If you’re judging the Orioles by position groupings, the infield stands out as one of the biggest areas for improvement. Ryan Mountcastle and Trey Mancini may have first base locked down, but the other three infield spots have been a rotating cast of characters this year.
As we begin the final month of this season, there’s finally a few promising players on the roster with the chance to stick around next year too. Jahmai Jones was called up recently and will get a long look at second, while Ramon Urias and Jorge Mateo have shown potential at shortstop and elsewhere on the infield. That leaves third base.
As of this morning, Orioles third basemen are hitting a collective .208/.265/.346 with 13 home runs and a .611 OPS. The following players contributed to those numbers but are no longer with the team: Maikel Franco, Domingo Leyba, Rio Ruiz, and Pat Valaika.
Franco was the main contributor to that slash line, accumulating 360 at-bats while handling the hot corner. He put up a .211 batting average and .618 OPS before the O’s designated him for assignment on August 23.
Since Franco’s departure, Brandon Hyde has given Kelvin Gutierrez — acquired from the Royals at the beginning of July — the majority of playing time at third. The 27-year-old has shown solid defensive chops but is hitting .159 in 44 at-bats.
Ramon Urias has gotten a few starts at third base recently too. Very quietly, he’s having a productive season. In 232 at-bats, he’s got a .272 batting average and a .350 OBP.
As the Orioles attempt to upgrade their infield, it’s fair to wonder whether the third baseman of the future is in Baltimore’s system right now. The club lacks high-impact prospects at the position in the high minors, so we could see another placeholder situation over the next year or two.
Right now, MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Prospect List for the Orioles includes just three third basemen. That includes two former high school draft picks — 2019 second-round pick Gunnar Henderson (no. 4 prospect) and 2020 fourth-round pick Coby Mayo (no. 17) — who are both in the low minors right now.
Henderson, who seems to be on the fast track to the majors, was drafted as a shortstop but has been splitting time between short and third recently. In 35 games with Delmarva, the 20-year-old hit .312/.369/.574. But his offensive numbers have been depressed in Aberdeen, where he’s hitting .222/.332/.389 in 58 games.
In his first introduction to professional baseball, Coby Mayo is hitting .301/.419/.528 between the Florida Complex League and Delmarva. He doesn’t get as much press as other prospects, but at just 19 years old, he’s got a lot of potential. He’s just not close to the majors.
Meanwhile, at Triple-A Norfolk — one level removed from Baltimore — the third base options aren’t great.
Corner infielder Tyler Nevin, acquired from the Rockies last summer in the Mychal Givens trade, is currently the Orioles’ no. 30 prospect. With a .224/.295/.382 line at the plate, Nevin has had an underwhelming season.
He’s appeared in two games with Baltimore this year, going 1-for-5 with a double and two strikeouts. But Nevin is still only 24 years old and has a .274/.349/.429 slash line across six minor league seasons. Important to note, the O’s seem more confident deploying him at first base than at third.
Twenty-six-year-old J.C. Escarra, a former 15th round draft pick of the O’s in 2017, is listed as a third baseman on the Tides’ website. But this season he’s only appeared at first base and designated hitter. He has a .714 OPS with Norfolk this year, and a career .247/.352/.386 batting line in the minors.
Rylan Bannon has struggled mightily this season at Triple-A. That is, until August. Bannon had 10 home runs, 13 runs, 18 RBI, 2 stolen bases, and a .990 OPS in 22 games last month.
Back in July, a late-season call-up for Bannon seemed highly unlikely. But with his recent hot streak, the O’s may facilitate his major league debut sometime before the season ends. There are still lingering questions about whether Bannon is an everyday major league player.
If the Birds decide to dip their toes into the free agent market for a change, there’s several big names out there this offseason. Kris Bryant, Kyle Seager, and Eduardo Escobar are just a few of the veteran third basemen poised to hit free agency at the end of the year. But I wouldn’t hold my breath for Mike Elias to sign any of those guys. Expect more under-the-radar moves this winter as an alternative.