O’s Rule 5 shortstop learning at major league level (Henderson and Rutschman update)

SEATTLE - He didn’t have a highlight game, going 0-4 with two double plays and two strikeouts on Sunday, but shortstop Richie Martin made a highlight-reel defensive play here on Saturday.

He dove in the hole to glove a ball and made a strong throw from the outfield grass to gun down former Oriole Tim Beckham in the fifth inning. It was one of the best defensive plays of the year by any Oriole.

By now, it’s pretty clear the Rule 5 pick in December from Oakland has a plus glove and plus arm. It’s also clear that the Orioles are going to keep him around beyond this season.

After three years of mediocre offense, the 24-year-old Martin hit .300 at Double-A last season. Now, as a Rule 5 pick, he’s making the leap to the majors. It’s sink or swim. The Orioles are trying to nurse along his offense while appreciating his speed and defense.

“He’s getting a lot of at-bats and a good opportunity,” manager Brandon Hyde said Sunday in the visiting dugout at T-Mobile Park. “He’s still a really young player that had not played Triple-A before this year. So he’s getting a really nice taste of the big leagues and getting a really good experience up here.

“One thing I love about Richie, no matter what his at-bats look like, the defense plays. He takes a lot of pride in his defense and he’s been huge for us at shortstop.”

Martin-Richie-Throws-Gray-at-Twins-Sidebar.jpgBut skipping his Triple-A year, where he would be playing now if he had not been a Rule 5 pick, is challenging.

“Very difficult,” Hyde said. “And he’s been making some adjustments offensively that are really helping him out. He’s kind of simplified his swing a little bit. The leg kick is gone. He’s getting his (front) foot down a little bit more on time. His whole thing for me is being on time with the fastball and in a position to hit. There have been a lot of times this year where he’s late getting his stride foot down.

“As he is starting to understand the speed of the game up here, you see him simplify his movements and start to get in a better position to hit. Good to see. It’s not easy here. He was in the (Double-A) Texas League last year and now he’s in the American League East.”

Martin is batting .172/.229/.282. He recently hit two homers in a four-game span on the road at Texas and Houston. The O’s see signs that he can grow into a decent offensive player. But right now with basically four players - Jonathan Villar, Rio Ruiz, Hanser Alberto and himself - for three spots at second, short and third, he’s not getting everyday at-bats.

But Hyde has seen some things to like from his bat - even though the stats are not there right now.

“He works under the ball a little bit, but there are some reasons why,” Hyde said. “He’s late getting down a lot of times and the first move, not to get too technical, is underneath the ball. The more we can get him on time, the more the swing will flatten out. If you watch his BP, he drives the baseball. And it’s not lifting the baseball, hitting high flies. He drives the ball on a line to all fields. So you see the strength and the raw power.

“He hit a homer in Texas where he got a backdoor slider that he caught on a line and drilled out to left field. So there’s raw power in there. He doesn’t need to lift anything. Just want to see him hit the ball hard in the gaps. When he’s in a good position to hit, he’s able to do that and that is the adjustment he has to make.”

About that road trip: Outside of one win, there were few bright spots during the 1-6 trip to Oakland and Seattle. The Orioles gave up 10 runs in one inning in a 16-2 loss at Oakland on Tuesday and eight yesterday in a 13-3 loss at Seattle. O’s pitching has allowed 13 or more runs in a game seven times to lead the majors. They’ve allowed 10 or more runs 15 times.

They got Trey Mancini back after he was plunked in the left elbow in Oakland and he homered yesterday. Lefty John Means should return during the upcoming Cleveland series. Their offense perked up with 20 runs over the last three days.

But 1-6 was rough.

“It’s really disappointing,” said Hyde. “We didn’t play well for me. We played well (Saturday). Had a nice offensive comeback the day before. But we didn’t pitch well. Had a tough time scoring runs in Oakland. It was for me, when we pitched well, we didn’t score enough runs. When we didn’t pitch well, we hit. I thought we swung the bat well (Sunday). Had some good at-bats and their starter was at a high pitch count early in the game, but that game got away from us so early.”

At 22-56 with losses in 11 of the last 12 and 15 of the past 18 games, the Orioles return home for five games starting Tuesday night. They’ll host former Oriole Manny Machado and the San Diego Padres on Tuesday and Wednesday at Oriole Park.

O’s may be close to signing Gunnar Henderson: The Orioles have signed 29 of their 41 draft picks and Maria Martin, a Montgomery, Ala.-based TV reporter tweeted Sunday that the club will soon add second-round pick Gunnar Henderson to the list. He was taken No. 42 overall in the draft and the slot amount to sign that pick is $1,771,100.

The O’s selected the 17-year-old lefty batting prep shortstop from John T. Morgan Academy in Selma, Ala. Henderson was rated the No. 30 prospect in this draft class by Baseball America and No. 27 by MLBPipeline.com.

A two-sport standout, Henderson was named the Alabama Independent School Association boys basketball Player of the Year for 2018-19 after averaging 17 points and 11 rebounds per game for Morgan. On the diamond, he hit .559/.641/1.225 with 17 doubles, nine triples, 11 home runs, 69 runs, 75 RBIs, and 28 stolen bases in 32 games. He was the Alabama Player of the Year.

On June 11, O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said he expected to sign Henderson.

“I’m expecting to, I’m hoping to. Gunnar Henderson, big talent. And has a commitment to Auburn, which I’m sure is attractive to him,” Elias said. “But this is a golden opportunity for a young infielder to come into a team that is focused on building through the farm system, building through prospects. Building through player development.

“And particularly in an area of relative lack of depth in our farm system. At least I think with infielders. So really a good spot for a young kid like him. I think he knows that, and at the end of the day, it will be his decision and his family’s decision. But we’re going to put our best foot forward to get him signed here.”

It’s just my speculation, but during this coming homestand we could see the O’s announce the signings of and introduce both Henderson and their top pick, Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman, who was taken with the No. 1 overall pick.

Update: Both of the O’s first two picks are close to signing.

Jim Callis of MLB.com tweeted that Henderson will sign with the Orioles for $2.3 million. The slot amount for No. 42 overall was $1,771,100.

Rutschman is also nearing an agreement with the Orioles, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. Heyman noted that the deal, once official, is expected to be “in record territory.” The current record is Gerrit Cole’s $8 million bonus. The slot amount for Rutschman’s draft spot is $8,415,300.

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