Second base seems to be a black hole for the Orioles this season, swallowing players up, never to be seen again. And there are no slam dunk options in sight at the minor league level right now either.
Through the first 42 games of the season, Orioles second basemen as a group have hit .206/.268/.348 with five doubles, five home runs, 12 RBI, three steals, 11 walks, 45 strikeouts, and a .615 OPS.
Before the regular season began, Fangraphs ranked Baltimore 28th out of 30 MLB clubs in their positional power rankings at second base. That was back when Yolmer Sanchez was still on the roster and was the presumed starter at the keystone.
At the start of the 2021 season, Ramon Urias seemed destined for a decent chunk of playing time at second base. He made 16 appearances at second over a month and a half, including 13 starts, and hit .226/.305/.321 with an OPS+ of 77.
Urias was optioned to the minors this past Sunday so the Birds could add another pitcher to the roster, Bruce Zimmermann. Since he was optioned to Norfolk, Urias has gone 3-for-8 with a run and a walk. Could we see him in Baltimore again at some point this season? Of course.
Rio Ruiz was the latest casualty of the second base black hole, getting designated for assignment on Tuesday. He made 17 starts at second this year before getting cut, and only six starts at his original position, third base. He was never able to get his bat going, with just a .167/.250/.300 line at the plate to go with a .550 OPS and 54 OPS+. Ruiz was jettisoned so that Stevie Wilkerson’s contract could be selected from the Norfolk Tides.
For the time being, it seems as though second base duties will be split between Pat Valaika and Wilkerson.
Valaika’s batting average is currently below .200. Wilkerson, on the other hand, had a good performance two nights ago with two hits and an RBI in his first game back in the majors with the O’s. Dr. Poo Poo, as he is known in some circles, has the ability to inject some energy and personality into the club, so we’ll have to wait and see if that proves valuable in the long term.
Unfortunately, injuries have eliminated a couple of minor leaguers from second base consideration for Baltimore, at least in the short term. Richie Martin and Jahmai Jones are currently on Norfolk’s injured list with a fractured wrist and a strained oblique, respectively.
Jones represents the highest-profile candidate for the second base job in Baltimore this season due to his status as a former second-round draft pick and as a former top prospect of the Los Angeles Angels. In six games with the Tides before his oblique injury, Jones was slashing .227/.333/.591 with one home run, five RBI, and as many walks as strikeouts (four apiece).
A teammate of Jones at Triple-A, former Rule 5 draft pick Richie Martin was off to a rough start before his injury. He has a .170/.304/.516 batting line with zero home runs, one RBI, and four stolen bases in 47 at-bats.
Before his injury, Martin had not appeared at second base for the Tides at all this year. But he does have some experience at the position, having played 21 games there in 2018 at Double-A. And while that was a long time ago, it’s not a stretch to say the O’s are desperate for a capable body to fill second at this point. But Martin may be out for multiple months, so we won’t see him in Baltimore anytime soon.
In 13 games with Triple-A Norfolk this season, Rylan Bannon has appeared at second base twice. The rest of his starts have come at third.
The 25-year-old, acquired from the Dodgers as part of the Manny Machado trade package, has yet to heat up at the plate. He’s carrying a .214/.267/.393 triple slash line with two home runs, 14 RBI, and a .660 OPS. Two years ago, Bannon had a .317/.344/.549 batting line in 20 games with the Tides.
Originally drafted as a shortstop, the Orioles’ 2017 sixth-round pick Mason McCoy has been gaining experience at multiple positions early this season with the Tides. That includes four games at second base, which is more than he’s had at any other position. And he’s hitting for a high average through 12 games in 2021, batting .304/.373/.478, with a .851 OPS. Since 2017, McCoy has a career .283/.347/.383 minor league batting line. Important to note, McCoy is not currently on the O’s 40-man roster.
The Orioles are in a bind at second base, but with the rebuilding situation the club finds itself in, that’s not really a big deal. So while it’s painful to watch the rotating cast of characters underperform day in and day out, it’s important to trust GM Mike Elias and believe that when the time comes, he will have a decent option to fill the keystone position in the Orioles’ infield.