O’s use draft to fortify shortstop position on farm

Last winter, the Orioles signed free agent shortstop José Iglesias to a one-year contract with a club option for 2021. At a position where you want to have a plus defender, he will be that for the Orioles when we see baseball again. He posted a career-high 1.4 Defensive Wins Above Replacement last season and leads all major league shortstops in fielding percentage since 2015.

But the Orioles hope the long-term future of the position is currently on the farm, where in recent years, the club has drafted several players at the position. They added two shortstops this week (not yet officially signed, of course) and drafted three in the first five rounds last year. Add a couple of holdovers to that and I count eight players on the farm with hopes of being the future Orioles shortstop. Six of the eight are 21 or younger and two are still 18.

While it is too soon for the 2020 draftees to be ranked on the O’s prospect lists, the Orioles have five shortstops ranked among their top 30 by both Baseball America and MLBPipeline.com. And while not all eight of these players are likely to stay at shortstop, most do grade as solid or better with their defense.

In two years, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has added five shortstops, all taken in the first five rounds and 138 selections. A position that once looked pretty barren on the O’s farm could morph into a strength if some of this group live up to expectations.

Starting with this draft, the O’s added Jordan Westburg with pick No. 30 out of Mississippi State and then added Anthony Servideo with pick No. 74 out of the University of Mississippi. Both are considered good defenders, but Servideo is rated a bit better with the glove and gets 55 grades for his arm and fielding from MLBPipeline.com.

Gunnar-Henderson-Waves-To-OPACY-Sidebar.jpgIn the 2019 draft, the O’s selected three shortstops. High school pick Gunnar Henderson, who turns 19 on June 29, was taken No. 42 overall and has a lot of potential at the plate. The O’s are dreaming on him as an offensive shortstop - a potent bat at a premium defensive spot if he can stay at short. He is rated as the club’s No. 6 prospect by MLB.com and No. 7 by Baseball America.

Also in 2019, they selected Joseph Ortiz from New Mexico State in round four (No. 108). While he is not in the O’s top 30, he was the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year in 2019 and is considered a plus defender at short. The club drafted Darrell Hernaiz out of a Texas high school last June in round five (No. 138). Hernaiz, 18, shared time at short last season in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League with Henderson. He is rated as the O’s No. 25 prospect by Baseball America and No. 26 by MLB.com.

In the 2018 draft, the Orioles selected a top defensive shortstop, Cadyn Grenier from Oregon State, in Competitive Balance Round A (No. 37). While he has not hit much yet - just .253 last year at Single-A Delmarva and .208 at Single-A Frederick - he gets 60 grades for his arm and fielding from MLBPipeline.com. He is rated No. 23 by them and No. 24 on the O’s prospects list by Baseball America.

The O’s added two shortstops in 2017 that both had good seasons at the bat last year. In round two (No. 60), they drafted Canadian Adam Hall, 21, who hit .298 with 78 runs and 33 steals in 2019 for Delmarva while also getting 55 grades for his arm and fielding. For Delmarva, where Grenier also played last summer, Hall made 79 starts at short and 39 at second base. Either could turn into his future position.

Also that draft, in round six (No. 188), the O’s selected Mason McCoy. He batted .290 last year between Frederick and Double-A Bowie, hitting .379 in 27 games for the Keys. McCoy, 25, is rated No. 24 by MLB.com and No. 29 by Baseball America, and gets above-average grades for his defense. While one scout said he is “very solid every night, but he won’t wow you on defense,” I do seem to recall he made a few wow plays in spring training.

The Orioles did not have any up-and-coming prospects at short last year at Triple-A Norfolk and filled the spot with veterans. But in a year or two, some of the youngsters will start to make their way into higher levels in the system. The Orioles will have to find playing time for all these kids when baseball returns to normal on the farm. No doubt they’ll figure it out, even if some share time with someone else between second and short as Hall and Grenier did to some degree at Delmarva last year.

Earl Weaver once said - and I’m paraphrasing here - to draft all shortstops and then find the gems. Weaver probably would approve in that sense of the last two drafts. With Servideo and Westburg no doubt headed for the top 30 lists, the Orioles will soon have seven shortstop candidates in the top 30.

The job of finding the future O’s shortstop is now well underway.

Play ball?: It looks like we will have a baseball season even after weeks of exhausting negotiations between Major League Baseball owners and players got almost nothing done. The players will not accept anything less than 100 percent prorated pay. The owners want to offer something less. They failed to compromise or meet in the middle. Negotiation fatigue, as I wrote yesterday. We all have it today more than yesterday. Now MLB will likely implement a shortened season, one that could be as few as 48 games. It didn’t have to come to this. More here in USA Today.

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