I think The Supremes said it best when they sang, “Reflections of, the way the season used to be.”
Or something close to that.
My reflections are continuing into late October, after the Orioles took their fans on a thrill ride until finally running out of gas.
I’ve already noted how Matt Harvey never had his contract selected from Triple-A Norfolk, Gunnar Henderson earned a promotion despite his age, Yusniel Diaz stayed only for a cup of coffee, Rougned Odor lasted into September, we never saw Robert Neustrom, DJ Stewart didn’t make it back to the Orioles after three games to begin the season, Jorge Mateo was exclusively a shortstop, Bryan Baker stuck for the entire season, Nick Vespi will never give up another Triple-A run, Joey Krehbiel disappeared after almost going wire-to-wire, Terrin Vavra could wear many hats next season, Jacob Nottingham didn’t get back to the majors, César Prieto’s 2022 ceiling was Double-A, we don’t know how the Orioles view Mike Baumann, and Chris Ellis’ second chance with the Orioles was much worse than the first.
Here are two more:
Anthony Santander was an older dog learning new tricks.
Santander is the longest tenured player on the roster, making his major league debut in 2017 as a Rule 5 pick.
Not the first of the group to join the organization, but in the bigs longer than anyone else.
Fortunately for the Orioles and their now 28-year-old outfielder, he wasn’t set in his ways. He tried again to improve on his most glaring deficiency, the inability to get on base in a consistent manner. To cut down on his chase swings.
Staying healthy also was an issue. Maybe 1 and 1A.
Santander earned his votes on the Most Valuable Oriole ballot – I had him third – by leading the club with 33 home runs and 89 RBIs, but also posting career highs with 55 walks and a .318 on-base percentage that pushed his career mark to .300. He also appeared in a career-best 152 games.
The 18-game on-base streak to begin the season never would have happened without the walks (and one hit-by-pitch).
Santander noted how getting on base was his primary focus. The home runs would come, of course, due to his power from both sides of the plate and his ability to wait on, and attack, his pitch.
We were teased in the past. Santander drew 10 walks in 13 exhibition games in 2021, but only 23 in 110 during the season. The work with co-hitting coaches Ryan Fuller and Matt Borgschulte really paid off this year.
Breaking balls weren’t his kryptonite. Pitches that dipped below the zone went ignored.
Santander did lots of damage when he swung the bat, but he might have impressed more when he kept it still.
The opening day third baseman was here and gone.
If I challenged you to name the third baseman on April 8, would you confidently have blurted out Kelvin Gutiérrez’s name?
Gutiérrez batted ninth against Rays left-hander Shane McClanahan, struck out twice in three at-bats and was removed in the ninth inning for pinch-hitter Rougned Odor.
After being the regular third baseman to close out the 2021 season, Gutiérrez made 10 starts this year and 12 appearances overall and went 4-for-28. The Orioles designated him for assignment on May 2.
They outrighted Gutiérrez after he cleared waivers, and he didn’t make it back onto the active or 40-man rosters. He was released on Sept. 15 after batting .242/.315/.384 with eight doubles, two triples, six home runs and 26 RBIs in 238 plate appearances with Triple-A Norfolk.
I didn’t research it, but there can’t be many examples of Orioles who made the opening day lineup and disappeared from the majors by the first week in May.
Gutiérrez got an early jump on minor league free agency. His feet won’t touch down again in Baltimore unless he’s playing for the visiting team.
Some of the blame must go to the infield prospects who made him obsolete, and Ramón Urías’ emergence as a Gold Glove finalist.
The Orioles weren’t going to carry a third baseman who didn’t hit or bring plus defense. I wouldn’t have bet that he’d last with Norfolk until mid-September.