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Looking ahead to next year’s Orioles infield

The Orioles have some holes to fill as baseball’s winter meetings begin this week, but those holes aren’t in the infield, where they’re set all around the diamond.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

With a sleepy start to their hot stove activities, the Orioles 2018 starting rotation remains far from determined. It will be interesting when that comes together. The same cannot be said for the infield where everything seems to be in place for the coming year.

On one hand, the settled infield could be perceived as a positive because management feels good with where things stand at those positions. On the other hand, it could be a negative because the 2017 club won just 75 games, including a pitiful seven in the month of September, so how can a bad team not look for upgrades?

Whatever the case, barring something unexpected, the black and orange appear to know who will primarily man the infield at Camden Yards in 2018. This article looks at the strengths, weaknesses, expectations and questions for the starting group.

First Base – Chris Davis

First, the good news – Chris Davis is an outstanding fielding first baseman. The bad news – his offensive production had declined dramatically the last two years and he is due $23 million a year for each of the next five years. Things can change, but currently this is not a positive situation.

In 2017, Davis played in 128 games, 125 of which were at first base. His batting line of .215/.309/.423 was atrocious even without considering his salary. By WAR, he was worth negative value.

On top of the bad numbers, he looked lost at the plate much of the time. It is all a major regression from his very impressive 2013 and 2015 campaigns. When Davis was injured, Trey Mancini filled in at first, but he figures to be back to left field every day in 2018.

The fact is that Buck Showalter plays his veterans, and the team owes Davis trucks full of money, so there is little to no chance he won’t be at first base every day in 2018. Davis seems like a good teammate, stand-up guy who is the first to say he hasn’t performed at the level he needs to be at. O’s fans should hope that Crush and hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh can figure things out because we’ll see a lot of him on the right side of the infield.

Second Base – Jonathan Schoop

Since his debut in 2013, Jonathan Schoop has consistently trended in the right direction and improved his bat and glove. 2017 was a breakout year offensively for Schoop with 32 home runs, making the All-Star team and receiving MVP votes. His glove, while not the best in baseball, is not a liability. His team-leading 5.1 WAR in 2017 was an exciting sign for the future.

Few predicted the potential and dramatic rise in production Schoop displayed last season. For Orioles fans, it was great to see a potential star born. Combining Schoop’s tangible offensive and defensive skills with his leadership and clubhouse presence, makes him a cornerstone of the franchise looking ahead. As he continues to develop, watch out.

Jonathan is a free agent in two years after the 2019 season. While he’ll man second base for the next few years, the long-term question is, will the Birds preemptively sign him to an extension, or go down to the last contract year like they are doing with Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Zach Britton and Brad Brach?

Shortstop – Tim Beckham

Acquired on July 31, 2017, from Tampa Bay in a surprise move by Dan Duquette, the move was roundly criticized around baseball. With JJ Hardy’s contract expiring, Duquette struck pre-emptively to secure a shortstop for 2018 and beyond.

Given Beckham’s play over two months in Baltimore, his team friendly contract status, age and upside, the Birds should be pleased to have him at shortstop. While he tailed off at the end, over 50 games with the Orioles Beckham posted a line of .306/.348/.523. That would have lead the team over a full season. Defensively, he had nine errors and just looked from the eye test like his iffy reputation coming from Tampa was deserved.

Despite being the first overall pick of the 2008 June Amateur Draft, Beckham will only be 28 years old on Opening Day 2018. He has a ton of potential and athletic ability, hence why Duquette acquired him, but needs to become more consistent offensively and improve his defense.

Moving forward, the question is will Tim Beckham play like he did in August and September for Baltimore, or will he be more in-line with the 162 game average numbers posted over his career, where he’s posted a more pedestrian .260/.310/.444?

Time will tell, but for 2018, be prepared to see Tim Beckham at shortstop every day.

Third Base – Manny Machado

After a slow start to the 2017 season brought some raised eyebrows concerning Manny Machado, he rebounded nicely in July and August before cratering again in September, possibly due to a nasty bout with the flu. It all added up to a pedestrian, for Machado, season line of .259/.310/.471.

There was no All-Star appearance, but complementing the bat, his glove was as steady and consistent as ever at third and there were plenty of highlight reel plays and throws.

Machado is among the best third basemen in baseball, which is great for the Orioles. And at just 25 years old, the best is very likely yet to come.

Unfortunately for Baltimore, Machado is a free agent after the 2018 season. Is he worth the kind of mega free agent deal that he will undoubtedly commandeer on the open market, along with the likes of Bryce Harper? That’s an open question, but I’d say yes, he is worth the long-term investment as the face of the franchise manning the hot corner.

Catcher – Caleb Joseph, Chance Sisco

Following the departure of Welington Castillo, catcher is an intriguing two-headed monster for the Birds.

After a completely miserable 2016 for Caleb Joseph – a paltry .174/.216/.197 batting line with the infamous zero RBI season – he came back over 89 games in 2017 with a solid, for a good defensive catcher, .256/.287/.400 batting line. The faith Buck Showalter had in Joseph paid off for everyone involved.

Caleb isn’t headed for the Hall of Fame, but he is good defensively and is adequate as a back-up or part-time major league catcher.

Perhaps more exciting than Joseph’s bounce back season are the long-term prospects of Chance Sisco, the third ranked prospect in the organization, according to Baseball America’s recent rankings. Sisco bats left, throws right, and while it was only 18 games with the Orioles at the end of last season, he looked good and not overmatched.

Sisco’s development and play will determine how much, or how little he plays, but scouts indicate he has a chance to be special. If Chance relegates Joseph to a full-time back-up, that is the best-case scenario because it means he is performing at a high level.

What are your thoughts on how the O’s infield shapes up for 2018 and beyond?