Few teams in baseball have a less stable left side of the infield than the Orioles do. Third base is up for grabs. Shortstop, too. Second base, that’s anyone’s guess as well.
And so when there’s uncertainty like that, the attention of the fans tends to go to the market, and the bona fide major league talent that could be available. In reality, though, the focus should go to the in-house options, and who’s going to eventually be rising out of the minors.
Three of those players are Terrin Vavra, Joey Ortiz and Anthony Servideo. And all three dealt with the injury bug in an up-and-down 2021.
Vavra, 24 and the team’s 13th-ranked prospect, played in only his second full season of minor league baseball (the 2020 season was wiped out due to the pandemic) and his first with the Orioles’ system since coming over in the Mychael Givens trade that went down in 2020. Playing 40 of his 48 games with the Bowie Baysox, Vavra hit .248 but had an .818 OPS, hitting five home runs and driving in 20 runs. He played 27 games at second base, but also went to center field for nine of them.
Vavra’s stock is certainly rising with the organization. He’s the son of a hitting coach with the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins and it shows, as he goes up to the plate with a patient, disciplined approach that includes hitting to all fields and working counts, as he drew 29 walks in 184 plate appearances with the Baysox this season. He doesn’t swing and miss much, as his swinging strike rate was below 10 percent.
Durability has to be monitored, as Vavra missed the entire month of July with a lower back strain. He hit .333 with a .943 OPS in his 51 plate appearances after he returned, but only .200 at Bowie.
Ortiz, the team’s 20th-ranked prospect, played in his first full minor league season since being taken in the fourth round of the 2019 draft out of New Mexico State. Splitting his time between High-A Aberdeen (19 games, May 4-27) and Double-A Bowie (16 games, May 30-June 22). Ortiz did very well at his first stop, batting .289 with an .816 OPS and nine extra-base hits in 76 at-bats.
Ortiz, 23, was understandably less impressive in Bowie, batting .233 with a .780 OPS, though he did see his power go up, going from no homers in Aberdeen to four with the Baysox.
The organization is clearly trying to figure out where Ortiz’s natural home and best fit going forward is in the field. He made 12 of his 19 starts at Aberdeen at shortstop, but was there for only six starts in Bowie. He also made five starts at second base and two at third with the Baysox.
Where he plays defense isn’t so much the concern; according to his scouting report, he’s a great fielder who has “a good clock, strong hands, slick actions and natural ability to read balls of the bat.” Ortiz needs to find his spot, but wherever it is, confidence is high he’ll play it well.
The question with him centers around injuries, as Ortiz went down with a torn left labrum that required surgery that forced him to miss the rest of the season.
Another player in a similar boat is Servideo, 22, who was a third-round pick out of the University of Mississippi in the 2020 draft. A grandson of former Oriole Curt Blefary, Servideo, the team’s 26th-ranked prospect, was drafted after showing himself to be a talented table-setter and baserunner with Ole Miss. Playing 20 games at Low-A Delmarva, Servideo stole four bases and was decent with the bat, batting .246 with an .801 OPS in his first full year of professional baseball.
According to his MLB.com scouting report, Servideo has good speed and a good eye; he walked 24 times in 17 college games.
“He’s not big and won’t be a slugger,” the scouting report says, “but he displayed more pop as a junior, homering five times after going deep just four times in 100 previous contests.”
Servideo played the majority of the season (13 of 20 starts) at second base while also getting four starts at shortstop (his college position), but like the aforementioned Vavra and Ortiz, an injury stopped the evaluation process short. Servideo suffered a sports hernia that he needed to have surgically repaired, shutting down his season after only 20 games.
While the three players need to bounce back from their injury setbacks, there’s the making of a future infield with them. Some decisions will have to be made; while Ortiz projects as a shortstop, Vavra and Servideo are both being used mostly at second base as they rise through the ranks.
On the plus side, all three showed an ability to hit the pitching they were facing. All eclipsed an .800 OPS for the season, and when they return next season, they’ll have some momentum to build upon. The three are looking at different estimated arrival times; Vavra could make his debut in 2022, while Servideo and Ortiz are longer-term projects at 2023 and 2024, respectively. Should Vavra’s time be delayed, the Orioles will hopefully be on their way to being a competitive team by the time all three arrive.
Tomorrow: Zac Lowther