One big problem spot in the Orioles lineup so far in 2021 has been Rio Ruiz. The 26-year-old lefty-hitting infielder has been around since some of the earliest of Mike Elias’s days with the Orioles. Ruiz was a fourth round pick by the Astros in the first draft where Elias was an assistant there in 2012. That past connection seems to have been enough to give Ruiz 213 games worth of chances as an Oriole to break out into something more.
Ruiz has batted .220/.292/.380 over three seasons as an Oriole. His 2021 campaign has been his worse one yet, as over 31 games Ruiz is hitting just .167/.250/.300. There are limits to what even a tanking, rebuilding team can put up with. The Orioles designated Ruiz for assignment on Tuesday afternoon.
If your reaction to this news is delight that the O’s are probably bringing up an infield prospect, I’m sorry to be the one to burst your bubble. That is not happening. What they have done is selected the contract of Stevie Wilkerson from Triple-A Norfolk. Wilkerson was briefly a free agent this past offseason before signing a minor league deal to return to the O’s organization.
The legend of Dr. Poo Poo and his 16th inning save at 4:27 in the morning on the east coast is always going to be one of the delightful little things about this rebuilding era, however long it lasts. He even had his other moment, when he made an amazing-looking catch in right field in the last game of the year in Boston, a game-saving catch in a game the O’s still ended up losing anyway.
Those things are true. And yet for anyone who hopes to see the O’s get younger, try new faces as they decide some of their stopgap options aren’t working out, replacing the 26-year-old Ruiz with the 29-year-old Wilkerson isn’t very exciting. It’s not like Wilkerson is a very good hitter either, with a career OPS of .644.
It seems that what the Orioles have done is replace one black hole in the lineup with another that has a bit more notional position flexibility, since Wilkerson has molded himself into a sort of super-utility player. Ruiz plays second and third base. Wilkerson plays just about any infield and outfield position, even if he plays none of them well.
Maybe if the Orioles are lucky, some of the hitting Wilkerson put up in 12 games at Norfolk this year before this call-up will carry over. He was hitting .357/.438/.476 with the Tides before this callup. If the Orioles are even luckier, Rylan Bannon will be along to take Wilkerson’s place later this season.