The Orioles’ Opening Day roster did not feature many surprises. It was easy to predict which infielders would crack the 28-man group; the only question was where they all would play.
The Orioles tabbed Ryan Mountcastle as the starting first baseman with Trey Mancini expected to split reps at the position. After that, things were anything but certain. Jorge Mateo and Ramón Urías appeared set to play up the middle, but it was unclear what type of role veterans Rougned Odor and Chris Owings would take early in the year. With a surplus of utility options, would anyone knock Kelvin Gutierrez off the hot corner?
Things are hardly set in stone 11 games into the season, but we have learned a few things about the Orioles’ infield. Baltimore does not intend to play Odor at third base after the 28-year-old said he felt uncomfortable at the position with the Yankees last year. Odor has made all eight of his appearances at second base this season.
Gutierrez was an early favorite at third base but last night marked just his fourth start of the year. The Orioles have slated Urías, a seemingly more natural fit at second base, at third in eight games so far this season. Urías made a crucial error Monday night in Oakland, and the Orioles moved him to second base for last night’s contest against the A’s.
Jorge Mateo has started 10 of 11 games at shortstop. Mateo has two errors on the young season, but the club hopes his speed will help his range. Baltimore could be looking to keep things consistent for Mateo after his impressive start at the dish.
Mateo entered last night’s game with a .273 batting average and .351 on-base percentage. Mateo’s 9-for-33 is nice but his four walks stand out. Mateo walked just seven times in 32 games last season, and the Birds would love if his new patient approach is here to stay.
Defensive fits are certainly a factor, but it matters how these guys fare at the plate. Mountcastle and Mancini have hit the ball hard, but other infielders have not experienced the same success.
Urías snapped an 0-for-16 stretch with a 2-for-4 Monday night. It’s fair to wonder whether it’s a slow start or if the hot corner is bothering him. Urías made only 10 appearances at third base last season while slashing .279/.361/.412.
Odor delivered a big hit against the Yankees but he’s still batting just .174. Brandon Hyde appreciates the veteran presence the 28-year-old brings to the table, but leadership is not enough to justify a .217 slugging percentage from a guy expected to have a little pop. Nobody is confusing Odor for Roberto Alomar at second base either.
It’s reasonable to prefer the lineup Baltimore rolled out last night with Urías at second, Mateo at short and Gutierrez taking third. Baltimore does not appear rushed to move on from Odor, but it will be interesting to see how long he can last. It’s difficult to picture Odor raising his value to that of a trade chip before July.
Gutierrez can certainly earn more playing time if he pairs a stronger performance at the dish with that rocket arm at third. If not, the nudge to Odor could come from Norfolk.
Tyler Nevin missed out on the Opening Day roster after a 7-for-30 stretch in spring training. Nevin resembled a Major Leaguer during his cup of coffee last season and has performed well in nine games for Norfolk, with a .306/.381/.417 slash line and 14 RBIs. With Mancini and Mountcastle locking up first, Nevin has focused on third base this season.
Jahmai Jones, Richie Martin and Rylan Bannon could all see Baltimore at some point this season. Martin can play shortstop, but Jones holds the most intriguing bat of the trio.
The most interesting thing about Owings is that we’ve barely seen him at all. Owings started two games at second and one at short. He has yet to record a hit in seven plate appearances. Owings holds the same “placeholder” label as Odor, but the 30-year-old could be the first to go. It’s unclear whether Baltimore trusts anyone but Mateo and Owings at short, and the O’s likely want Martin to take regular at bats at Norfolk for now.
The Orioles infield situation was rocky heading into the season and it did not magically improve after two weeks. With the top prospects still a year away, there’s still plenty of time for players to step up. So far, Mateo and Nevin have made the most of their opportunities in 2022. It remains to be seen whether Urías and Gutierrez can turn it around and how long Odor and Owings can cling to roster spots.