While the Orioles try to settle on a left-handed hitter to play the outfield, along with other moves required to fill out the roster, they promise not to skimp on the defense. Upgrading it must be part of any plan.
The club’s reputation for outstanding glovework took another hit last season, and it could influence the decision whether to carry Anthony Santander for the first 44 days until losing his Rule 5 status.
Santander must prove capable of playing the outfield. The Orioles like his bat, his ability to hit from both sides of the plate, but his defense will be under close scrutiny in spring training.
Eight appearances in right field and four in left last season didn’t provide an adequate sample size for determining if he can contribute outside the batter’s box.
“I hope he can, I hope he shows us the things that makes us want to (keep him) there,” Showalter said last week on 105.7 The Fan. “But his defensive skills, his throwing skills, he’s got to show us that he can play on both sides of the ball. And that’s something we’ve got to get better at.
“We weren’t as good as we’ve been in the past and I’ve talked to Dan (Duquette). I think we’ve gotten away from that. Defensively, we took a step back and it’s going to be a real point of emphasis physically and if you want to call it spiritually or whatever. We’re going to make sure we understand that’s something we have got to get back to and especially in some areas where we’re not as good as we have been. Especially with a pitching staff that doesn’t strike out a lot of people. Believe me, if they can’t defend ...
“We’re talking about Santander, he’s capable of it. He’s not bad. I just want to get a real feel for what we can count on, because you don’t carry Rule 5 guys if they don’t play in the American League East. They’re going to be on the field.”
Trey Mancini made tremendous strides in his first season in the outfield. He wasn’t a liability in left. But the Orioles want a plus defender in right. They’d rather provide the majority of Mark Trumbo’s at-bats as the designated hitter.
Santander doesn’t have to be Gold Glove caliber, especially in more of a reserve role, but the bat alone may not keep him in Baltimore.
A team in full rebuild mode wouldn’t be so picky. You don’t just hold onto Santander, you play him every day. But the Orioles aren’t tearing down the club. They aren’t interested in dedicating the 2018 season to evaluating their young talent and planning for the future.
I’ve got Santander on my mock four-man bench, along with the backup catcher, utility infielder and another outfielder. The other names are harder to ascertain.
We still don’t know what’s happening to Tim Beckham. The Orioles will try to sign another catcher to toss into the backup competition. They could bring in more than one outfielder to join Santander, Austin Hays, Joey Rickard and Jaycob Brugman.
Hays isn’t likely to be the everyday right fielder breaking camp because he bats from the right side and he’s played only 20 games above Double-A. His time is coming, though.
Showalter’s opinion of Hays defensively?
“A little bit of a riverboat gambler,” he said. “It’s not particular fluid and smooth, but he’s aggressive, he’s not afraid to dive, he’s going to throw well. But I think sometimes more is not always better and he’s trying to impress.
“I think when his clock slows down a little bit, if it will, he will be a little better. But he was running on all cylinders when he came up last year and he should be. I understand that. But also, I’ve got a feeling that’s just him. I don’t think you’re going to see him really back off a lot. But he’s going to need to learn how to live to fight another day every once in a while.”
Hays brings fewer questions defensively than Santander and he can back up in center field, which is critical because the Orioles keep vowing to provide more rest for Adam Jones. Rickard also plays all three outfield positions, but he’s better in the corners.
Showalter would like to bring back Craig Gentry, who’s a free agent, in another attempt to bolster the defense. Gentry is a right-handed hitter, which would seem to put him in direct competition with Hays and Rickard. The more the merrier.