During a long and drawn-out 2021-2022 offseason that included a lockout, the Orioles made a few modest moves for infield depth. The first move happened in late November, and the second move happened right near the beginning of spring training.
Former Ranger and Yankee Rougned Odor signed with Baltimore as a free agent in November 2021. He brought with him a career .722 OPS, including a .234/.289/.433 slash line. In 38 at-bats this year, he’s batting a lowly .158/.267/.211, and has yet to hit his first home run as an Oriole.
Fellow infielder Chris Owings signed with the O’s as a free agent on March 15, 2022. He’s appeared in seven games for the Birds — including three starts at second and two starts at shortstop — and is currently slashing .143/.294/.143 in 14 at-bats.
Let’s be honest here; neither one of these veterans is going to be part of the next good Orioles team.
Even at this early juncture of the season, there are several minor league infielders garnering attention. The writing is on the wall for Owings and Odor, as they are stopgaps for the next wave of position prospects.
While the big-time infield prospects — like Gunnar Henderson, Coby Mayo, and Jordan Westburg — aren’t quite ready for promotion, there is a wave of young infielders closer to their shot in the majors.
For a team like the O’s, it’s important to take a look at players like these, in order to determine once and for all if they’ve got a long-term future in Baltimore.
All things considered, there are a couple schools of thought here. The first is that young players like these should only be in the majors if they’re getting full-time at-bats, because anything less would stunt their development. On the other hand, there might be an inclination to protect guys like this in the bigs, especially if they have certain shortcomings that would be exposed as everyday players. There’s also the consideration of service time, for some more than others.
But here’s the thing: if any of these minor league guys is taking the place of Odor or Owings, they’re replacing a part-time player anyway. Important to note is the fact that all of the guys we’re about to delve into are currently playing at Triple-A.
The first intriguing player is second baseman Jahmai Jones, who came to the O’s from the Angels for Alex Cobb in February 2021. Although he’s hitting just .231 with the Tides at the moment, Jones continues to demonstrate a keen batting eye, as evidenced by his .367 OBP. He had a cup of coffee with the O’s late last season and struggled, hitting .149 over the course of 26 games. I’d still rather see him than Owings or Odor at second base.
Richie Martin, a former Rule 5 draft pick in December 2018, has had a tumultuous run with the O’s since arriving from Oakland. Between 120 games in 2019 and 37 games last year, the 27-year-old is carrying a .215/.262/.312 slash line in majors. He also had tough luck with injuries the past couple years.
But things are clicking for Martin right now in Triple-A. He’s got a .280/.357/.480 triple slash line with five walks, 13 strikeouts, and two stolen bases. Why not give him another shot now, while the big guns like Henderson and Westburg are still climbing up the ranks?
There’s also a couple of guys the Orioles acquired from the Rockies a few years back in exchange for reliever Mychal Givens. That includes 24-year-old Terrin Vavra, who is on a tear right now, hitting .327/.435/.423 with 10 walks and just seven strikeouts.
The other is 24-year-old Tyler Nevin, a corner infielder and sometimes corner outfielder who’s slashing an impressive .355/.431/.548 with six doubles, two home runs, six walks, and eight strikeouts. He’s also got four stolen bases already, which is more impressive considering his 6’ 4”, 225 lb. frame.
One more player worth mentioning is Rylan Bannon, whose stock dropped last year due to a lackluster season. Lest we forget, he was part of the trade package from the Dodgers for Manny Machado in 2018. Bannon has started fast out of the gates in 2022, batting .295/.434/.426 for Norfolk with two doubles, two home runs, 14 walks versus 21 strikeouts, and three stolen bags.
We’re almost a month into the season already, and the Orioles’ two veteran stopgaps showed below average bats. It’s frustrating to see them take at-bats from young players like the ones mentioned previously. Hopefully, general manager Mike Elias and company will give the next wave a shot sooner than later.