This has been the most exciting season of Orioles baseball since Mike Elias took the reins ahead of 2019. The big league squad has a .500 record at the all-star break, the organization has a top-ranked farm system, and they just added Jackson Holliday with the number one overall pick in the 2022 draft. Things are going well in Baltimore!
At the same time, we all understand that there will be roster turnover between now and the day that the front office decides it’s time to go “all in” on a playoff-caliber roster in Baltimore. So in moments like this it can be worthwhile to slow things down and appreciate some of the less obvious contributors to the “Orioles Magic” of the moment.
Think back to the 2011 Orioles, if you will. That roster had plenty of players that stuck around for 2012, when the club went back to the postseason, but had departed by the time the nucleus of that team was at the peak of their ability in 2014. We’re talking Robert Andino, Jim Johnson, and Mark Reynolds. Those are some guys worth remembering even if they did not have the most decorated careers.
The 2022 Orioles have plenty of candidates for that sort of consideration. Rougned Odor seems like a lock for such distinction, and Trey Mancini is a name that every O’s fan of this generation will remember until the end of time. But I wanted to focus on one guy in particular here: Ramón Urías.
Urías came to the Orioles, like so many others, as a waiver claim ahead of the 2020 season. He spent the previous two seasons in the Cardinals organization after they had signed him out of the Mexican League as a 24-year-old. The fact that he has made it to the big leagues at all is a miracle, let alone how productive he has been.
Since joining the organization, Urías has hit the ground running. He had a solid cameo in 2020, when he went 9-for-25 at the plate across 10 games. He served as a utility player in 2021 and was the most productive rookie on the roster, slashing .279/.361/.412 over 85 games. Brandon Hyde made Urías into an everyday option this year, and he has fully embraced the role. Over 61 games, Urías has a 108 OPS+ with nine home runs and 12 doubles, on pace to surpass most of his 2021 numbers by the end of July.
Advanced metrics like him too. His 90.7 average exit velocity is well above league average, and half of the balls he puts in play are hit hard, which ranks in the 93rd percentile of MLB. That has been helped by a dramatic increase in launch angle (from 5.2 degrees in 2021 to 10.7 degrees in 2022), which has lifted his slugging percentage by 27 points.
On top of that, he is getting much better marks on defense by moving over to third base on a full-time basis. Urías has three outs above average at the hot corner, showing nice range and reacting well on chopping ground balls in front of him.
All of this has added up to make Urías one of the most important players on the Orioles roster. Baseball Reference slots him (2.4 bWAR) right behind Austin Hays (2.8 bWAR) and Cedric Mullins (2.7 bWAR) in terms of overall value. FanGraphs is a bit tougher (1.4 fWAR), but still only has three hitters (Mullins, Hays, and Ryan Mountcastle) ahead of him on the Orioles roster. Not bad for a waiver claim that has had some injury issues and entered the season without a clear position.
Urías has a chance to hang around Birdland for a long time to come. He has one more season before arbitration and wouldn’t be set for free agency until the end of the 2026 season. If everything is going according to plan, the Orioles should be well into their competitive window by that point. But just because he is eligible to stay in Baltimore for four more seasons does not mean that he will.
The Orioles have several notable infield prospects getting close to the big leagues, including the highly-regarded Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg, both of whom could be third basemen at the next level. The utility space could be competitive as well with Terrin Vavra on the way, and Jorge Mateo a candidate to move all over if the Orioles seek an offensive upgrade at shortstop.
That could make Urías into a potential trade candidate within the next year or so. The Orioles may not have room for a solid third basemen with positional versatility by that point, but a healthy chunk of the league probably will.
So why not trade him now, when he has more team control and has been productive at the plate? Major league quality players don’t grow on trees, and the Orioles had issues filling the hole at third base prior to Urías taking it on full-time. Just this season they have cycled through Kelvin Gutiérrez, Tyler Nevin, Rylan Bannon, and Jonathan Araúz at the position. Last year was the Maikel Franco experiment. Before that it was an awful lot of Rio Ruiz.
You get the idea. There is value to stability, particularly if it comes with solid defense and a productive bat. The Orioles have to weigh that value with what a potential trade of Urías would net. It would appear that the math there is easy considering Urías is a 28-year-old with a well-rounded skillset rather than any particularly loud tools. He’s steady, and clubs don’t usually pay up for “steady.”
For now, the Orioles get to enjoy the consistency that Urías brings to the lineup everyday. His presence certainly deepens their offense, and if he can continue to tap into his power it will become a much harder conversation to determine his future with the club.