The Orioles hadn’t made a final decision on shortstop Richie Martin prior to baseball’s shutdown in spring training. He remained on the camp roster, which is frozen at 50 players. The club could have placed him in a utility role or, more likely, assigned him to Triple-A Norfolk in an attempt to further develop his skills.
They had the freedom to go in any direction with Martin no longer holding Rule 5 status.
The minor league season is expected to be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Major league rosters could expand to 30 players, with teams also carrying taxi squads, if the sport is salvaged in 2020.
(The sides keep bickering and we keep waiting and speculating.)
Manager Brandon Hyde could carry an extra utility player, with Martin providing backup services in the middle infield. Martin can’t be a prince of the Tides, leaving the taxi squad as the other alternative.
“That’s why during the course of spring training, even though we didn’t know that we were going to have this recess, we still gave him a shot at playing a little bit of second base,” said third base coach and infield instructor José Flores. “He started to get a little bit familiarized with the position and being on his blind side when he’s turning double plays, because it would increase his chances of making the club and that’s all we wanted from him, to get a chance to actually make the club.
“He knows that he was competing for a job with (Pat) Valaika, with (Andrew) Velazquez and a couple of other infielders. But he was actually having a decent spring training before it all came to an end. And even on the offensive side he was starting to swing the bat pretty good. Last year he made a lot of adjustments and worked a lot on his offense.
“For him to be able to separate defense from offense last year was a little bit of a struggle. He actually succeeded defensively. We look at it that way. But it’s really hard for a young shortstop in the big leagues, first time in the big leagues, to struggle offensively and go out there and perform defensively on a daily basis. Why? Because he knows that eyes are going to be on him and he wants to do his best so he can stick in the big leagues.
“Knowing that coming into the spring, I think it’s helped him a lot to be a little more successful in both ends.”
The Orioles have expressed their satisfaction with Martin’s work in the field. The metrics crush him.
Veteran José Iglesias could help him.
Iglesias earned his reputation as a plus-plus defender and the shortstop job rightfully was handed to him before the ink dried on his contract. He’s shown interest in tutoring the younger players, expanding his role on the team. And Martin paid close attention to him in camp.
“I think one of the things before he signed, I know Mike (Elias) had several conversations with him regarding this matter,” Flores said. “And knowing that he’s a veteran and that he may not have a lot of time left in the big leagues, I think he knows now that as a leader on the club he can actually start teaching these kids the way that you stick in the big leagues for long periods of time.
“With that being said, I know the work that I’ve done with Richie and Josie together, it’s been really good. Josie shares a lot of his ideas, we share with Richie, and he seems to take all that into play. And I think Richie has actually become a better infielder just by having Josie working out with him during the course of spring training.
“One of the things with Richie is we have to remember he didn’t get a chance to play in Triple-A last year, so he was still in the development process and he needed to learn when he got up to the big leagues how to slow his game down defensively and be little bit more under control in order for him to be able to make more plays and stay solid defensively. That’s one of the things that Josie talked to him a lot about. Stay under control, know who the better runner is, know his speed, know if he comes out of the box hard. Know all those things.
“And keep in constant communication with your infielders because when they let you know those things as you make your groundball approach and get ready to field that ball and make your throw to first base, you see that and hear all that, you’ll be able to execute better. So that’s one of the things that I think Josie has helped Richie a lot with over the course of spring training.”
It can continue in the 2.0 version. If such a thing exists next month.
The Orioles chose Iglesias over Adeiny Hechavarría in their winter search for a glove-first shortstop. They gave him a deal that paid $2.5 million this year with a $3.5 million club option for 2021, and it included a $500,000 buyout.
“Besides knowing that he’s a really good defensive shortstop, I think his leadership on the field is going to be huge for us,” Flores said. “It’s not that we lacked that last year, but I think he’s willing to accept the challenge of being the veteran of that infield and the guy with experience. Being in the middle of the field, it takes leadership in order for you to be successful at it and to gain the trust of your teammates. I think having him there, especially with the experience that he’s got playing in the American League, and everybody knows what he can bring to the table as a defender, it’s going to be a huge plus for us on that end.
“I think we’ll be a way better club defensively with him at short and with Bert (Hanser Alberto) at second. Why? Because Josie was one of the top defensive shortstops in the big leagues last year and Bert, I believe, had the highest conversion rate on double plays on 50 attempts or more for a second baseman, so that combination could actually be fun to watch. We did not get a lot of chances to see it in spring training, but we did a lot of work one-on-one with them as a double play combination and it was really fun to watch. So I think Josie’s going to bring a lot to the table as a leader.
“He knows a lot about the game, he knows the American League. He also played in the National League last year, and with the format that MLB is trying to come up with right now, it brings the National League East into our division. Hopefully he played some of those guys, so he’ll probably help our group of infielders be a little bit more successful at it.”
Note: The Orioles are beginning to conduct minor league business that would have taken place prior to the shutdown.
The club has released 37 players from its farm system, including infielder Preston Palmeiro, the youngest son of former first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, and Dalton Hoiles, the oldest son of former catcher Chris Hoiles. Others released include infielders Jomar Reyes, Sean Miller (Archbishop Spalding) and Angelo Mora and outfielder Cole Billingsley.
Many of the players on the list had been assigned to the two Dominican Summer League teams.
Typical cuts weren’t made previously as teams had to shut down their minor league complexes in March and return home. Doing so now allows players to possibly seek other opportunities while baseball remains on hold.