No position produced worse results for the Orioles in 2021 than second base. Kelvin Gutiérrez, Jahmai Jones, Domingo Leyba, Jorge Mateo, Rio Ruiz, Ramón Urias, Pat Valaika and Stevie Wilkerson combined for a .192 average and a .527 OPS.
Gutíerrez had only one at-bat as a second baseman, and got a hit. Of the others, only Mateo, who hit .255 when playing second in 16 games, had a respectable average.
Urías, who hit .304 with an .834 OPS as a shortstop, hit only .200 in 28 games at second. Jones, who is grappling with playing second after beginning his professional career as an outfielder, hit only .152 in 66 at-bats.
Valaika, who played second more than anyone else and is a free agent, hit .207 with five home runs and 20 RBIs in 64 games, by far the most on the team.
Urías and Gutiérrez are penciled in as the nominal shortstop and third baseman while Mateo and Jones remain on the 40-man roster.
When the Orioles signed Rougned Odor just before the Major League Baseball lockout began, there was disappointment among the fan base because of his recent lackluster seasons.
Last year, in 102 games with the New York Yankees, Odor hit .202 with a .665 OPS. He had 15 home runs and 39 RBIs. Those were far below his best career numbers, and he played 33 games at third base.
In Odor’s 65 games at second, he hit .232 with a .748 OPS. At third, where he played for the first time in his career, he hit .151 with three homers and eight RBIs.
Odor is more comfortable playing second, but his ability to play third was an attraction as well.
Odor will turn 28 in February, and if he merely duplicates the numbers he put up at second for the Yankees, the Orioles will have made a wise investment. He’s owed $12.3 million in the final year of a four-year contract by the Texas Rangers, who dealt him to New York in April. The Rangers will pay $11.76 million, and the Orioles will pay the minimum salary.
Odor also has hit well at Oriole Park — a .294 average with two home runs and eight RBIs in 24 games.
A year ago, the Orioles hoped that Yolmer Sánchez, whom they had claimed on waivers from the Chicago White Sox, would be their starting second baseman. Sánchez was only a season removed from winning the Gold Glove in 2019, but it was obvious to the Orioles that he had regressed in spring training and was released. He signed with the Atlanta Braves and hit only .216 for Triple-A Gwinnett and never made it back to the majors.
Odor is one of just two left-handed hitting infielders on the 40-man roster. Terrin Vavra, who’s supposed to start the season at Triple-A Norfolk, is the other.
Interestingly, Odor hit better against left-handers (.227) than right-handers (.191) in 2021. For his career, Odor is slightly better against right-handers (.236) than against left-handers (.229).
Vavra, who was limited to just 48 games because of a back injury, played at Double-A Bowie when he was healthy, and he could be an option for second base later in the year.
Mateo, who also played shortstop, showed excellent speed before his season ended because of a back injury. His ability to play second, short, the outfield and pinch-run could make him a useful member of the team in 2022.
Two of the Orioles’ most promising infield prospects, Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg, who each played at Low-A Delmarva and High-A Aberdeen before concluding their seasons with Double-A Bowie, play shortstop and third base.
Their top prospect at second is Connor Norby, who was their second-round draft pick in 2021. Norby hit well at Delmarva (.283 in 26 games) after seven games in the Florida Complex League, but he’s not a prospect for 2022.
If Jones shows improvement offensively and defensively, and Mateo continues to play well, perhaps that squeezes Odor. But, for now, Odor, who hit 30 home runs and 93 RBIs while hitting .205 with a league-high 178 strikeouts for the Rangers in 2019, should be a favorite to be the Opening Day second baseman in 2022.
Notes: Last week, the Orioles signed six international free agents — right-handed pitchers Bryan Bautista, Darwin Caballero, Raynel Duran, Jarlin Guerrero and Wilton Rondon, and left-hander Noelin Cuevas. Guerrero’s signing was reported last week. … Maikel Franco, who was the Orioles’ starting third baseman for much of 2021 before his August release, signed a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals. … Roland Hemond, who was the Orioles’ general manager from 1988-1995, died at 92.