It’s difficult to stand out in a field of debutants that includes Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, and DL Hall, among others. But rookie Terrin Vavra was able to garner the attention of many admirers within the Orioles fan base thanks to his defensive versatility and bat-to-ball skills in what turned out to be a spotty first season in the bigs.
Vavra is the son of Joe Vavra, a baseball lifer who most notably served as hitting coach for the Twins from 2006 through 2012, and then filled in various roles on the major league staff before moving to the Tigers organization in 2017. The Orioles’ Vavra was drafted out of the University of Minnesota by the Rockies in 2018, and then came to his current organization, along with Tyler Nevin and Mishael Deson, in a 2020 trade that sent Mychal Givens to Colorado.
A pair of injuries in 2021 limited Vavra to just 48 games that season, most of which came with Double-A Bowie. Despite limited time, the organizational newbie showed good control of the strike zone with a 15.8% walk rate, and he did so while spending time at second base, shortstop, and center field.
His 2022 season was looking like a rerun as he opened the season on the injured list and wasn’t activated for Triple-A Norfolk until early June. But then he hit the ground running. Over just 45 games, Vavra put together a .324/.435/.451 slash line. The power was lacking, but the results were still impressive. An IL stint for Jonathan Araúz opened up a roster spot in Baltimore, and Vavra was selected to fill it on July 26.
From there, the Orioles treated Vavra just like the utility player he replaced. Starts were hard to come by. His first major league appearance came as a pinch runner. During his first month up, Vavra was often used as a pinch hitter or DH. It seemed like Brandon Hyde would do anything to keep him away from his glove.
That didn’t stop Vavra from getting off to a hot start. From August 1 through August 11, he went 10-for-24 with a double, a triple, four walks, and four strikeouts. He seemed like a real weapon, whether he came off the bench or not.
But it wouldn’t last. As the rest of the Orioles offense faded, so did Vavra. From August 12 through the end of the season, he slumped to hitting .210/.286/.274 with two extra base hits, seven walks, and 15 strikeouts over 62 at-bats. He did become a more frequent member of the defense as Hyde tried anything he could to rearrange the deck chairs, but to no avail.
That’s not to say Vavra was without his highlights in the season’s dying embers. On the final day of the season, the rookie got to start and play the entirety of both games in the doubleheader. He rewarded that confidence with a nice showing in Game 1, going 2-for-3 with a three-run homer, his first long ball as a big leaguer.
And before that, in mid-August, he and his wife welcomed a baby girl into the world. It’s safe to say that 2022 was a big year in the Vavra household.
His final numbers won’t impress. Over 40 games and 89 at-bats, Vavra slashed .258/340/.337 with an 11.7% walk rate, 18.4% strikeout rate, two doubles, one triple, and one home run. But if you layer on the filter of being a part-time player in a playoff race while attempting to learn the level, it starts to be fairly admirable.
However, the unfortunate reality for Vavra is that the role in which he was placed this season is likely his only route to a roster spot for this team in 2023. If the organization makes the steps forward it expects to this winter, he will need to take his game to another level to maintain his place.
If the Orioles are serious about competing next year, second base is going to require a significant upgrade over the production provided by Rougned Odor. Perhaps they could get that from Vavra, but that is far from a guarantee. At the very least, there will be extreme internal competition from the likes of Joey Ortiz, Jordan Westburg, and maybe even Connor Norby for the position. Beyond that, we know that Mike Elias is prepared to increase payroll. If there is a deal to be had, second base could see an influx of that cash.
Vavra’s positional flexibility is asset, though. He spent time in left and right field as well as second base with the Orioles, and he has a recent history at shortstop, third base, and center field as a minor leaguer. That separates him from others in the organization. But the simple fact that he can play those positions matters less than his ability at each of them individually.
Is he going to jump Ryan McKenna as the preferred understudy across the outfield? Maybe against a particularly tough right-handed starter, but not otherwise. There is talk about Jorge Mateo moving into a super utility role in 2023 if the Orioles sign a big name on the left side of the infield. Mateo should be a Gold Glove finalist this season, deservedly so. It’s tough to see a scenario in which Vavra jumps him as the second option on the depth chart at any spot on the infield.
But that could all change if Vavra has a big spring. He forced his way onto top prospect lists with his bat control, plate discipline, and table-setting skills. If he can pair his defensive versatility with an above average bat at the major league level it gets easier to find a spot for him.
Earning a place on the Orioles roster for Opening Day in 2023 seems entirely possible for Vavra. But sticking in the bigs all year long could be a tall task if the organization makes any notable signings, and the prospect beneath make leaps in development. That could land Vavra on the Norfolk shuttle for much of the season.
Previously: Fallen prospect roundup, Jean Pinto, Darell Hernaiz, Drew Rom, international prospect roundup, César Prieto, Mike Baumann, Hudson Haskin, John Rhodes and Reed Trimble, Cade Povich and Chayce McDermott, Joey Ortiz
Tomorrow: Injured pitchers