Infield questions linger for Orioles

While wondering if I should jump off the baseball beat and cover something more believable, like World Wrestling Entertainment ...

What are the Orioles doing at third base?

Mark it down as another storyline heading into spring training.

Rio Ruiz made 89 starts at third to lead the club, but he also was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk and pretty much shared the position with Hanser Alberto.

The Orioles could give him a shot at an everyday job, which he’ll have to earn in camp. He’s actually a career .275/.310/.438 hitter against left-handed pitching and a .209/.296/.338 hitter against right-handers.

Not your typical splits for a player who bats from the left side.

Repeating last year’s arrangement becomes complicated with Jonathan Villar traded to the Marlins. Alberto might be the regular second baseman. He’s got to be deemed the favorite on this date.

Which leads to a question that’s quite similar to the first one: What are the Orioles doing at second base?

Wilkerson-Play-at-Third-Gray-Sidebar.jpgRichard Ureña has the inside track on a super-utility role that makes him a candidate just about anywhere in the infield. Stevie Wilkerson was pulled from the infield for much of the 2019 season because the Orioles needed him in the outfield, but he’s made 14 starts at second in the majors and 229 in the minors - easily the most at any position.

Of course, Wilkerson has to make the team first before he can play second.

I’ve written that the Orioles want Dilson Herrera to compete at third base rather than just be labeled a utility player. He signed a minor league deal on Dec. 5.

Herrera has made 52 starts at second base in the majors, seven in left field and two at third base. Most of his minor league starts also have come at second, but he’s made 101 at third.

He’s out of minor league options, which becomes an important factor if his contract is selected.

Herrera spent the 2019 season in Triple-A, where he hit .248/.330/.501 with 29 doubles, 24 home runs and 64 RBIs in 117 games with the Mets affiliate in Syracuse. His last tour in the majors came the previous summer with the Reds, when he appeared in 53 games and went 16-for-87 (.184) with five doubles and five home runs.

We’ll get to know him a lot better in Sarasota, since he’s expected to be included among the camp invites. It shouldn’t be much longer before the Orioles announce it.

Pat Valaika was designated for assignment when the Orioles claimed Ureña off waivers from the Blue Jays, and he’s no longer a candidate at any position because the Diamondbacks claimed him yesterday.

Of course, he could pull an Alberto and eventually hit the wire again, giving the Orioles another shot at him.

There’s also Renato Núñez hovering as a possibility for at least part-time duty at third base. He’d simplify matters if able to improve defensively and become a more trustworthy player, which the Orioles are trying to accomplish with extra work.

Otherwise, he can keep mashing as the designated hitter and provide some thump in the middle of the order. The Orioles can live with it, though there’s a loss of flexibility in the spot.

Ryan Mountcastle isn’t expected to break camp with the team, but he should debut over the summer. The question is where.

Mountcastle will take lots of ground balls at third base in spring training, but he’s also going to play first base and the outfield. He transitioned to left over the summer and the club wants to check him out in right.

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