If the goal was to create competition for playing time and jobs, the Orioles have more than done that in their infield, especially up the middle.
Over the weekend, the club signed 32-year-old Alcides Escobar to a minor league deal. He’s an 11-year major league veteran who played in the 2015 All-Star Game and also won a Gold Glove that year with Kansas City.
Escobar was exclusively a shortstop in his big league career until adding to that last season with the Royals. He made 104 starts at shortstop, but also 27 at third base, two at second base and six in the outfield. So he’s probably in the mix to start at short or second, but may also be contending for a utility role.
Escobar might be considered a front-runner to start at short, but his defense, at least according to some metrics, has not been not as good as in recent seasons. He was minus-12 in Defensive Runs Saved last year, which ranked 19th among major league shortstops. Plus he has been a well below-average hitter and last year hit just .231/.279/.313 with a .593 OPS and an OPS+ of 63 - way below league average.
So he’s in the mix, but so are lesser-known players like Hanser Alberto and Zach Vincej, who have won minor league Gold Gloves. So are Rule 5 picks Richie Martin and Drew Jackson, and so are Steve Wilkerson, Jace Peterson, Chris Bostick and Jack Reinheimer.
The Orioles have 33 spring training games and that sounds like a whole lot. But with this large of a group to evaluate, that number may not be as large as it seems for the middle infielders.
Big weekend for Rutschman: Oregon State junior catcher Adley Rutschman started the last season of his college career over the weekend. He hit a big homer in Saturday’s game and added a grand slam yesterday as Oregon State started 3-0. OSU beat Minnesota 13-1 on Sunday and scored 28 runs in its three wins. Rutschman went 4-for-9 with two homers and six RBIs and scored eight runs while adding five walks. He’s started his final collegiate season batting .444/.643/1.111.
On June 3, the Orioles will have the No. 1 pick in the draft and Rutschman is atop several draft boards among the major outlets right now. That includes Baseball America, where J.J. Cooper is a huge fan.
“He’s already shown that he can hit,” said Cooper during an interview at the Winter Meetings. “He’s already shown that he can play, at times, exceptional defense. His arm is exceptional and his receiving is solid. He’s worked with a really good staff, a staff that has velocity on it. And he’s been the star of a national championship team. He’s done all those things. You are talking about a guy that has the potential to be a middle-of-the-order bat.”
Rutschman hit .408/.505/.628 for Oregon State last season, leading the team to the College World Series title. He produced 22 doubles, three triples, nine homers and drove in 83 runs in 67 games with an OPS of 1.133. He walked more than he struck out, 53 times to 40. He was the Most Outstanding Player in the College World Series.
And now his junior year is underway. A year that could see his name called first by the Orioles in June.