Orioles look for leadoff hitter, DH; Núñez signs minor league contract with Tigers - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Orioles look for leadoff hitter, DH; Núñez signs minor league contract with Tigers

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

It’s a long way until Opening Day, and Orioles manager Brandon Hyde will take his time in constructing a lineup for the April 1st game at Boston’s Fenway Park.

One of the challenges will be finding a leadoff hitter.

Last year, Hyde used Hanser Alberto to lead off in 31 games, but he’s gone, having signed a minor league contract with Kansas City.

Hyde’s second most frequent hitter in the top spot might be his best option, Cedric Mullins, who hit .271 with a .311 on-base percentage in 17 games.

Austin Hays began the season as the leadoff hitter but didn’t fare well there. Hays hit just .171 with a .234 OBP in 10 games.

If you’re thinking Hyde might use one of his new middle infielders, shortstop Freddy Galvis or second baseman Yolmer Sánchez, that seems unlikely. Galvis rarely walks and has a .248 batting average with a .277 OBP in 54 starts in the leadoff spot. Galvis has hit second, sixth, seventh and eighth far more often than he hit first.

Sánchez has a .244 average in 48 games leading off. His on-base percentage is .310. He has hit second, eighth and ninth most often.

Last year, only Alberto, Hays, Mullins and Chance Sisco led off. Sisco, who hit just .214, had an on-base percentage of .364. Sisco was in the leadoff spot twice, once as a designated hitter, and on August 19th became one of the few catchers to lead off. He was hitless in four at-bats.

Under former manager Buck Showalter, the Orioles used a number unorthodox leadoff hitters, including Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Manny Machado. Early in the 2018 season, Showalter used Chris Davis as the leadoff batter, hoping he might find his batting stroke there, but the experiment was quickly abandoned.

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Designated hitter: Besides selecting a leadoff hitter, Hyde might want to choose a regular designated hitter, if that’s how he wants to employ the position.

Some managers like a regular DH. Others use the position as semi-rest day for players.

Last year, the Orioles used nine different players as the DH. Renato Núñez, who was the designated hitter more often than anyone, was released in November. Núñez signed a minor league contract with the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday.

Núñez started 21 games as the DH. Shortstop José Iglesias, who started 13, was traded to the Los Angeles Angels in December. Iglesias was used as the DH when his quadriceps injury made it difficult for him to play the field.

Pedro Severino (10 games) and Chance Sisco (8 games) were the only players who started more than three games as the DH. Hyde felt comfortable playing them together because he usually had a third catcher, Bryan Holaday, on the roster. With a 26-man roster instead of 28, it’s unlikely the Orioles will carry three catchers in 2021.

Trey Mancini, who’s returning from surgery for colon cancer, could DH when he’s not playing first base. Mancini has been a DH before. In 58 games there, Mancini has hit .290 with an .871 OPS and 15 home runs.

Ryan Mountcastle could aget some time there, too.

Minor league signings: Núñez’s signing with the Tigers ends a frustrating offseason for him.

Released on November 25th, Núñez, who hit 43 home runs in 2019 and 2020, found that there wasn’t much of a market for him. He’s not a good defender, and even though he’s got power, teams aren’t paying up for his type of player. He was one of 50 major leaguers to hit 31 or more home runs in 2019.

While the lack of a market wasn’t a surprise for Núñez, it surprised me that Alberto, had to settle for a minor league deal. The Orioles non-tendered Alberto the same night they traded Iglesias, and last year’s second baseman, who hit .398  against left-handed pitching in 2019, signed a $1.65 million contract with Kansas City with a possible $350,000 in performance bonuses.

Alberto’s ability to play second and third as well as his productivity against left-handers seemed to make him a possible fit with a contending club, but that never materialized.

The only player on last year’s Orioles roster to find a major league deal was right-handed pitcher Kohl Stewart, who signed a $700,000 contract with the Chicago Cubs. Stewart opted out early in the 2020 season without pitching for the Orioles.

Other 2020 Orioles who signed minor league deals include catcher Bryan Holaday (Arizona), outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. (Cincinnati) and right-hander Asher Wojciechowski (New York Yankees).

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. CalsPals

    February 11, 2021 at 7:42 am

    Couple things, CD, unfortunately still looking for his stroke, not surprising that many of last yrs O’s signed minor league contracts…go O’s…

  2. Orial

    February 11, 2021 at 8:19 am

    DH/1B–Mountcastle/Mancini(Mancini with more at DH early on). Leadoff–start with Hays until patience runs out.(Galvis waiting in the wings). Nunez–good luck. The consumate ho-hum player.

  3. JamesJerry2

    February 11, 2021 at 8:53 am

    Hey Rich, why haven’t the O’s announced their non roster camp invites yet and when do you expect them to?

    • Rich Dubroff

      February 11, 2021 at 10:02 am

      I’m assuming they haven’t announced them because they’re being limited to 75 players, and some will arrive at different times during spring training. Usually, they announce them in the last week of January, so I expect them at any time.

  4. willmiranda

    February 11, 2021 at 10:33 am

    Being undervalued seems to be the story of Alberto’s career. Let’s hope he gets the opportunity to once again prove his worth.

  5. Boog Robinson Robinson

    February 11, 2021 at 11:05 am

    Rich … thanks for pointing out that Nunez was one of 50 players to hit 31+ homers in 2019? I knew is was a lot…but FIFTY?!? Wow.

    I think that speaks volumes about what is terribly wrong with our game today. The game was so much all around better when that number was closer to 5.

    Remember how special is was when Foster went for 52? That meant something.

    • CalsPals

      February 11, 2021 at 12:08 pm

      Saw a small bit on ESPN about how they’re changing the baseball AGAIN this yr to cut down on the longball, not sure why they continue to play with it, it really skews #’s for contracts & potentially HOF stuff…go O’s…

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        February 11, 2021 at 5:39 pm

        I know I say this all the time, but I think calling balls and strikes as defined in the rule book would accomplish so much more than altering a ball.

        And frankly, I’ve never heard MLB admit to altering la pelota. Are they really admitting to it?

    • dlgruber1

      February 11, 2021 at 3:24 pm

      CP they can change the ball but the HRs are up so much because of the pitching and the hitters all free swinging no matter the count. I used to be stunned, but no longer am, at how often in a critical part of the game with tying run on 3rd and less than 2 outs the hitters are still swinging for the fences. It’s why Ks are up so much. Every AB it seems is all or nothing. That’s why I liked Alberto so much. He rarely K’d, tho he did a bit more often last season. As far as pitching, it’s just let’s see how hard you can throw the ball. Giving up HRs, as long as they’re with bases empty, is just no big deal anymore. At least that’s the way I see it.

    • Bancells Moustache

      February 11, 2021 at 3:26 pm

      Major League Baseball was more entertaining when the HR champion hit 38 a year

    • CalsPals

      February 11, 2021 at 7:15 pm

      Surprisingly (at least to me) the show said they’d change the ball 2-3 yrs ago, they almost made it sound like it was a pretty regular thing, PTI even talked about an interview they did one time with Ripken, bounce two baseballs while at his locker & they bounced quite differently…would be interesting to know why there has been so much change over the more recent yrs…go O’s…

  6. Boog Robinson Robinson

    February 11, 2021 at 5:46 pm

    BTW … Mullins is my choice for leadoff. I know most haven’t agreed with me over the past couple years, but this kid has the look. He is going to get better and better given an every day role. He’s a hell of an outfielder and can bunt like nobody I can recollect over the past 30 years. So…. Hayes in left … Mullins in CF with Santander playing right. This is the best thing going for the team. Mountcastle you ask? Sorry Trey … but that’s Ryan’s base.

    • CalsPals

      February 11, 2021 at 7:16 pm

      Would totally agree, Trey can DH…go O’s…

    • Phil770

      February 12, 2021 at 9:46 am

      RM is only on the field because he can hit. He is only adequate in the field. Put him at DH full time and Trey at his natural position of 1B.

  7. ClyOs

    February 11, 2021 at 6:36 pm

    Orioles haven’t had a true lead off hitter since Brady, but I agree Mullins looks like the best option with the 2021 Orioles. As for DH I personally have always like the ideal of rotating position player and carrying another pitch as opposed using a player dedicated only for the DH.

    • dlgruber1

      February 11, 2021 at 8:38 pm

      What are you talking about?! CD, if given enough time to adjust to the role, I’m sure would’ve been the ideal leadoff man. Buck just didn’t allow him enough time.

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