Villar given leadoff spot, Duquette on series of moves

As the Orioles rid themselves of veterans and salary while beginning their rebuild, they're also making adjustments to a lineup that's been lacking a true leadoff hitter.

Jonathan Villar, part of the package obtained earlier this week from the Brewers for second baseman Jonathan Schoop, owned a career .324 on-base percentage before last night's game against the Rangers. In the Orioles organization, that's a step in the right direction.

Villar led the majors with 62 steals in 156 games in 2016 and was 23rd with a .369 OBP. As a follow-up, he stole 23 bases and posted a .293 OBP in 122 games in 2017, and had 14 steals and a .315 OBP in 87 games this year before the trade.

The Orioles are counting on Villar to move closer to his 2016 production, though the steals in ensuing years crush the in-house competition.

Craig Gentry leads the club this year with 10 thefts, but he remains on the disabled list with a fractured rib, and the Orioles' desire to get younger and evaluate prospects could cost him a roster spot.

Manny Machado led the Orioles with nine stolen bases in 2017, and he's in Los Angeles.

Most of Villar's starts have come atop the order - 243 after last night, compared to 100 from the ninth spot. He's only lacking a start as the cleanup hitter.

It makes sense to bat him first and see whether he can provide a spark. Just the threat of a stolen base can be advantageous

Tim-Beckham-swing-gray-sidebar.jpgTim Beckham moved down to second in the order. It was just the fourth time in his career he's started a game in that slot. He has a career .254/.307/.411 slash line as a leadoff hitter, and his lifetime .306 OBP and strikeout totals didn't make him an ideal fit. But someone had to do it.

Villar is one of 15 players coming to the organization for Machado, Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Kevin Gausman, Jonathan Schoop and Darren O'Day. The Orioles also acquired $2.75 million in international signing bonus slot funds from the Braves in two separate deals.

"We set up the organization financially over the next couple of years to rebuild the team," said executive vice president Dan Duquette. "On the financial side of the house, we freed up significant resources, over $60 million that we can put toward future recruiting and team development throughout the whole organization. And in addition to that, we think the prospects, several well-regarded prospects, add to the depth of our minor league operation, which will expedite the rebuild.

"We also acquired the resources to help recruit additional players on the international market, something that we haven't done recently. So, not only did we add 15 players, we put the team in position to be aggressive and participate in the international market, sign additional prospects. And significant resources put into the signing bonuses.

"It's a lot different when you're drafting at the top of the draft. That's a position that we haven't been in recently. So, we just freed up resources at the top and investing in a rebuild from the ground up."

The Orioles are processing the medical reviews on six international players who will be signed, including one from Curaçao. The others are from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

An announcement could come later this week.

Internal discussions continue regarding prospects who could have their contracts selected. Triple-A Norfolk outfielders Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart are two of the possibilities.

"We're still working on that," Duquette said. "We're just trying to figure out where some of these players we recently acquired fit in. Once we have a chance to evaluate that, we can take a look at the major league roster.

"The depth is much improved."

Reliever Cody Carroll, acquired from the Yankees in the Britton deal, made his major league debut Wednesday afternoon in the Bronx and tossed a scoreless inning. His fastball can touch 100 mph, his slider can be a plus pitch and he struck out 262 batters in 228 innings in the minors.

"He's got some serious stuff," Duquette said.

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