Orioles have infield prospects but they're likely to start 2022 with a familiar cast - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Orioles have infield prospects but they’re likely to start 2022 with a familiar cast

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

In the Orioles’ final game of the 2021 season, Pat Valaika was the starting second baseman, Richie Martin the shortstop and Kelvin Gutiérrez was at third. Since Mike Elias took over as the team’s executive vice president/general manager in November 2018, the team has settled for a patchwork infield.

That’s expected to change, but not at the beginning of the 2022 season.

Elias has drafted a number of infielders during the past three years, and many of those are at the Instructional League camp that began at the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota, Florida on Monday.

Two of them, Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg, might be ready to join the club toward the end of next season as the Orioles try to build from the ground up. In the meantime, they appear to have short-term options.

Besides Gutiérrez, Martin and Valaika, the Orioles ended 2021 with Jorge Mateo and Ramón Urias on the injured list. They also had Jahmai Jones and Tyler Nevin on the active roster. Jones is a second baseman. Nevin can play third and first and the corner outfield positions.

They also have Rylan Bannon, who was added to the 40-man roster a year ago but had a disappointing season at Triple-A Norfolk and never merited a call to the Orioles. Bannon can play third and second.

The surest bet to return is Urías, who seemed to be on the 40-man bubble last offseason but survived and ended up hitting .279 with seven home runs and 38 RBIs in 85 games. Urías had a .774 OPS and a 2.0 WAR (Wins Above Replacement).

During the last month of the season, Urías had an upper leg injury that ended his year prematurely. Urías started 40 games at shortstop, 29 at second and 10 at third.

Little was known about Mateo when he was acquired on waivers from San Diego on August 5th. He started 15 times at shortstop and 12 times at second. He also started in left and right field.

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Mateo’s speed is what stands out. In his first game, on August 6th, he had a triple against Tampa Bay and stole five bases in eight attempts before a back injury ended his season.

Late in the season, Gutiérrez began to hit well. After September 1st, he had a .290 average and a .766 OPS in 31 games, impressing manager Brandon Hyde with his glove at third. He was an upgrade from Maikel Franco, who was released in late August.

The most unlikely to return is Valaika, who’s again eligible for arbitration. But after hitting .201 in 90 games, an encore is doubtful. He could be designated for assignment when Mateo and four others on the 60-day injured list need to be returned to the 40-man roster.

Jones, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for starter Alex Cobb, hit only .149 with three RBIs in 26 games. Hyde often sent in a defensive replacement when the Orioles were ahead late in games, never a sign of confidence in a middle infielder. Jones is still raw at second, and it’s possible the Orioles will give him another shot.

Martin was selected in the Rule 5 draft in December 2018 and stayed with the team throughout 2019. The plan was for Martin, who had never played Triple-A, to go to Norfolk to start, but the minor league seasons was canceled because of Covid-19. Martin broke his right wrist in summer camp in 2020, costing him the 60-game season, and then broke his left hamate bone shortly before spring training began this past season.

Martin began 2021 at Norfolk but broke his left wrist chasing a fly ball in center field, costing him more than two months. He hit .235 with a home run and eight RBIs in 37 games for the Orioles. His most memorable moment came on September 16th when his 10th-inning bunt single led to an Orioles win over the Yankees.

The Orioles will be looking at free agents for the infield. In January, they signed Freddy Galvis to play shortstop, and he played well until he hurt his right quadriceps muscle in late June. He was traded on July 30th to Philadelphia, allowing Urías to continue to play regularly.

They signed Franco late in spring training to play third, and claimed second baseman Yolmer Sánchez, a one-time Gold Glove winner, on waivers from the Chicago White Sox last October. Neither move worked out. Sánchez was cut late in spring training.

Since Elias came to the Orioles, the team hasn’t had major league-ready infielders in the minors. That should end soon, but first they’ll have to find more placeholders.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

 

 

 

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. HmmmImNotSoSureAboutThat

    October 20, 2021 at 7:42 am

    The best subject for a photo IMO but unfortunately it kind of looks like Ramon has struck out to end an inning. I now feel compelled to remind the BB community that Ramon led the O’s in BA with RISP with a robust 0.348.

  2. HmmmImNotSoSureAboutThat

    October 20, 2021 at 7:56 am

    Another great read Rich, thanks! What would complement this article is an organizational depth chart with leading candidate to start for the O’s at each non-pitching position with maybe 3-5 ranked contenders. Though depth charts can get a bit messy or confusing because players are options at more than one position. Expanded BB analysis with graphics! Imagine the possibilities!

    Are Vavra and Dorrian not top tier prospects? What are the probabilities either is protected against Rule 5 selection?

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 20, 2021 at 8:24 am

      Thank you, Joe. I will pass on your suggestions of more graphics to our publisher.

      I think Terrin Vavra will be protected. As you might say, I’m not so sure about Patrick Dorrian. I’ll look at the contenders for protection soon, once the players on the 60-day IL are returned to the 40-man and we have a better idea of how many openings there might be.

  3. Northern Oriole

    October 20, 2021 at 8:16 am

    Richie Martin hasn’t hit in the majors (50 wRC+ in 157 games). His fielding was supposed to be a strength, but hasn’t looked very good to me. I think it would be surprising to see him contribute in the future. Guetierrez is an interesting player.

  4. Orial

    October 20, 2021 at 8:25 am

    Any IF grouping that does not include Valaika,Martin,Jones(minors) works for me. I like the idea of Mateo in there but that label of “role/platoon player” puts a little asterik by his name. Offensively that group is gonna have to be carried by other lineup spots. That 6-9 hitting drop off in the lineup was problematic. Will adding a mediocre FA actually be an upgrade over the Guttierrez,Mateo,Urias? Tough call. Don’t wanna keep bringing in FA’s without at least seeing what Guttierrez/Mateo can do. But yes thank God Westburg,Henderson,Norby are on the horizon. One name(if they do choose to go that way)–Andrelton Simmons.

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 20, 2021 at 8:41 am

      Al, Simmons had a rough year for the Twins, and his market value could put him in the Orioles’ price range, but don’t rule out a return of Freddy Galvis.

      • willmiranda

        October 20, 2021 at 1:40 pm

        I’m sure Freddy would appreciate that $250,000 bonus next July.

  5. Boog Robinson Robinson

    October 20, 2021 at 8:43 am

    It would be nice if we could find one Mychal Givens out of all this group.

  6. Orioles20

    October 20, 2021 at 9:31 am

    Urias was good for us this year. He earned a spot somewhere in the infield. Idk if what Mateo did is sustainable for a full season. Third base is a hole. I think they should focus on infield defense particularly with the young pitching. I don’t think Martin is anything. He can’t hit and doesn’t seem like he’s a good defender as he was said to be.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      October 20, 2021 at 1:22 pm

      I’m looking at Urias as 2021’s version of 2020 Valaika, although admittedly, V’s 2020 season was a short one. Both hit what is probably over their heads and neither of them were exactly stellar defensively.

      I stil wear the Urias egg on my face, but I’m sticking to my guns and hope that’s he’s at least and at best, our utility guy and not a starter for us in 2022.

    • dlgruber1

      October 20, 2021 at 4:07 pm

      BRR, I felt the same way as you did about Urias but I gotta say, he won me over last season. When he got sent down I figured that was gonna be the last we’d ever see of him but to his credit, whatever he did at Norfolk he came back a better player. I wish more guys could do whatever he did. Maybe it was as simple as just realizing his dream was slipping away if he didn’t improve but I’m now at a point where I’d have no problem with him being the starter at SS or 2B. And I was a Richie Martin guy. I thought the way he ended 2019 that he was the SS of the future but Urias passed by him. The O’s have a lot of areas that need improvement but as far as I’m concerned Urias should be a starter. He should be an example to all the other guys on the Norfolk shuffle.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        October 20, 2021 at 8:15 pm

        No doubt the boy showed some intestinal fortitude. I’ll give him that.

  7. Cali Orioles

    October 20, 2021 at 10:17 am

    Rich – really appreciate the coverage, your articles are always interesting, refreshing to read. As a former Marylander, growing up with the Orioles, I’m old enough to barely recall some of the ‘66 series, I subscribed to the online Sun. Not worth the money, all I cared about was Orioles and Ravens and anything Carroll County.
    I really like the insights on the prospects coming up; Westburg, Henderson, Rutchman (sp), Rodriguez, Hersted, Stowers, others. Thanks Rich

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 20, 2021 at 10:30 am

      You’re welcome, Cali.

  8. WorldlyView

    October 20, 2021 at 5:25 pm

    I had four main takeaways from today’s interesting read.
    First, Rich, you could and should write a follow-up article entitled “Orioles have PITCHING prospects but they’re likely to start 2022 with a familiar cast.” A very bad omen for next year.
    Second, Rich notes that because A. Simmons had a rough year for the Twins, his market value could fall enough to put him in the Orioles’ price range. The refusal by ownership and GM for multiple years to pay for a respectfully competitive team is a hurtful slap in the face of us fans. It also is, in my opinion, a damning indictment of their leadership. The revolving door of underperforming pitchers and infielders has exemplified theater of the absurd, not Oriole history.
    Third, O’s infielders seemed unusually injury prone last year. Richie Martin must have the MLB record for broken wrists.
    Fourth, Rich’s concluding comment that in the short-term at least, the team will continue to have to rely on “more placeholders” made me want to scream.

    • dlgruber1

      October 20, 2021 at 6:00 pm

      WorkdlyView, I couldn’t agree more on all 4 points. The most infuriating of them is the pitching. This is an organization that was once the envy of MLB for their starting pitching.I know, I know, GR is the #1 pitching prospect but anyone who thinks that he, Means and whoever else will make up the starting rotation will miraculously become a great staff is gonna be sorely mistaken. I also know there are some who say wait til they become competitive to spend money on pitching. I say unless and until they spend money on pitching they won’t become competitive.

      • WorldlyView

        October 20, 2021 at 10:55 pm

        dlg, Your comment about the team needing to spend money on pitching to achieve competitiveness led me to wonder what management-ownership’s true sense of urgency is about achieving respectable competitiveness. My feeling was and is that they are content to wait until enough current pitching and batting prospects have proven themselves to be solid major leaguers that an above .500 team in the rugged AL East results. Problem is that critical mass likely will not materialize until 2024. Am I too pessimistic?

    • dlgruber1

      October 20, 2021 at 11:24 pm

      I’d have to agree that that’s how it appears. My problem with that is that I think it’s completely unrealistic to think that all these prospects will all achieve their maximum potential at about the same time. The only team I can think of that has done that was the Cubs when they won the WS in 2016 with all those young guys like Rizzo, Bryant, Baez, Russell, Schwarber and Soler who I think all came up thru their system. However, they did it with Arietta and Lester leading the way. It’s my opinion that you need good to great pitching before everything else. I can’t imagine current ownership doesn’t wanna see OPACY look like it has the last few years but what do I know. And to answer your question, I don’t believe your being pessimistic, just realistic.

  9. Arkyoriole

    October 20, 2021 at 6:56 pm

    Well said dlgruber1.

  10. jimcarter

    October 21, 2021 at 8:16 am

    The entire team is patchwork.

  11. NormOs

    October 21, 2021 at 3:15 pm

    We now need no further proof that this “team” with it base basically coming from………ta da……… The Waiver Wire (home of the UNTRADEABLES) will again finish ’22 with 110 losses. The kids they bring up (which I would love to see) haven’t got a chance to succeed without the addition of TRUE MLB pitchers and position players. Again, you can say “small market”, or they can’t afford this or can’t afford that but they can afford to spread the crapolla. So I expect 110 losses in ’23 as well.

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