This article is part of the Know Your Orioles 40-man series, which features an article about each of the 38 players currently on the Orioles roster. There will be one every weekday until we run out of players.
Note: The Orioles designated Gutiérrez for assignment on 5/2/22. He is no longer on the 40-man roster.
In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a pattern among many players in this 40-man roster series so far. That pattern is the following: players in their late 20’s — not yet on the wrong side of 30 — who are well past prospect status but have yet to establish themselves as productive major league regulars. Today’s entry in the 40-man series fits that bill to a tee.
The Baltimore Orioles started the 2021 season with Maikel Franco as their everyday third baseman. That little experiment lasted the bulk of the season; until August 25, to be exact. Yet the O’s made a move a few months prior aimed at shoring up the hot corner.
Enter Kelvin Gutiérrez, who is currently 27 years old. He turns 28 this August.
Born in San Francisco de Macoris, Dominican Republic, Gutiérrez signed with the Washington Nationals in 2013 at the age of 18. Five years later, the Royals acquired him as part of a package for pitcher Kelvin Herrera.
Across parts of eight minor league seasons, Gutiérrez has a .282/.344/.397 batting line. His MLB bio lists minor league All-Star appearances from 2015 to 2017. Not to mention, he tied for the most doubles (21) and third-most hits (73) in the New York-Penn League in 2015, and his .300 batting average with Single-A Hagerstown in 2016 was fifth-best in the South Atlantic League.
He used to steal bases too. But that skillset has waned. Gutiérrez put up high-water marks of 25 and 20 steals in 2016 and 2018, respectively. He hasn’t come close to those numbers in the past three years. The last time he had double-digit steals was 2019. The 27-year-old had a goose egg last year in that department in the majors.
Known for his glove over this bat, Gutiérrez has struggled to take his game to a new level since the low minors. He was brought into the Orioles organization as a depth piece last season, and his limited ceiling clouds his long-term future in Baltimore.
The O’s stashed Gutiérrez, acquired from the Royals in early July for cash considerations, in Norfolk until late August last season and promoted him the day before Maikel Franco’s release.
Before joining the Orioles, the entirety of Gutiérrez’s major league career came with Kansas City. In 62 MLB games with the Royals over the past three years, Gutiérrez had a .226/.275/.309 slash line at the plate, a .583 OPS, and an OPS+ of 56.
Although Gutiérrez outplayed those numbers during his brief time with the O’s, his offense was underwhelming. Appearing in 47 games for the orange and black down the stretch, Gutiérrez slashed .248/.327/.336, with an OPS of .663 and an OPS+ of 82. He had four doubles, one triple, two home runs, and 13 walks versus 45 strikeouts.
To his benefit, Gutiérrez finished the season strong. His best stretch of hitting came in September/October, when he slashed .290/.347/.419 with a .766 OPS over the course of 93 at-bats. That gives him a degree of momentum heading into the 2022 season — if the MLB owners and Players Association can agree to end this lockout any time soon, that is.
As far as Gutiérrez’s contract status, he’s currently making the MLB minimum. He’s arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2023, and the earliest he can become a free agent is 2027, according to Spotrac. In this way, he fits another pattern amongst Orioles acquisitions during GM Mike Elias’ tenure — controllability.
Baseball Reference has Gutiérrez projected for seven home runs and a .236/.303/.358 batting line in 318 at-bats in 2022. Fangraphs’ Steamer is a bit more bullish, projecting a .248/.306/.382 line with nine home runs. Neither is encouraging.
Over the past couple of years in the bigs, Gutiérrez, who bats right-handed, has performed better against lefties (.270/.324/.430) than righties (.221/.284/.276). With that in mind, the O’s could start the season with a third base platoon that includes Gutiérrez and one of the newest Orioles, left-handed hitting Rougned Odor.
A good year for Gutiérrez probably looks like a batting average over .250 and solid defense at third. Expectations aren’t great.
A winning team needs more offense from the corner infield than Gutiérrez projects to deliver. While he has shown flashes of solid glove work, it’s likely not enough to make up for his hitting deficiencies. There’s always the chance he’s a late bloomer, but that’s not something to bet on.
In 2022, Gutiérrez will spend roughly the first half of the season as a part-time player at third. He’ll have his moments, but I don’t see the bat playing enough for him to stick around long term. The O’s will move on from Gutiérrez by the final month or two of the season. At that point, at least one or two youngers players with higher ceilings should take those at-bats if Odor or Ramon Urias haven’t seized the hot corner.
Tomorrow: Kevin Smith