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It might appear to some that there isn’t going to be much playing time available for shortstop Jorge Mateo in Baltimore this coming season, but I believe he still has significant value to the Orioles in spite of his obvious limitations at the plate.
Why should we still love him when it looks as though Jackson Holliday is going to make the Opening Day roster and play every day in the middle of the infield?
Let me count the ways:
He has otherworldly athletic ability: Of course, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. He’s faster than a speeding bullet and makes SportsCenter-worthy defensive plays that most other big league infielders can only dream about. Guys like that don’t grow on trees.
He doesn’t have to play every day to be a difference-maker: On a talented team – as the Orioles proved to be 101 times last season – it’s still okay to keep the occasional specialist around. Mateo is almost automatic on the bases and having him on the bench in the late innings on a team that plays a ton of close games is not a bad thing.
Holliday appears to be a can’t-miss prospect, but… He’s still a kid and there really is no guarantee that he’ll settle in and follow in Gunnar Henderson’s Rookie of the Year footsteps. Nice to have one of the best defensive shortstops in the game still available if Holliday needs a little more time to realize his stunning talent or somebody gets hurt.
Mateo might have some untapped offensive potential: It looked as though he had figured something out last April (.347 average, 1.063 OPS, 6 home runs, 17 RBIs) and helped spark the mid-month surge that kept the Orioles within range of the runaway Tampa Bay Rays but regressed to more characteristic batting stats over the course of the season. That was disappointing, but no one should assume that he can’t do something that he showed last year – albeit for a short time – that he could. He doesn’t need to be a .350 hitter to be a great all-around player. He just needs to figure out how to get on base consistently against right-handed pitching. He’s only 28.
Just an aside, if people had decided I’d reached my peak by that age, I would have had to settle for being the best-looking sports writer in Southern California instead of the entire Mid-Atlantic region.
He’s a chemistry guy: When you play with great enthusiasm and flair, it raises the energy level in the dugout and in the stands. The Orioles had great team chemistry the past two seasons. Mateo was a big part of that.
RAVENS LINKS FROM BALTIMORESPORTS.COM