If we were to take a shot at the Orioles depth chart in the infield right now in a look ahead at opening day 2023, the four starters would likely include a newcomer to the team and a rookie with just 18 starts at the position where he may well be on opening day.
It might also include Ramón Urías, the 2022 American League Gold Glove winner at third base, not starting there when a new season begins. During the offseason, Urías became the O’s first Gold Glove winner at any position since Manny Machado in 2015. He joins Brooks Robinson and Machado as one of only three to win a Gold Glove at third for the Orioles.
But and this should not be a real surprise, my starters as of today on the Baltimore infield are Ryan Mountcastle at first base, Adam Frazier at second, Jorge Mateo at short and Gunnar Henderson at third base. It could be that Urías and Frazier platoon at second base or that Urías plays all over the infield. For his O’s career he has made 94 starts at third base, 48 at second and 44 at shortstop.
Frazier I will guess was not signed to sit much, so for now I see him as the second base starter. This despite the fact his 2022 offensive numbers are behind Urías. Frazier produced a .612 OPS last year, which was 20 percent below league average. Urías was three percent above the league at .720. On paper, based on last year, Urías was the better player.
But Frazier was a 2021 All-Star when his OPS was .779 with a .305 batting average between Pittsburgh and San Diego.
These two don’t exactly make the perfect platoon either. Frazier has a career .749 OPS against right-handed pitching while Urias is just a .701 career OPS guy versus lefty pitching. Urías is actually much better over his O’s career against right-handers at .776, which is actually better than the lefty-hitting Frazier.
But with those five – Mountcastle, Frazier, Mateo, Henderson and Urías - on the infield, another question is will the team carry six or seven infielders? If they go five in the outfield and two catchers that leaves just six on the infield. After my first five who would get the last spot? It could be backup first baseman Lewin Díaz. Or rookie Terrin Vavra, who made his MLB debut last season.
Eventually the Orioles may look to introduce some of their top infield prospects to the big league roster. In some order, Joey Ortiz, Jordan Westburg and Connor Norby are on deck. All three reached Triple-A in 2022. But while Westburg played 91 games at the level, Ortiz was there for 26 and Norby just nine to end the year.
All three excelled at the level with Westburg producing an OPS of .869, Ortiz at .967 for his smaller sample and Norby at 1.123 for the smallest sample of the three.
It’s an impressive trio of infield prospects waiting in the wings at the higher levels with Ortiz considered a top defensive shortstop and the best defender of the three. All three are among the club’s top 10 prospects via Baseball America with Westburg No. 6, Norby No. 7 and Ortiz at No. 8. Ortiz could get the first shot of the three by virtue of already being on the 40-man roster after his November addition. But just by games played at the lower Triple-A level, Westburg may truly be most ready for a shot.
How the Orioles bring one or all three to the majors this year will be an interesting story to track. Will there be a trade that opens up a spot or an injury that elevates one of these players?
Birdland Caravan: Pretty exciting news announced yesterday that O's players, coaches and staff will be making their way around the state of Maryland and meeting and greeting fans at various locations between Feb. 2 and Feb. 5.
The Orioles announced the return of the club’s ‘Birdland Caravan,’ a four-day winter tour, that will take place at multiple locations throughout the region. The first such weekend-long celebration since prior to the COVID-19 pandemic will include autograph sessions and happy hours with current Orioles players, top prospects, broadcasters, members of the front office, and the Oriole Bird.