Joey Ortiz possesses the skills to knock down a bad-hop grounder and block out trade noise.
The number of gifted young Orioles infielders has left Ortiz with trade chip status bestowed upon him. Not from people inside the organization as much as outside observers who are trying to solve the riddle of how to create space.
MLB Pipeline ranks Ortiz as the sport’s No. 63 prospect and Baseball America places him seventh in the team’s top 30. Coby Mayo is third on the club and 30th in baseball.
The Orioles aren’t in any hurry to move him, either.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias is trying to find a trade partner and bring in a starting pitcher, but he’s under no pressure to move his best young talent. If some of it returns to Triple-A Norfolk, a chance to play in the majors could arrive later in the year.
Ortiz is regarded in the organization as its best fielding shortstop, which is a tremendous compliment with Gunnar Henderson and Jackson Holliday in the group. Plenty of teams could use his skills, including a bat that produced a .321/.378/.507 line in 88 games with Triple-A Norfolk – ruining the glove-only narrative - and versatility that could make him a valuable utility player.
Maybe it happens in Baltimore. Maybe it’s somewhere else if he’s traded.
“I try not to listen to it too much,” Ortiz, appearing at the Birdland Caravan, said about the chatter. “I just go about my business, do what I have to do, and kind of let things just handle themselves. If another team wants you, it’s always flattering, but I’m with the Orioles right now, so I’ve got to plan on being here.”
Ramón Urías is signed for 2024 and remains the favorite for a utility role on Opening Day, but he could be moved instead of Ortiz. Perhaps they could co-exist on the roster, though the odds reduce if Holliday is on it.
“I’m open to anything,” Ortiz said. I don’t have to play one position. I’ll play any position as long as I’m helping the team win.”
Mayo might be starting at third base right now if he came along earlier, before the farm system became stacked and the Orioles became contenders. He’s moved across the diamond, where Ryan Mountcastle is primary holder of the position when healthy. Some rival executives are under the impression that he’s untouchable, but the perception among others that he’s also a trade chip hovers, as well.
“I think nowadays with social media it’s kind of hard to say ‘no,’ that you don’t see that stuff, but you do,” he said. “I think it’s part of the business and it doesn’t matter if people say your name or not. It’s all kind of rumors and whatnot, but I’m here now and I’m going to make the most of that. I’m just happy to be here.”
Mayo is projected to make his major league debut this summer. Ortiz already got there, appearing in 15 games across multiple stints and going 7-for-33.
“I feel like it was a good get-your-feet-wet type of moment,” he said, “but you kind of see how it is and I feel like I can play at that level, so I’m excited for this year.”
Ortiz received his last at-bat with the Orioles on June 23. They kept him with Norfolk, where he won a Triple-A championship.
“I understand how everything goes,” he said. “The team was winning and why change what was winning?”
The Orioles could decide to keep their infield prospect list intact. Let everyone fight it out in camp and maintain their depth, which is an important component of the rebuild plan.
“I feel like it’s competition everywhere,” Ortiz said. “Everyone’s a professional ballplayer, so everyone’s going to be good. It’s exciting to see the talent that’s here.”
Mayo believes the players push and motivate each other.
“I think that it’s a good thing that we have so many guys coming up. It makes everyone want to work a little bit harder,” he said.
“We’re a tight group and we look out for each other and want everyone to have success in this organization. And they’ve done so well that it doesn’t matter who you are. Everyone did so well, it makes the organization look better.”
Mayo slugged 29 home runs in 140 games between Double-A Bowie and Norfolk, but he was more than just power. He batted .290 with a .974 OPS, 45 doubles, three triples, 99 RBIs and 93 walks.
“It was a good year and I think you can take a lot of things away from it, what you did so well in what areas and still things that you want to improve on,” he said.
“I think it just goes out to the organization of how well of a job they do to develop guys. They give us everything we need to succeed and it’s just up to us if we want to put those things into the game.”
They must be doing it. The results are front and center. The proof is in the output.
The solution to the logjam is pending.
“It’s going to be interesting,” said Jordan Westburg. “We have a ton of talent and a ton of tough competition, which is great for the organization. Iron will sharpen iron.
“Jackson (Holliday) is a special young player and I’m sure he’s got every shot of making the big league club as anybody else does. As (Connor) Norby and as Mayo, myself, Joey Ortiz. So, it will be interesting to see how it shakes out.
“I don’t really care where I play. I just want to contribute and be part of this ballclub.”
* Mountcastle said he hasn't experienced a recurrence of the vertigo that forced him onto the injured list last summer and kept him away from the Orioles for a month.
No more dizziness that impacted him defensively and made it hard to pick up the ball out of the pitcher's hand.
The cause remains a mystery, but at least it's gone.
"It is what it is and I feel healthy," he said. "Ever since I got back on the field in the big leagues I felt good, so just praying for the best.”
* Catcher James McCann isn’t bogged down by personal goals set over the winter. There’s just one that makes sense, that he’ll take into spring training.
Stay off the injured list.
McCann strained his oblique late in camp in 2023, his first season with the Orioles, allowing Anthony Bemboom to make the club again. Bemboom is in the Tigers organization. McCann wants to be in Baltimore on March 28.
“At this point, it’s get out of camp healthy,” he said.
OK, there’s a little more.
“It’s helping every pitcher on our staff continue to develop, continue to take steps forward, and then between Rutsch (Adley Rutschman) and I, just continuing to lead the pitching staff and lead the team in the right direction. And yeah, making sure that we’re both healthy and ready to roll into a new season.”
Note: Left-hander Danny Coulombe avoided an arbitration hearing by signing a contract for 2024 that also includes a club option for 2025.
Coulombe was entering free agency after this season, but the option allows the Orioles to keep him for at least one more year.
Coulombe's camp filed at $2.4 million during the exchanging of figures, and the Orioles countered at $2.2 million. The club's file-and-go approach makes an exception for options.
Outfielder Austin Hays, first baseman Ryan O'Hearn and reliever Jacob Webb remain unsigned.
Coulombe posted a 2.81 ERA and 1.110 WHIP in 61 appearances after the Orioles acquired him from the Twins toward the end of spring training.
“I was really happy with it,” he said at the Birdland Caravan. “I’m a perfectionist, so there’s things I know I can get better at, but I was really happy with the way it went. I really enjoyed the role and I’m excited to get it rolling again.”