Score more runs than the other team. It’s that simple, right? Not for the Orioles. Not in a long time, at least. That’s why we find ourselves in the precarious position of rebuilding and trying to maintain interest in the current team while we hope for a better one.
The O’s offense of the past several years has been average at best. In 2020, the Orioles were middle of the pack in a large number of offensive categories. Yes, they’ve been able to generate runs for stretches, but they also lack plate discipline and tend to suffer extended team-wide slumps.
While a manager has the leeway to fill out his lineup card any number of ways, choosing the right player for the right spot in the batting order is another matter. How will Brandon Hyde build his starting lineup this year to put hitters in the best positions to succeed?
Instead of looking too deep into batting averages and extra-base hit totals from the first 10 games of the Grapefruit League, let’s look at where guys are most frequently hitting in the lineup so far this spring and how they’ve performed there in the regular season.
At the leadoff spot, Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays have split time in Sarasota. Mullins has batted first in six games (18 at-bats) and Hays in four (11 at-bats). Earlier this spring, Andrea SK wrote in-depth about the possibility of platooning these two players in center.
Mullins offers speed on the basepaths, which has a way of unnerving the opposing pitcher and forcing the defense into hasty mistakes, especially early in games. But despite slashing .271/.315/.407 at the plate in 2020, some believe Mullins is better suited for the nine-hole due to his .225 batting average and .290 OBP in 115 career MLB games.
Last summer, Hays had more plate appearances (47) in the leadoff spot than any other place in the batting order, in which he hit .171/.234/.171. And in 68 career plate appearances in the leadoff spot, he’s hit only .164/.221/.164.
The Orioles can keep trying Hays out in the leadoff spot, but he seems like more of a middle-of-the-order run producer to me based on his power in the minors and RBI potential.
One thing we know for sure is that the offense will run through Trey Mancini. In 2019, he proved himself to be the Orioles best hitter and a clubhouse leader as well. So far this spring, he’s got 12 at-bats while batting second in the O’s lineup.
If you subscribe to the notion of placing your best hitter in the two-hole, Mancini would certainly fit that designation on this team. But it will be interesting to see how the club deploys Mancini early in the regular season, as manager Brandon Hyde has been resting him every other day in Florida.
Early this spring, Ryan Mountcastle and Anthony Santander are the team leaders in batting third with at least half a dozen at-bats each. Santander is two years older than Mountcastle and has more major league experience, so he could be better equipped right now to handle the rigors of such a prominent spot in the lineup. And don’t forget, Santander hit 11 home runs in 153 at-bats last year with a .575 SLG.
Yet Mountcastle has 11 at-bats in the third spot so far, and Santander has six. Mountcastle burst onto the scene last season, and in his first taste of the majors, he hit .333/.386/.492 in 126 at-bats. If he can keep that momentum going into this year, he would present a serious challenge to Santander for the third spot in the batting order.
A bit of a surprise in the early going, Pedro Severino and Rio Ruiz are tied for the most at-bats in the four-hole. But who else do the O’s have at the moment, really?
Ruiz had 10 games last year to show something from the cleanup spot, but he only hit .175/.233/.425. And there’s already some chatter that he could be on the roster bubble by the end of camp if his performance doesn’t pick up.
Severino is not a prototypical number four hitter either. Last year he slashed .204/.295/.222 from that spot in the lineup in 54 at-bats. His career numbers batting fourth are only slightly better at .250/.313/.341.
There is still hope that one or more of the young Orioles not mentioned in this article take the next step forward in establishing themselves and perform well enough to merit consideration at the top of the batting order. Maybe by the end of September, that someone will.