The Orioles open the 2019 regular season on Thursday afternoon at 1:05 from the Bronx against the Yankees. 25-man rosters are due on Thursday one hour before first pitch, and the Orioles have made a number of roster moves over the last few days.
Here’s some of the highlights
- Mark Trumbo will begin the season on the injured list. Trumbo will stay in Florida to continue rehabbing his knee, but it could be a month or longer before he resumes baseball activities
- Infielder Jace Peterson was reassigned to minor league camp on Sunday. Peterson played in 93 games for the O’s last season and was in the mix for an infield role
- Relief pitcher Evan Phillips was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk despite not allowing a run in 9.2 innings of work this spring
- The Orioles claimed catcher Pedro Severino off waivers from the Nationals on Saturday. Severino has played for the Nats in the last four seasons, leading some to believe that he will join Jesus Sucre as the O’s two catchers while Chance Sisco starts the year in Norfolk
- Veterans Eric Young Jr. and Alcides Escobar were released
The O’s still need to make a handful of cuts to field a 25-man team. Last week I tried to project the starting outfield. Before Mike Elias and Brandon Hyde make their final moves, I wanted to predict what the starting infield will look like to begin the 2019 season.
First Base: Chris Davis:
I touched on this in my outfield piece, but despite what many fans want, Chris Davis will start the season at first base. But if he gets off to a slow start, expect Trey Mancini to split time with Davis at first, which is Mancini’s natural position.
With Trumbo starting the season on the injured list, Hyde’s ability to give Mancini time at first just got easier. Trumbo would have been the Orioles regular designated hitter. Without him, a number of players in a rotation can be used as the DH. That includes Davis, Mancini, andRenato Nunez, who’s nursing a sore throwing arm.
“I think I’ll be creative with [DH] with quite a few guys depending on the starting pitcher that night,” said Hyde. “I think we have a lot of moveable pieces and so I think we’re just going to be creative with our DH.”
There’s no pressure on this young Orioles team to compete in 2019, but there’s a ton of pressure on Davis to bounce back as much as possible from hitting .168 in 2018. The new Orioles regime led by Elias has no soft spot for Davis and will look to move on quickly if he continues to slump.
Even with a lack of veterans that carry major league experience, the Orioles elected to move on from Young Jr. and Escobar. Davis makes a ton of more money than both of those guys would have this season, but if he shows no life it’s hard to imagine him surviving the summer.
First base is Davis’ bag for now, but if the strikeouts rack up again, it could be Mancini’s stomping grounds by the end of the season.
Second Base: Jonathan Villar
Jonathan Villar will run down the orange carpet for the first time in his career after being traded in a package to the Orioles for Jonathan Schoop at last year’s trade deadline. Villar started 54 games for the Birds in 2018, with 36 of those at second base. He hit .258 with 54 hits, eight home runs, and 22 walks to go .258 overall.
With six seasons of big-league experience under his belt, Villar will be counted on to help lead an infield that’s particularly young on the left side. Villar proved to be a reliable fielder last season, flashing speed on defense as well as on the bases.
Villar has never made an All-Star team or won a Gold Glove, but he could become a fan-favorite rather quickly as a veteran who brings the element of speed and carries a respectable bat.
Third Base: Rio Ruiz
When camp broke in late February, no one in the Orioles fanbase knew who Rio Ruiz was, but there’s a good chance he’ll be the starting third baseman to begin the year.
Originally a fourth-round pick by the Astros in 2012 (while Elias was on-staff in Houston), Ruiz spent three years in Houston’s farm system before he was traded to the Atlanta Braves. He’s played in 72 big league games, all with the Braves, hitting .189 with 32 hits, four home runs, and 21 walks in 169 at-bats. He was only on the big-league roster for 12 games in 2018, spending the bulk of his season at Triple-A Gwinnett.
In 48 at-bats this spring, Ruiz hit .271 with 16 hits, three home runs, nine RBI, six walks, and 11 strikeouts.
Even with a sore bicep, Nunez has DH’d a few days in a row over the last few days. He even hit a home run in this afternoon’s game against the Phillies. Factoring in Nunez’s lack of options and Rule 5 pick Drew Jackson needing to make the roster to avoid waivers, it’s not a lock that Ruiz makes the team. However, Trumbo’s injury may have opened the door for him.
The outfield roster decisions are likely set-in-stone, but the infield isn’t as clear. Ruiz’s chances of making the roster likely come down to how many pitchers the Orioles want to carry. Considering the injuries to Trumbo and Nunez, along with the fact that the O’s plan on using Jackson in the outfield too under a utility role, Ruiz should have a fair chance to seize the third base job early on.
Shortstop: Richie Martin
Another name that many Orioles fans didn’t recognize early on but quickly became familiar with was Rule 5 pick Richie Martin. Martin was originally drafted by the Mariners in 2012, but injuries caused him to come up short in Seattle’s system. He was drafted again in 2015 by the Oakland Athletics and reached the Double-A level in each of the last three seasons.
Without question, Martin’s strongest attribute is his defense. He’s impressed Orioles coaches since camp broke with his range and his arm. His bat is where the questions lie. Aside from a breakout 2018 season where Martin went .300 in 453 at-bats for Double-A Midland, he’s never hit above .235.
Never seeing live pitching above the Double-A level, Martin will likely struggle offensively if he ends up coming north. But after watching how much the Orioles struggled defensively in 2018, bringing up a sure glove at the shortstop position can only benefit the club. Expect Martin to open the season as Baltimore’s starting shortstop with Villar filling in when needed.
On the bench
- Drew Jackson – The second of two Rule 5 selections by the Orioles this year, like Martin, Jackson must make the 25-man roster or else he will be placed on waivers for other teams to claim. The Orioles have tried Jackson at several positions this spring and plan to use him in a Ryan Flaherty-like utility role this season. Appropriately, Flaherty was a Rule 5 pick too.
- Renato Nunez – It will be interesting to see how much Nunez plays the field in the first week or two of the regular season due to his sore biceps. In the wake of Trumbo’s injury news, it’s safe to assume that Nunez will get opportunities at DH until his arm is ready for throwing.
- Hanser Alberto – The 26-year-old from the Dominican Republic has played in 89 big-league games for the Texas Rangers over three seasons. He’s a career .192 hitter in 182 at-bats, and has gone 9-for-35 with three RBI and three runs scored in spring training. He’s versatile, having played all infield positions except first base in the big leagues. What happens to Alberto likely depends on who makes the major league roster out of Nunez/Ruiz/Jackson/outfielder Dwight Smith Jr.
Featured Image Credit: Gail Burton, Associated Press