How it might look in 2020: O’s infield

Over the next few weeks, let’s take a look at some aspects of the Orioles and how they were shaping up at the time that spring training was halted. Today, a look at the infield.

Earlier, I made my projection for the five-man rotation in this entry.

While we may see rosters larger than 26 players when baseball does start this year, we are going with a roster of 26 for this exercise.

Under that roster size, I’m going with seven infielders, one of which can also play in the outfield, where later you will see I have a group of four to begin the year. We could certainly also see a different mix. Some might go with six infielders, five outfielders and two catchers.

I’ve got Chris Davis at first, Hanser Alberto at second base, José Iglesias at short and Rio Ruiz at third base. Extra infielders include Renato Núñez, Pat Valaika and Andrew Velazquez.

Davis certainly looked like a new man - a bigger man - in spring training. He hit .467 (7-for-15) with three homers, nine RBIs and also nine walks. He struck out just three times. The question as we approached mid-March that no one could truly answer, was: Would it last when the season started? We’re just going to have to wait to find out that answer. But it beats the alternative. That being Davis taking third strike after third strike and hitting .150.

Alberto is going to try and show us his 2019 season was not a fluke. He hit .305, eighth in the American League, and .398 versus lefties, which was second in the major leagues. Under this roster arrangement, he could get some starts at third base versus lefties allowing Velazquez or Valaika to make some starts at second base.

Iglesias seemed to be fitting in just fine with his new team during spring training and he’s the starting shortstop. The Orioles, over a long season, could really benefit from the defense of Iglesias at short and Austin Hays in center. They got stronger with the glove up the middle. Iglesias set a career high with 1.4 defensive WAR in 2019. He also hit .288 with 11 homers and 59 RBIs. He has a similar offensive profile in some respects to Alberto - low walks, but also low strikeouts. He puts the ball in play.

Rio-Ruiz-Swings-Black-Away-Sidebar.jpgRuiz looked very solid at bat in the spring, driving the ball with authority while batting .440 (11-for-25). Was it just a hot stretch or a carryover from a second half last year where he slugged .462 with a .766 OPS? In 2019, he made his first career opening day roster. On Aug. 11 against Houston, his Eutaw Street homer in the ninth provided the Orioles their only walk-off win of the year.

Núñez is still likely mostly a DH, but the club could put him at first or third if needed. He’s an infielder on the roster. Last season, he became the fifth in club history to hit 30 or more homers in his age-25 season. He joined Manny Machado, Boog Powell, Jonathan Schoop and Eddie Murray. He’ll add some thump in the middle of the order after being one of 20 American League players to produce 30 homers and 90 RBIs.

Valaika showed pop in spring as he tied Davis for the team lead with three home runs. He does have a career .752 OPS against lefties in 209 major league plate appearances, which presents some platoon possibilities. In his time in the majors in parts of the last four years with Colorado, he made 26 starts at second base, 20 at short, 12 at first base, nine at third and two in the outfield in left.

Velazquez, acquired on waivers Feb. 19 from Cleveland, made a nice impression in a short time in Florida. He flashed some speed and defense and is a switch-hitter. At 25, the O’s may have added a young player on the rise. In his time in the minors, he made 419 career starts at shortstop, 92 at second, 82 in center field and 30 at third base. He can be a super-utility type. He also has options remaining if the club decides to go in another direction with this roster spot.

A sad note: The father of Orioles prospect Adam Hall passed away a week ago today. Jeffrey “Tyler” Hall was 53. He was very close to Adam, and his health battle was something significant to the 2019 Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds.

The elder Hall died of multiple myeloma, which he had battled since 2013. His son was the O’s second-round draft pick in 2017. The Orioles put together this Twitter tribute during the 2019 season.

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