Manager Brandon Hyde has said it time and time again — the Orioles are making due with what they have. And the players they are trotting out to the middle infield this season are not exactly awe-inspiring.
So far this year, Orioles second basemen are hitting a combined .251/.292/.403 with 11 home runs, 34 RBI, 17 BB and 56 SO in 283 at-bats. Shortstops, on the other hand, have a cumulative stat line of .200/.262/.308 with three home runs, 13 RBI, 18 BB and 83 SO in 260 at-bats.
Hyde has used a combination of three main players in the middle infield this season. Rule 5 pick Richie Martin has played 57 games at shortstop and Hanser Alberto has played 39 games at second. Jonathan Villar has rotated between the two positions, playing 54 games at second and 38 at short.
Villar has been solid, but not exceptional. His .246/.306/.400 batting line so far this year is very similar to his career triple slash of .255/.323/.394. But his base-stealing pace — 14 in 73 games — is off a bit from last year when he stole 21 bags in only 54 games after coming to Baltimore from Milwaukee midseason.
At 28 years old, it’s questionable that Villar will be around when the Orioles are good again. He came into the season as one of the team’s biggest potential July 31 trade chips. But his value would obviously be boosted if he were having a stronger year.
Hanser Alberto may be hitting .311, but his on-base percentage is only 16 points higher than that. He is a singles machine right now, but he is erratic on defense with a questionable arm. While he is only 26 years old, it seems that his ceiling is somewhat limited. Nick Cicere recently wrote a much more in-depth piece on Alberto, which you can find here.
The third and final member of the middle infield group is rookie Richie Martin, who has had a tough start to his big league career. He’s slashing .170/.226/.288 with three home runs, seven RBI and four steals in 153 a-bats. In the field, Martin has good range and a strong arm, but also has trouble making the routine play at times.
On a side note, it amazes me how careful a team’s front office can be with prospects in their own farm system, stressing how important minor league seasoning is and how a prospect can’t be rushed. Mike Elias has said such things about Ryan Mountcastle and Keegan Akin, to name a few. But somehow it’s alright to do the exact opposite if you’re poaching a player from another team in the Rule 5 draft.
Taking a player who usually has minimal baseball experience and throwing them into the highest level of competition is a risky proposition. Even if that player makes it through the entire season with his new team, who knows how much that year has stunted his development because he was just getting by in the bigs as opposed to perfecting his skills in the minors.
No one knows what the future holds for the rest of Richie Martin’s career. And we’ll never really know for sure if more time in the minors would have led to an easier transition. But what we do know if that he looks outmatched at the plate in the bigs right now.
Which brings us to the question of what new face(s) we might see if one or more of the aforementioned players were replaced. There don’t seem to be any promising middle infield replacements at the upper levels of the Orioles’ farm system banging down the door.
Looking at Triple-A, the only options are Zach Vincej (.268/.314/.396), Jack Reinheimer (.234/.303/.299) and Christopher Bostick (.260/.313/.456). None of these players exactly inspires offensive confidence.
Baysox shortstop Mason McCoy may be the exception on this potential replacements list, considering how he’s lit the Eastern League on fire so far this year. In 163 at-bats with Bowie, he’s hitting .325/.385/.429. Before his promotion to Double-A, he hit .379/.416/.509 in 116 at-bats with Frederick at the start of this year.
But alas, the chances of McCoy coming to Baltimore anytime soon seem slim to none, seeing how he’s only just made the jump to Double-A. Elias and company almost surely want more seasoning for him.
So maybe the middle infield of the future is not in the system at the moment. Maybe it’s a player the Orioles acquire in a trade or an offseason free agent signee. No one knows, but adding players with more upside to these pivotal spots in the infield would be nice to see.