Second base has been a communal position for the Orioles this year, starting in spring training and continuing into the regular season. The first stone was thrown in late March, near the end of spring training, when the presumptive starter was dropped from the roster.
Yolmer Sanchez, an offseason acquisition just a few years removed from winning the American League Gold Glove award for second base, was designated for assignment on March 27th and then released on March 30th. Maybe the O’s brass thought better of injecting his career .245/.300/.360 into the everyday lineup. Or perhaps they didn’t like what they saw in the Grapefruit League and wanted to save a little money. Who knows?
But Sanchez’s glove was mentioned in such high regard this offseason that, to some, he became pivotal to the defense and young pitching staff’s development before he even played a regular-season game.
Sanchez signed a minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves a few days after the O’s officially released him, and he’s yet to be promoted. But back to players who are currently on Baltimore’s roster.
Once third baseman Maikel Franco officially signed with the O’s in late March, the writing was on the wall for Rio Ruiz. But then a funny thing happened. Ruiz started to get his feet wet at second base in the final days of spring training, and he was the starting second baseman on Opening Day in Boston. Since then, manager Brandon Hyde has been starting Ruiz at second base frequently. It would seem this experiment has legs.
Yet, Ruiz needs a bounce-back campaign after he put up a .713 OPS in 185 at-bats last year. Thirty-two at-bats into this season, and he has four hits.
Last Friday, there was another twist in the second base sage. In a surprise move, utility man Pat Valaika was sent down to the alternate training site at Bowie to make room for outfielder DJ Stewart’s activation from the injured list.
In 16 plate appearances since returning from a hamstring injury, Stewart is hitting .250. More impressively, he’s earned four walks in that time as well, which is good for a .438 on-base percentage. If the Orioles were going to eliminate one of their most potent second base candidates by optioning Valaika, at least it was for a promising young player that’s now getting ample playing time.
Valaika was supposed to provide some offensive value at second base too, as he hit .277 with a .475 slugging percentage and 113 OPS+ in 52 games last year. He’s still in the organization, so we’ll see him again, and it probably won’t take that long.
So the current keystone competition — or platoon, if you prefer, since one player bats left-handed and the other right — is down to newly-converted third baseman Rio Ruiz and Ramon Urias. Coming into today, Ruiz has seven appearances at second, and Urias has six. Valaika had two before he was optioned.
Despite being only 26 years old (the same age as Ruiz, by the way), Ramon Urias has had a long and winding path through professional baseball.
According to Baseball-Reference, Urias signed with the Texas Rangers as an amateur free agent out of Mexico. He spent his age 17-18 seasons playing for the Rangers in the Dominican Summer League before Mexico City of the Mexican League purchased his contract.
Five years later, in 2018, he signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Cardinals. That same year, he hit .300/.356/.516 with 13 home runs in 310 at-bats split between Double-A and Triple-A. He hit .263/.369/.424 with nine home runs in 316 Pacific Coast League at-bats in 2019.
Urias got a cup of coffee with the O’s at the tail end of last season and made his major league debut. In 25 at-bats, he put up a .967 OPS and 162 OPS+. He’s 3-for-13 so far this season, with one home run, one walk, six strikeouts, and a .747 OPS.
The second base landscape has changed suddenly for the O’s a few times already this year. So it should come as no surprise if it were to happen again.
There’s still Jahmai Jones, who was acquired from the Angels in the Alex Cobb deal. Other 40-man roster options include Rylan Bannon and Richie Martin, in addition to Pat Valaika, as mentioned earlier.
But with little information out of the alternate training site, just like last year, we’ll have to wait for the minor league seasons to start next month. That should provide more detail on the second base prospects that could get thrown into the major league mix at any time.