norfolk is going to teach him anything he hasn’t already learned at the big league level. Give him another 500 at bats to acclimate to big league pitching, and let’s see where he stands at the end of the year.

    There’s definitely some talent there.

    • Camden Brooks

      November 25, 2019 at 2:00 pm

      I can’t disagree with anything you said BRR.

  5. willmiranda

    November 25, 2019 at 9:57 am

    Martin’s second-half batting stats are not dispositive. He didn’t hit the late-season rookie wall because he wasn’t a full-time player. And in the second half he was benched against right-handers. His fielding, balanced with extra good and extra bad plays, is average. His only real success was one year at AA. Given the New O’s penchant for extra seasoning, Bowie seems the right place, unless he’d be blocking a prospect. Since he’s already 24, maybe we could use him as a trade chip for the rebuilding process. He might bring as a 10-year-old Venezuelan or two.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      November 25, 2019 at 10:50 am

      Careful Will … People go to jail for trading for 10 Venezuelan boys.

  6. TxBirdFan

    November 25, 2019 at 10:48 am

    Villar’s situation highlights MLB salary structure being out of whack. I agree the O’s shouldn’t pay him $10M, but he had a decent year last year, the O’s could use him again in 2020, and he needs a job. Just not for $10M. Fans don’t come to see him play but you have to sell a lot of seats to offset $10M. It seems MLB is going the way of the NFL – pay your superstars a LOT but starve or get rid of anyone with a few good years of experience. That’s unfortunate – it’s not good for the game, or for players like Villar.

  7. Hallbe62

    November 25, 2019 at 11:54 am

    Add PITCHING to that “Middle Infielder” priority list.

    Unless you want to go another 162 gms trying to get Major League hitters out with minor league pitching

  8. Tony Paparella

    November 25, 2019 at 12:56 pm

    This could be a hard decision for the Birds and I am thinking that they may go with how he performs in spring training.His second half numbers look good until you read what Miranda posted and that is a more in depth observation.Unless they can pick up up a decent retred he may have to be given a chance,at least come opening day.I really don’t see Villar staying but also don’t see anyone offering him 10 mil a year and even half of that may not be to the Orioles liking.Also don’t see them offering him a multi year contract (which most guys want) so a decision may be made soon.

  9. BirdsCaps

    November 25, 2019 at 2:59 pm

    The 7:05 starts were much more preferable if you have any sort of commute. Imagine getting out of work at 5:30, having a 45-1hr commute to pick up the kids and then getting to the ballpark (if you live in the suburbs this is another hour). So, this benefits Baltimore residents who work in Baltimore, but leaves those with longer commutes or those that have to feed/pick up kids out to dry. Plus, did anyone complain about the length of baseball games 10-15 yrs ago? I’m tired of it and always thought that the slow pace was one of the charming things about baseball. Also, why are the orioles courting young families so heavily. I know that the MLB is afraid of losing young fans, but it is sickening. I’ve seen minor league teams do this and have it backfire hard. Why not some adult or die hard fan themed promotions (dollar beer for example)?

    • ClayDal

      November 25, 2019 at 3:38 pm

      The Orioles have had trouble drawing people on school weeknights for many years now ( even when they were winning). They hope to increase attendance for those early season games ( as well as September). They hope to attract more young people along with those who have to work early. Hopefully it helps. Better way to increase attendance is to win more games. That’s harder to do than changing the start time

    • Rich Dubroff

      November 25, 2019 at 3:53 pm

      BirdsCaps, Friday night games will continue to start at 7:05, so if the 6:35 p.m. starts are inconvenient, those should work, and weeknight games still start at 7:05 for the bulk of the season.

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