Today let’s take a look at five young Orioles position players. Then give us your take on how much promise and potential they hold for future Orioles teams.
Alberto hit .305 in 139 games and finished eighth in the American League in batting average. It was the 44th time an Orioles player finished at .300 or better, and the first since Nick Markakis and Aubrey Huff in 2008. Alberto batted .398 against left-handed pitching and finished with the second-highest average against lefties, behind only J.D. Martinez of Boston at .404.
This guy was a joy to be around, always smiling. He fit in easily with just about anyone. He doesn’t draw many bases on balls and is an average-at-best defender (yes that is probably a stretch), which makes him somewhat one-dimensional. He also doesn’t hit much for power.
Hays is going to be No. 1 on my list. He was that rare Oriole - and it’s probably somewhat rare on most teams - who can beat you on offense and defense. One who runs well, and whose speed comes into play at bat and also in the field. Hays was dynamic in September. It was a small sample, but an impressive one. On Sept. 23 at Toronto, Hays became the first major league rookie to have five or more RBIs, a stolen base and an outfield assist in the same game since RBIs became an official stat in 1920.
He can play all three outfield spots but is almost certainly the O’s center fielder of the future, if not the present. He plays with an abandon that can energize the team and the fans. His style of play can set a tone for the team. He made a heckuva 21-game impression.
Ruiz had his moments on offense and was solid on defense. In 413 plate appearances, he hit .232/.306/.376. He was better at home, with a .751 OPS, compared to his .618 OPS on the road. Ruiz hit .306 with runners in scoring position and .366 with RISP and two outs. He blasted a walk-off, two-run homer onto Eutaw Street on Aug. 11 against Houston, which was the Orioles’ only walk-off win of 2019.
Among American League third basemen with 400 or more plate appearances, Ruiz ranked sixth in defensive runs saved. Among the 11 O’s batters with 300 PAs, he was second in walk rate at 9.7. Ruiz shows potential on offense with his gap-to-gap approach and solid plate discipline, and also on defense. Can he take his game to a higher level? I’m intrigued to find out.
Santander showed a potent bat from both sides of the plate and was solid on defense. In 405 plate appearances, he hit .261/.297/.476 with 20 doubles, 20 homers and 59 RBIs. He also showed ability to do damage from both sides of the plate with an OPS of .810 against lefty pitchers and .753 versus right-handers. But there was a real streakiness to his game and his average plummeted late in the year, when he was reportedly banged up a bit. He hit just .102 the last 13 games as his average tumbled from .290.
Santander showed some ability with the glove and even made starts in center field. His five outfield assists led the club. He seemed to have decent pitch recognition and didn’t chase too much for a young player with power. Just how much damage can he do as he gains even more experience?
Smith got off to a fast start after the Orioles acquired him from Toronto on March 8. In mid-May he was batting .278 with an .822 OPS. He was one of six Orioles to produce at least 50 RBIs. But he suffered a concussion in June and also went on the injured list with a left calf strain in late July. He really struggled in July, batting .161 with a .470 OPS, and he went through an 0-for-33 stretch. He showed some ability to hit in the clutch, batting .337 with eight home runs and 45 RBIs with runners in scoring position. But Smith really struggled on defense and showed a below-average arm.
So in my ranking based on future potential and upside, I go with this order from most to least: Hays, Santander, Ruiz, Alberto and Smith.
Hays shows five tools and beat teams with his bat and glove in September. He looked like a special talent. Santander is intriguing with the pop in that bat from both sides. Ruiz I can see getting better and, like Hays, he can beat you on offense and defense. Alberto’s lack of power and limitations on defense led me to rate him fourth here. Smith was not good on defense, and while his poor hitting later in the year may have been injury-related, it is enough to put him fifth out of five for me.
What is your ranking for this group?