Four weeks from now, spring training is scheduled to begin for the Orioles. There’s been lots of attention on the Orioles’ search for a shortstop and additional starting pitchers, but there’s been little attention on third base.
At the end of last year, Rio Ruiz had just completed his second season at third, and there was speculation the team would seek an upgrade. Ruiz was the first major league player added to the Orioles’ roster after Mike Elias took over as executive vice president/general manager in November 2018. The Orioles claimed him on waivers from Atlanta early in the Winter Meetings.
He played 127 games in 2019 and had a .232 average and .682 OPS. Ruiz, who had a brief demotion to the minors, hit 12 home runs and drove in 46 runs.
After he returned from the minors, Ruiz had the most memorable hit of 2019. On August 11th, a day after the Orioles had suffered a 23-2 loss to the Houston Astros, Ruiz hit a two-run, ninth-inning home run that gave the Orioles an 8-7 win over Houston.
In the 60-game 2020 season, Ruiz played in 54 games, tying him with Hanser Alberto for the club lead. He hit .only 222 with a .713 OPS but his power numbers weren’t bad — nine home runs and 32 RBIs, tying him with Anthony Santander, who missed the final 23 games of the season.
FanGraphs gave Ruiz a neutral WAR (Wins Above Replacement), 0.0 while BaseballReference.com calculated his WAR as .7 with a .3 Defensive WAR.
There doesn’t seem to be a rush to replace Ruiz, who is entering his final year before he’s eligible for arbitration, but Elias is always on the hunt for competition. There are several players, both on the 40-man roster and off it, who can play third.
The most obvious is Rylan Bannon, who was added to the 40-man roster for the first time in November. Bannon, who also worked out at second base during October’s Instructional League at Sarasota, Florida, was one of the players the Orioles obtained from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Manny Machado in July 2018.
Bannon had decent power numbers in the minors, hitting a combined .266 with a .766 OPS at Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk in 2019. He had 11 home runs and 59 RBIs in 130 games.
The Orioles claimed Yolmer Sánchez on waivers from the Chicago White Sox. He’ll likely replace the departed Alberto at second base but in 2018, a year before he won the American League Gold Glove at second, he was Chicago’s regular third baseman.
Sanchez has a .245 lifetime average and .660 OPS but can play third, if that’s the direction the Orioles decide to go.
The Orioles still have Pat Valaika as a utility infielder, but he’s more comfortable at the other three infield positions. Ramón Urias, who was used in 10 late-season games at shortstop and second base, played occasionally at third in the minor leagues.
Tyler Nevin, whom the Orioles acquired from Colorado in the deal that sent reliever Mychal Givens to the Rockies last August, probably will begin 2021 as Norfolk’s first baseman. Nevin has started 101 minor league games at third, and the Orioles value versatility.
Stevie Wilkerson, who demonstrated versatility in 2019, will be returning as a non-roster player. Wilkerson played center field for the Orioles in 2019 when they lacked options, and he did play third occasionally in the minors.
The Orioles have chosen a number of infielders in the last two drafts. Most of them are listed at shortstop and are still inexperienced pros. Other than Bannon, there doesn’t appear to be minor league competition for Ruiz at the moment.
5 players in the Top 100: Many fans were delighted that the Orioles have five prospects in Baseball America’s newest rankings of the Top 100.
A reader wondered whether the Orioles had as many as five prospects ranked in the publication’s Top 100 before.
According to Baseball America, the Orioles also had five Top 100 prospects in 2008 — catcher Matt Wieters (12th), right-handers Chris Tillman (67) and Radhames Liz (69), left-hander Troy Patton (78) and outfielder Nolan Reimold (91).
If you missed the rankings on Monday, catcher Adley Rutschman was second overall. Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez (22nd), left-hander DL Hall (59th), outfielder Heston Kjerstad (62nd) and first baseman/outfielder Ryan Mountcastle (63rd) also made the list.