Notes on Hardy, Stewart and Hays

While taking the high road again after my latest Oscar snub ...

As the Orioles keep us waiting on their decision regarding the starting shortstop on opening day - Manny Machado, Tim Beckham or a mystery applicant - J.J. Hardy is working out in Arizona and drawing interest from multiple teams. A typical offseason except for the free agency part.

Hardy has played only shortstop and therefore doesn’t profile as a utility candidate. He wants to be the primary starter at the position, but also get sufficient breaks in the right situation to stay fresh. He isn’t trying to run the table and play 162 games.

There isn’t much of a buzz surrounding Hardy and the Orioles. The only way he’d be able to return is if Machado stayed at third base and Beckham was used in a utility role, maybe getting a few starts at shortstop each week. Of course, trading Machado would open other possibilities, including putting Beckham at third base, but I’m working under the assumption, always subject to change, that Machado remains on the roster.

jj-hardy-white-batting.jpgThird base coach Bobby Dickerson spoke to Hardy over the phone last Wednesday and relayed part of their conversation to Showalter.

“J.J.’s doing great. Working out, doing good,” Showalter said the following night on 105.7 The Fan.

“Looking for a certain type of structure in a contract that allows him to play X-number of days. Someone’s going to get a nice player in J.J. Who knows? I don’t know where. Maybe he’s back with us. I don’t know.”

Hardy would ease into retirement if unable to find the right match. He’s prepared for it, but I’m guessing he lands a job due to the interest he’s generating.

“J.J.’s not chasing the last dollar,” Showalter said. “He understands he’s got a good life. But he wants to be in the right place with the right situation - more importantly, the right use of him - and he deserves that.”

I’ll say again that the Orioles will miss his leadership in the infield and the clubhouse. Few players that I’ve covered since 1997, my first full year on the beat, have commanded as much respect as Hardy. Machado didn’t push for the shortstop job out of deference to Hardy, only now feeling like it should belong to him.

Everyone noticed how Hardy took to the field early to work with Beckham, holding no grudges for surrendering the position after coming off the disabled list.

Hardy’s consistency at short also shouldn’t be taken for granted. The Orioles are going to reflect on it this summer, no matter who’s starting.

* I wrote last week that DJ Stewart will receive an invitation to spring training. The club hasn’t announced the full list of non-roster players, but Stewart is on it after batting .278/.378/.481 with 26 doubles, two triples, 21 home runs, 79 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 126 games at Double-A Bowie.

He’s looking a lot more like a first-round draft pick after a slow start to his professional career.

“You know who had a good, solid year was DJ Stewart,” Showalter said. “The package. This guy, if you look at each category, he grinded out a good year. Came on defensively.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun in some of those games when we take the shock troops as we call them up to Clearwater and Port Charlotte and where have you. I’m looking forward to seeing a guy like him and (Ryan) Mountcastle and (Cedric) Mullins, those guys play some of the road trips.”

Break out the gray pants.

* Austin Hays is on the 40-man roster and assured of being in camp. No invite necessary. The next step is trying to be on the opening day roster.

The Orioles chose Hays as their Minor League Player of the Year after he batted a combined .329/.365/.593 with 32 doubles, five triples, 32 home runs and 95 RBIs at Single-A Frederick and Bowie. There wasn’t much of a debate. And he was counted among Baseball America’s five finalists, but lost to Ronald Acuna, an outfielder in the Braves orgnanization who seems to be the consensus No. 1 prospect this year in various publications and online sites.

Acuna hit .325/.374/.522 with 31 doubles, eight triples, 21 homers, 82 RBIs and 44 steals at three levels of the system and led the minors with 181 hits.

Showalter still campaigns for Hays.

“Statistically, I thought he should have won Minor League Player of the Year,” Showalter said, “but that would upset a lot of people’s rankings of the Orioles.”

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