There is no doubt that Hunter Harvey leads the Orioles organization in if-he-could-just-stay-healthy’s. It’s a weird stat, and one I just made up, but no one can question Harvey’s numbers in the category. The 2013 first-rounder could approach 10 years worth of IHCJSH’s by the time his career comes to a close. Those are big time numbers.
Richie Martin may never reach Hunter Harvey territory, but the shortstop has certainly seen his fair share of injuries. Baltimore selected Martin with the first pick of the 2018 Rule 5 draft. He struggled mightily at the plate in the first half of 2019, but flashed enough pop after the All-Star break to pique the organization’s interest.
Baltimore stashed Martin and likely intended to send him down to Triple-A to start the 2020 season. There was no minor league baseball in 2020, and players gathered at their team’s alternate site for development purposes. Unfortunately, Martin missed out on both opportunities.
Martin suffered a wrist injury in July that required surgery. The right-wrist fracture cost him the duration of the season. A clear opportunity for playing time likely made the injury sting even more.
José Iglesias dominated early on but was hobbled by an injury of his own. Martin certainly could have played short or second base, but current Orioles Ramón Urías and Pat Valaika filled the positions.
Martin figured to be a long shot to break camp with the Orioles this season, but a broken hamate bone in his left hand made sure of it. The injury required another surgery, and Martin did not take his first spring training at bat until the third week of March.
The Orioles optioned Martin to Triple-A, but a bench role appeared within reach. Baltimore cut ties with Yolmér Sanchez before the season even started, while Valaika and Urías locked up roster spots. Martin appeared to be competing with Stevie Wilkerson and Jahmai Jones for playing time down the road. Both of those players can play the outfield, and apparently Baltimore felt Martin should give it a try.
Martin began to play some center field at Norfolk. Regrettably, he experienced another setback while taking on the new endeavor. Martin fractured his left wrist after crashing into the center field fence while pursuing a fly ball. The injury occurred in the middle of May and required an additional three months of rehab.
Flash forward to present day, and Martin has finally made his way back to the active roster. The former Oakland prospect rehabbed in the Florida Complex League and played a few games at Double-A Bowie before rejoining the big league club.
Now that you’ve got the full history, it’s fair to wonder if there is any reason to care. Martin failed to make the impression that 2021 Rule 5 pick Tyler Wells has this season, and Baltimore fans have moved onto clamoring for another young infielder that started with an organization out west. O’s fans have stomached plenty of Valaika and a stint of Domingo Leyba, is there really someone else that needs a shot before Jahmai Jones?
The answer is yes. Sorry, Mike Elias already made the move. Martin is 26, and the Orioles need to determine if he warrants a spot on the 40-man roster after this season. Will he? That remains to be seen.
The Orioles appeared to create some playing time for Martin after shipping away Freddy Galvis, but Urías has cemented himself as the everyday option up the middle. While Valaika continues to take at bats from young players, Baltimore optioned Leyba to make room for Martin.
But can he hit? That’s the better question. Martin slashed a brutal .166/.226/.282 in the first half of 2019, but had never faced anything above Double-A pitching. The righty bounced back with an impressive .284/.321/.392 after the All-Star break, and a few hand injuries should not have impacted his speed.
Martin posted a ridiculous .379/.400/.655 over his final 17 games. He hit .333/.333./467 when swinging at the first pitch, and posted better numbers when facing left-handed pitching.
It remains to be seen whether Baltimore would play Martin in the outfield. With three center fielders currently on the roster, Martin should stick to the middle infield outside of an extra-inning roster shuffle.
Martin still possesses three minor league options, so the Orioles do not need to make a decision right away. Prospects Jordan Westburg and Gunnar Henderson are over a full year away from Baltimore, and it is unclear when Baltimore will deem Jones ready to handle second base. Still, the Orioles will need spots on the 40-man to protect players from the Rule 5 draft this season. A sign of progress by Martin would make any potential decisions much easier.
Martin should receive a fair shake to prove himself for the remainder of the season. Pat Valaika is not going to contribute for the next winning club, and he certainly does not need to start up the middle every day.
With his health and a future roster spot never guaranteed, the time is now for Martin. He entered last night’s game after it fell out of reach, but there should be starts in his near future.