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.
There are different kinds of players to be found in an organization during a long-term rebuilding effort like the Orioles have been doing for several seasons. The most visible group are the ones who are big league players right now. The most exciting group are the hype-generating prospects on the farm, who will eventually be ushering in better days. In between are players who are neither in the bigs now nor fueling the hype machine. Tyler Nevin is one of these tweeners on the O’s 40-man roster.
Nevin, who will be turning 25 in May, arrived in the organization about a year and a half ago as part of a trade that sent Mychal Givens to the Rockies. The Orioles also received infielder Terrin Vavra and outfielder Mishael Deson from that trade. He had the highest-level minor league experience at the time of the trade, having climbed the minors steadily after being drafted #38 overall as a high schooler in the 2015 draft. This brought Nevin to the Double-A level in the 2019 season, where he batted .251/.345/.399 as a 22-year-old.
There are two things that, especially when put together, leave Nevin in this in between territory. One is that, although he was a third baseman when drafted, Nevin is now one more in the Orioles line of 1B/DH types who are occasionally put in the outfield out of desperation.
Another is that Nevin has not shown the kind of power potential that will threaten pitchers at the highest level. That will make it harder for him to continue demonstrating one of his best skills, which has been solid plate discipline. Nevin walked in 9.9% of plate appearances in the minors. Though there are occasional exceptions, for the most part, if pitchers don’t need to be afraid of throwing the ball in the strike zone, that will be bad news for a hitter.
This started to catch up to Nevin while playing for Triple-A Norfolk last season. Nevin’s batting line dipped to .227/.305/.392 in 111 games for the Tides. That’s a .696 OPS. It’s not exactly performance that demands a permanent promotion to the MLB level. While the 2021 Orioles cycled through a lot of jabronis from outside of the organization, they only bumped up Nevin for two games in May and the last four games of the regular season. Nevin at least made a good show of these cups of coffee, batting .286/.444/.643 over the small sample size.
Where does it all add up to for Nevin? The Orioles clearly aren’t going to turn the page on him quickly. They did a lot of 40-man roster trimming earlier in the offseason and Nevin is still here. Nor should they give up on Nevin yet. In addition to having the “once a first round pick, always a first round pick” shine on him, Nevin has another: Big league bloodlines. Nevin’s father is Phil Nevin, who had a 12-year MLB career that ended after the 2006 season. The elder Nevin was an MLB coach for the Yankees for the past few seasons.
At MLB Pipeline, Nevin has dipped down to where he is the #29 prospect in the Orioles system. Their profile notes that he “shows good raw power but it doesn’t always translate into games;” the 6’4” 225 lb. righty is probably capable of better than 16 homers in 111 Triple-A games. Actually doing this is another thing entirely.
The Fangraphs profile on Nevin from last year had the same concern, writing that “the list of current first baseman with premium contact skills but middling game power is full of players hovering around replacement level.” The next good Orioles team will need some replacement level players here and there, but if there are too many in starting roles, it’s less likely to be a good Orioles team.
Nevin was #17 in the system headed into last year. He’s dropped to #41 in this team ranking for 2022, with a note that he could project into a “low-end version of a part-time corner role ... (with) eventual transition to a foreign pro league.” That kind of scouting report is not going to sell many Orioles season tickets, but on the bright side, Fangraphs sees 40 prospects ranked better than this.
When Nevin might get a chance to show whether he has improved himself in the 2022 season is going to depend on when the MLB owners end the lockout of players. It’s guys like Nevin who are the hardest hit by it. Nevin does not already have a solid MLB role and he will also not be able to play in any minor league games to prove that he’s gotten better since all 40-man roster players are locked out. Infield prospects coming up from below like Gunnar Henderson, Coby Mayo, and Jordan Westburg will not be missing time for this reason.
End of season prediction: There is not much downside to the Orioles to Tyler Nevin remaining on the 40-man roster throughout another season. He has a minor league option remaining for 2022. He has the draft pedigree and former MLB dad such that there’s always a chance it will all click. Mike Elias does not want to repeat the Mike Yastrzemski mistake. Nevin can be insurance if Kelvin Gutierrez tests positive for COVID-19 and misses time, if Ryan Mountcastle sprains something and misses time, or if Trey Mancini is traded.
At the same time, unless Nevin has the opportunity to show he’s on a different, improved trajectory, or he’s needed to plug a short-term gap, it’s not clear to me where the team will fit him for MLB playing time. With that in mind, although I will certainly be rooting for a better outcome from him, I predict he will close out this season in the Orioles minors and be a possible candidate to be removed from the 40-man roster in November.
Tomorrow: Kyle Bradish