When it comes to getting an opinion on the young Orioles infield prospects that are showing so well at this spring training, we could do a lot worse than Orioles Hall of Famer Mike Bordick.
A 14-year big league veteran who played home games in Baltimore for parts of 1997 through 2002, Bordick was inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame in 2011. A 2000 All-Star, he played a major league-record 110 straight errorless games at shortstop during the 2002 season.
He just spent time in Sarasota as a camp instructor for the team and got to see and work directly with top 100 infield prospects who have won much recognition: Gunnar Henderson, Jackson Holliday, Jordan Westburg, Connor Norby, Joey Ortiz and Coby Mayo.
“The Orioles really have stockpiled some of the best athletes in the country as far as shortstops and guys that can play with versatility in the infield,” Bordick told me in an interview this week. “I got to witness some of that with the young players. And I was blown away on many fronts. First of all, their skill level is at the top. A very exciting group of athletic young players.
“Connor Norby, Mayo, Jackson Holliday, and all of this is kind of spearheaded by Gunnar Henderson. Might be sooner than we think that they will talk about him as an MVP candidate in the American League. Just a skillsy, five-tool player. The speed, the power, the great arm and defensive intelligence.
“And all these guys hold the trait of wanting to get better. Seems like they are feeding off each other. They understand what is in front of them.”
Bordick also loves Jorge Mateo at short and sees the O’s having a top-notch left side of the infield on defense.
“Gunnar is an elite defender, he really is,” said Bordick. “He’s such a big guy, and I’m not saying big guys can’t play shortstop. But when you have a player that is so good at short – and I know some are feeling Mateo’s bat could falter and Gunnar is going to get a shot at short – but man, I would just love to see Gunnar plant in at third and be the best third baseman in baseball.
“He will be able to play deep at third, much like Manny (Machado) because of his cannon for an arm. He’s got great instincts and I just think he could go down as one of the better third baseman the Orioles have ever had. And that is saying a lot – Brooks and Manny. But he could potentially slide right in there and be an incredible third baseman.
“Could Gunnar handle short? Sure, he probably could. But I just think short is a different beast and Mateo is so heads and shoulders above so many shortstops. Mateo just makes plays that no one else can make and does it consistently. I hope they keep Gunnar at third, at least for a while anyway. Right now the left side of that infield is shut down.”
Bordick said the O’s defense was such a big part of the team’s improvement last year, and a big reason (of course the deeper left field wall played a role) in the team ERA dropping from 5.84 in 2021 to 3.97 last year.
I asked Bordick: Do any of the other prospects fit into that elite defense class that he puts Henderson in, or is it too soon to say that?
“Yeah, I think it’s too soon for a few of them," he replied. "You see flashes of good things. I was with Jackson Holliday for just a few days, seeing him take ground balls, and I can’t say yet he will be elite. But I will say this: He is really advanced for such a young age, in a lot of ways. His poise and overall demeanor. Very confident, his ears are wide open and ready to learn.
"Mayo, just a monster, one of the strongest arms I’ve ever seen. Working with Manso (infield coach Tony Mansolino) that last week he was hoping to get a little more athleticism out of that big frame, which could bode well for him defensively and offensively.
"Norby, he can get a bit more athletic out there as well. (César) Prieto looked great. Ortiz called up to Triple-A last year, he’s a freak, man. Great hands, maybe one of the best defenders out there. He’s not as good as Mateo, but very impressive glove-to-hand skills. Incredibly quick transfer, seems to have a good feel for the game. Talking to the guys that had him last year, they feel he’s one of the better defenders they have seen. And incredible versatility too. Like Westburg, he can play anywhere: short, third, second. I love that. And he can hit, has that bat tool as well. Just a really nice group of young players that could have big impact on this organization.”
So where will the O’s play all these guys?
“To have that kind of depth bodes very well for potential trades when the Orioles get into those kinds of positions," Bordick said. "But also, competition is where success comes from. If you get a young guy that has some MLB success and he knows that there are guys behind him knocking at the door, he will work even harder. He knows he can’t let up, and it makes everybody better. I love the in-house competition. Makes the big league team stronger."
Bordick sees four Gold Glove candidates on the field for the Orioles with Adley Rutschman, Cedric Mullins, Mateo and Henderson.
Bordick, by the way, is a very busy guy these days. He is involved with the League of Dreams, a nonprofit organization that provides opportunities for special needs kids in baseball and softball. And he works with and serves as an instructor for the Baseball Warehouse, an outlet that teaches young kids about the game of baseball. He will also be part of pregame O's coverage again this year on 105.7 The Fan.
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