One player looking to repeat his offense and some shortstop talk

Happy Hanser Alberto is back with the Orioles in 2020 trying to duplicate his special 2019 season for the club. He’s always smiling, always happy and seems always thrilled to be an Oriole.

And why not? How does a player claimed on waivers four times between the 2018 and 2019 seasons - twice by the Orioles - wind up batting .305? That ranked as the eighth-best batting average in the American League and 16th-best in the majors.

Alberto-Swings-Black-Sidebar.jpgHe ended 2018 with his original team, the Texas Rangers, who had signed him out of the Dominican Republic in November 2009. But then he was claimed by the Yankees, Orioles, Giants and Orioles again between Nov. 2, 2018 and March 1, 2019.

The Orioles are pretty glad they made that second claim. Alberto hit .398 versus left-handed pitchers, second in the major leagues to the .404 by Boston’s J.D. Martinez. His low strikeout rate of 9.1 percent led the majors among players with 500 or more plate appearances. He got bat to ball and some good things happened.

For a guy who had played at Triple-A for parts of every season from 2015 through 2018, to have the success he had last year was pretty meaningful.

“It was amazing,” Alberto said over the weekend during the Birdland Caravan. “I went to my parents’ house and we were sitting there just talking about the year, about the opportunity. About how good God works. Sometimes when the opportunity comes we have to be ready, and I was ready. Hopefully, we can repeat that and do that again this year. My dad would cry and laugh. He was super happy, because he knows how hard I worked and how much I was waiting for this opportunity. All my family was really proud.”

And of course this winter was a little easier for Alberto, not bouncing around from team to team.

“Yeah, it was. After I signed arbitration, I was relaxed but I never stopped working,” he said. “I keep the same work, every single day. That is the only way I can show I’m ready and it wasn’t a lucky year. That’s because I’m working hard.”

Alberto made 67 starts at second base last year, 58 at third base and two in the outfield. He could find himself more at second come this season, with Jonathan Villar gone, and he could play alongside new O’s shortstop José Iglesias.

“I think so,” Alberto said. “I think I will be more at second base. We’ve got a strong shortstop and I know how he can play defense. I think he will be a leader for us and he can teach us how we can play good defense. You know we’ve got a pretty good offense. So now we have to wait to see what the pitchers bring to this year and see what’s going on with this season.”

After he had such a strong season hitting, Alberto said he worked with the same hitting program over the winter in the DR. Now the challenge is to hit that well again.

“Keep the same work. Hard work every day,” he said. “And listen to the coaches. I think that’s the key. If you pay attention to the coaches, you will be successful.”

On the subject of shortstops: The Orioles indeed have a new one, having signed Iglesias last month. They expect he will bring plus defense to shortstop, and that will help their young pitchers.

Since 2016, Iglesias posted 1.1, 1.1, 0.9 and a career-best 1.4 defensive Wins Above Replacement per Baseball-Reference.com. In FanGraphs.com’s defensive stats, he ranked seventh among all qualifying major league shortstops in overall defensive rating at the position for 2019, and he rated ninth in Defensive Runs Saved. Since 2015, Iglesias leads all major league shortstops in fielding percentage at .985.

Orioles Hall of Famer Mike Bordick, a pretty good shortstop in his career, was on the Birdland Caravan and was asked about Iglesias.

“I think he’s going to help, for sure,” Bordick said. “I’m still a firm believer that defense is a huge part of success. And I think it will help younger pitchers and the whole staff if guys can consistently catch the ball behind them. He brings that. He brings a consistent veteran glove, veteran presence in the middle of the infield. I expect him to dazzle with his glove. He’s a human highlight film at times, but he can make the routine play too. He can add a little with the bat also. He’ll help stabilize the rotation.”

More prospect rankings: And now we’ve heard from FanGraphs.com, which released a top 120 prospects list on Wednesday with four Orioles getting ranked. Here is the rundown of four outlets with such lists, and where the O’s players were ranked as we review the lists of Baseball America, MLBPipeline.com, FanGraphs.com and Baseball Prospectus.

Adley Rutschman: No. 4 by MLBPipeline.com and Baseball Prospectus and No. 5 by Baseball America and FanGraphs.com.

Grayson Rodriguez: No. 29 by FanGraphs.com, No. 35 by Baseball America, No. 36 by MLBPipeline.com and No. 45 by Baseball Prospectus.

DL Hall: No. 47 by Baseball America, No. 69 by MLBPipeline.com and No. 86 by Fangraphs.com.

Ryan Mountcastle: No. 57 by Baseball Prospectus, No. 94 by MLBPipeline.com and No. 108 by FanGraphs.com.

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