Baltimore’s infield depth should make for a crowded diamond this spring. Ramón Urías and Jorge Mateo shined defensively last season, but Gunnar Henderson will bump one of the two from the left side. Joey Ortiz, Jordan Westburg and Connor Norby appear set to begin the year at Norfolk, but the trio will look to make an impact at some point this season.
The Orioles moved on from Rougned Odor but elected to bring in another veteran in Adam Frazier. Frazier appears destined to battle Ramón Urías for the job at second base, but the former All Star has another path to playing time.
Frazier made 38 appearances in the outfield last season. The 31-year-old has consistently received high marks at second while grading as an average corner outfielder in limited playing time. Neither Pittsburgh or Seattle possessed the infield depth the Orioles will boast in 2023. Could Frazier spend more time in the grass this year?
The Orioles inked Frazier to a one-year, $8 million deal after discussing some tweaks that he could make at the plate. Frazier and Mike Elias likely discussed his defensive versatility at some point, but neither indicated how often the former Bucco would add to his 122 career starts in the outfield.
Frazier arrived in Sarasota looking to win the job at second base. This conversation only becomes relevant if both he and Urías perform well enough to require a place in the lineup on a routine basis. It’s a good problem to have.
Urías slashed .248/.305/.414 last season with a 104 wRC+. His numbers dipped after posting a .279/.361/.412 line over 85 games in 2021, but he still resembles an average hitter with the potential to break out.
Frazier struggled with a .238/.301/.311 line and a minuscule 81 wRC+. He will not hit for power, but the Orioles clearly expect a bounce back and a number closer to his career .336 OBP.
Frazier represents a slightly better matchup against lefties—he holds a .254 average compared to .235 for Urías—but is still far from the perfect platoon candidate. The hot hand will likely get at bats regardless of which pitcher takes the mound.
The Orioles are expected to reduce Anthony Santander’s time in the field after he made 119 appearances last season. Santander led the team in homers by a comfortable margin and posted an impressive 120 wRC+. The Birds need his bat in the lineup, but the defense leaves plenty to be desired.
Mike Elias said this offseason that he hope to get Santander and Austin Hays more time off their feet in 2023. The sentiment brings Frazier into a competition not only with Urías, but also Ryan McKenna and Kyle Stowers.
Neither McKenna nor Stowers possesses a proven track record at the plate. McKenna hit lefties well enough to force a platoon with Cedric Mullins at one point last season, while Brandon Hyde shielded Stowers from facing lefties almost altogether. McKenna plays superior defense and boasts the ability to play center, but Stowers failed to meet his defensive potential while adjusting to major league parks last season.
Fans may not love the idea of a 31-year-old Frazier taking starts from Stowers or even McKenna, but Hyde proved he could tune out the noise by rolling with Odor so often last season. The rebuild is over, and the Orioles will prioritize any player that provides them a better chance to win.
Urías, Stowers and McKenna make three for those counting at home, but Frazier faces another foe in Terrin Vavra. Vavra holds a similar skillset but checks in at six years younger. Both possess strong batting eyes and the ability to get on base. Vavra has options remaining and will battle just to make the club, but a strong season from the former Rockies prospect would make Frazier expendable.
Frazier could fall out of the rotation by June if he struggles at the plate, but the Orioles definitely have a place for him. He could win the battle at second and force Urías into a utility role, but he has another path forward. Frazier’s ability to play the outfield, paired with a defensive need to replace Santander and Hays, could lead to extra playing time regardless of how Urías performs this season.