The already banged-up Orioles saw another starter go down when they placed third baseman Tim Beckham on the disabled list earlier this week. It was initially his left groin that required medical attention during Monday’s game, but further examination determined that his core required a surgical procedure that will sideline him for at least six weeks. This is a major blow for an Orioles infield that lacks depth in the minor leagues and is already minus Jonathan Schoop. What does the team do at third base now?
One bright spot about this situation (there are not many bright spots to be found with the 2018 Baltimore Orioles) is that the bar for third base production this season has been set pretty low. Beckham posted a .179/.247/.262 slash line through 93 plate appearances. He has gotten on base at a dreadful clip and has provided only one home run and four RBI. His defensive play has been shaky, though he should get somewhat of a pass on that as he is learning third base on the job. He’s committed three errors and has looked uncomfortable and tentative at times. This all adds up to a -0.6 WAR and one of the many reasons for the O’s disappointing start.
Somebody needs to play third base and there aren’t any obvious choices. A look at Norfolk’s roster turns up third basemen Drew Dosch (disabled list) and Anderson Feliz. Neither is a legitimate prospect and all but hardcore O’s fans can be forgiven if they don’t know those names. Maybe this would have been an opportunity for top prospect Ryan Mountcastle to make his major league debut, but he has been injured all season with a hairline fracture in his right hand. Once again, the Orioles have a need and their minor league system is not able to answer the call.
All signs are pointing to this hole being filled by players currently on the active major league roster. The options include:
Pedro Alvarez- Alvarez has experience at third base, having played 566 games there throughout his career. But anybody who watched him do it knows this isn’t a good idea. His fielding percentage at third is .931 and he grades terribly there in every way. Keep leaving your glove at home, Pedro.
Luis Sardinas- Sardinas can play all over the infield and has appeared in 17 career games at third base. He probably wouldn’t hurt the club defensively, but this is a player whose career OPS is .568. (Insert joke about that being within 80 points of the club’s overall OPS here.) Sardinas offers nothing offensively and is not a viable option.
Danny Valencia- The nine-year veteran has played more games at third base in his career than at any other position. He won’t be confused for Brooks Robinson defensively, but he isn’t Alvarez-level terrible with the glove. The appeal of Valencia is the offense he has shown he can provide. He has hit double-digit home runs the past three seasons and is a career .267/.316/.427 hitter. Valencia is off to a rough start in 2018 like most of the club, batting .171. But his three home runs trails only Manny Machado and Adam Jones for the team lead. Valencia has proven himself to be a legitimate major league hitter and will eventually start hitting like the player he’s shown himself to be for years.
Jace Peterson- The former San Diego and Atlanta second base prospect has morphed into a utility player and was claimed off of waivers from the Yankees earlier this week. He can play all over the field, has appeared in 26 games at third base in his career, and carries a reputation as a good defender. His playing time has been very limited this year and he is currently exactly a replacement-level player (0 WAR) in 2018. There isn’t a lot to get excited about offensively, but the left-handed batter posted an on-base percentage of .350 in 2016 and he brings much-needed speed to the table. Buck Showalter slotted him into the second spot in the batting order last night, perhaps giving us an idea of what the skipper thinks of Peterson.
Until Schoop gets healthy, the trio of Valencia, Peterson, and Sardinas will cover second and third base in ways that could vary from game to game. Once the second-base situation is solidified, I would suggest to Showalter a straight left-right platoon of Danny Valencia and Jace Peterson at third base. Valencia has batted .310/.370/.494 against left-handed pitching in his career, numbers that are well above average. His defense could cost the team runs, but his bat against lefties should make up for that.
Jace Peterson has fared slightly better against righties than lefties during his career but won’t be an offensive game-changer either way. However, his speed and defense can help win games and playing him against right-handed pitching will keep Valencia from getting at-bats in matchups that are difficult for him.
No matter who you choose from this bunch, it isn’t pretty. The Orioles told us that they wanted to contend in 2018. I just advocated for a Danny Valencia-Jace Peterson platoon at third base for an extended period of time. Those two sentences don’t jive.
Things need to turn around quickly and sharply for the 2018 Baltimore Orioles and the situation at third base is yet another hurdle to overcome.