How does a player who appeared in 101 games pull a disappearing act while staying on the roster?
That’s how it feels with Dwight Smith Jr.
He’s on the 40-man roster, but tends to be excluded from the outfield conversation or led late into it.
Manager Brandon Hyde couldn’t be pinned down on a set outfield as he handled his media obligations at the Winter Meetings. A suggestion was made that Hyde might have a better grasp of his starters now with Austin Hays flanked by Anthony Santander and Trey Mancini.
“I think it’s up in the air,” Hyde replied, “but I do have a better grasp of our players, though.”
Asked if he could envision an outfield with that trio, Hyde said, “Definitely a possibility, yeah. But there are other guys in the mix. We’ll see how it plays out.”
The ideal setup is exactly how it was presented to Hyde. Hays was spectacular in September and only an injury could keep him out of center. Mancini remains blocked from full-time duty at first base, which puts him in right on most nights, barring a dramatic roster change. And Santander earned his at-bats with 20 doubles and 20 home runs in 93 games.
The Orioles recalled Santander from Triple-A Norfolk on June 7 and he ranked second on the team in doubles, home runs (19) and RBIs (58), and fourth in hits (98) and runs scored (44) after that date. He had a 12-game hitting streak from Aug. 25-Sept. 7, the longest on the club, and led it with five outfield assists.
The .297 on-base percentage won’t win him bragging rights, and he ran out of steam in September, the length of the season catching up to him. He went 13-for-84 (.155) in the final month and didn’t play in the last five games.
Smith, meanwhile, broke camp with the team and made 82 starts in left field, his season interrupted by a concussion, calf strain and option to the minors. He had hitting streaks of eight and nine games, but also endured an 0-for-33 stretch from June 30-July 20.
A season best described as uneven.
Smith had the same .297 on-base percentage as Santander, but the similarities fade from there.
The Orioles seem pleased with Santander’s defense, particularly how he tracks the ball. Smith didn’t instill the same confidence - Baseball-Reference.com assigned him a minus-1.4 dWAR - and his arm is below average. But no one made more starts in left and he’s on the 40-man roster, which for now makes him an option for Hyde.
Smith hit five home runs in 12 exhibition games after the Orioles acquired him from the Blue Jays for international bonus slot funds, and he slashed .276/.325/.486 with seven doubles, five home runs and 19 RBIs in his first 27 regular season games. The concussion suffered in June stalled his momentum.
The ankle surgery that DJ Stewart underwent in October could improve Smith’s chances of sticking with the club. But Cedric Mullins returns, his speed and ability to play center field considered valuable assets, and the Orioles re-signed Mason Williams to a minor league deal.
Ryan McKenna was placed on the 40-man roster to protect him in the Rule 5 draft, but he won’t make the team out of spring training. The Orioles might sign another center fielder to a minor league deal for depth purposes.
Ryan Mountcastle is learning left field and could be critiqued in right, according to executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias. He isn’t expected to land on the opening day roster, but he’s knocking on the door.
Smith is trying to avoid being shoved out of it.
He’s trying to stay on the team and in a conversation that tends to exclude him.
Today’s question: Which three outfielders should get most of the starts in 2020?
* The conclusion of the baseball season doesn’t mark an ending to the charitable work done by the Orioles.
Some of it is publicized, but much more tends to unfold behind the scenes locally and internationally.
If it truly is better to give than to receive, particularly over the holidays, the Orioles can be labeled as winners during their rebuild. The standings don’t tell the entire story.
The Orioles shared a few examples with the media this week, including:
Reliever Evan Phillips and catcher Chance Sisco partnered with Orioles Hall of Famer and former second baseman Brian Roberts to volunteer at the Child Protection Center in Sarasota, Fla., where they attended a Christmas party and donated gifts to children. Roberts, who serves as an analyst on MASN and Orioles radio broadcasts, still lives in Sarasota.
Phillips and Sisco previously volunteered at the Thanksgiving sorting drive for the Mayors’ Feed the Hungry Program at Ed Smith Stadium. Phillips also donated and helped to raise awareness for a food drive at Mt. Hebron High School in Howard County.
Santander donated to his childhood elementary school in Agua Blanca, Venezuela, to fund and reconstruct their restrooms to be functional for the students.
Santander also volunteered with The Players Trust, along with U.S. Ambassador Phillip S. Goldberg and Project Beisbol, to celebrate the sport in Cartagena, Colombia through a day of youth clinics for kids from local communities.
Infielder Hanser Alberto and reliever Miguel Castro participated in the “Game of Legends,” a charity exhibition and home run derby featuring Dominican major league players and retired stars at Quisqueya Stadium Juan Marichal in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
All proceeds benefitted the St. Jude Foundation, which helps Dominican children who are battling cancer.
Minor league infielder Cadyn Grenier supported the 98.5 KLUC Toy Drive in Las Vegas, as his family has done for many years. The latest Toy Drive set record-breaking numbers with 41 trucks full of toys, 9,540 bikes donated and more than $600,000 in cash and gift cards for children and families in need.
Reliever Mychal Givens hosted the second annual Givens Back Foundation shopping event for children in the Tampa, Fla., community. Givens, along with members of his Foundation baseball team and their parents, shopped for holiday gifts for 21 local children.
Givens also hosted a holiday event where team members and their families met the recipients of the gifts.
Reliever Paul Fry partnered with New Balance Foundation to donate cleats to members of his high school baseball team in Michigan.
Another reliever, Shawn Armstrong, adopted a North Carolina family this holiday season and donated toys and gifts.