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Five position players playing for their roster spot as we head into September

While the impending September call-ups may bring some players their first opportunities in Baltimore, they may also signal the changing of the guard for some O’s vets.

Baltimore Orioles v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

As the calendar nears September, Birdland is abuzz with the thought of who the Orioles might bring up to Baltimore when rosters expand to 28. Some will be looking for the return of prospects like Colton Cowser or Joey Ortiz. Others will be clamoring for the debuts of prospects like Heston Kjerstad, Connor Norby or (dare we dream) Jackson Holliday.

However, the arrival (or return) of those top position players may put the writing on the walls for other members of the Orioles roster. As more and more players graduate from the Orioles’ position-player-heavy system, the need for stopgap solutions on the major league roster dwindles. The days when players like Rougned Odor, Tyler Nevin and DJ Stewart were necessary to fill out the Orioles roster are fast coming to an end.

So, as we approach a time where Mike Elias’ first four first round picks are in the same lineup, that means we’ll inevitably need to say goodbye to veteran players who have played important parts in the Orioles revitalization the last two seasons. Which means these last six weeks of baseball could be vital if some of these veterans want to earn a roster spot in 2024. With that in mind, we take a look at five players* who can play themselves onto (or off of) next season’s roster.

*A quick caveat for Adam Frazier and Aaron Hicks: I can’t imagine a world where either of them come back in 2024. Frazier has in no way lived up to his $8M salary as a below league average hitter and one of the worst defensive second basemen in the MLB. Except for a slight uptick in power, Frazier is exactly the same mediocre player he was last season in Seattle. Hicks, meanwhile, has gone back to being a pumpkin after a Cinderella start to his Orioles career. Heading into his age 34 season and with injuries piling up, Hicks simply no longer fits this Orioles roster.

Jorge Mateo

The electrifying yet aggravatingly inconsistent Mateo is the player much of Birdland has been crying to see DFA’d throughout August. Between his ever dwindling batting average and lapses on defense, Mateo has been the target of fans’ ire everytime Ortiz or another player at Norfolk goes on a hot streak. But then Mateo does something like make an improbable mad dash to score a go ahead run in Seattle or hit an inside the park home run in Oakland. That speed is still a captivating skill that makes you believe Mateo can be an asset on a contending team.

However, Mateo will need to be more than just fast through the end of September to secure a spot on next year’s team. The O’s depth chart at shortstop could feature three above average bats in Gunnar Henderson, Holliday and Jordan Westburg, with Ortiz providing the elite-level defense that was previously Mateo’s calling card. So Mateo will need to look more like the player that went 2-5 with the inside-the-park HR over the next six weeks if he wants to stay on the roster.

His best to prove his worth at the plate will be continuing to dominate left handed pitching. The speedy shortstop is hitting .280 with a .797 OPS against southpaws this season and his OBP is more than 100 points higher against lefties. With Henderson and Holliday both hitting left handed—as well as outfielders like Cowser, Kjerstad and Cedric Mullins—the O’s may yet find a role for Mateo as a lefty-mashing platoon option who can play both SS and CF. He will really need to mash the next six weeks to earn that role, and not be the player who went 196 ABs between HRs while hitting only .153.

Ryan McKenna

Perhaps the only player with a more tenuous “maybe” than Mateo when it comes to his 2024 roster spot is Ryan McKenna. The Orioles have already yo-yo’ed him back and forth between Baltimore and Norfolk this year in order to give opportunities to Cowser, Westburg and others. At all times it seems evident that McKenna is the 26th man on the current 26-man roster.

However, like Mateo, he also provides something the Orioles don’t have in spades: right handed hitting with speed. If the Orioles add Cowser and/or Kjerstad to the roster for good next year, they’ll become incredibly left-handed-heavy in the outfield and McKenna could serve at the necessary balance. Also like Mateo, McKenna has scuffled for much of August, only hitting .192 in 26 ABs. That cold stretch has seen his season numbers against lefties drop to a .254 average and a .655 OPS. Without offering the same positional versatility as Mateo, McKenna will need to hit much better before October starts if he wants an inside track to a roster spot in 2024.

Ryan O’Hearn

When Ryan O’Hearn plays well this season, he provides the Orioles with the exact type of player they hope Kjerstad will be one day. A left-handed hitting power bat who has the positional flexibility to go back and forth between 1B and the corner OF spots. However, we’ve seen less of that good O’Hearn over the last month, which brings into question whether or not ROH is a lock for the 2024 roster.

Through his first 46 ABs in August, O’Hearn is only hitting .261 with a .727 OPS. He has 13 Ks to only two BBs and his OBP has plummeted to .292—bringing into question whether the blend of discipline and aggression we saw earlier in the season is now reverting back to the wilder free swinger he was during his time in Kansas City. The resurgence of Ryan Mountcastle after his bout with vertigo also means that the idea of a regular O’Hearn/Mountcastle platoon at 1B isn’t as appealing as it once was.

The benefit that O’Hearn may have is who he’s competing against for a roster spot. As we saw with Colton Cowser’s cameo in the Major Leagues, overwhelming success in the minors doesn’t immediately translate to success in the majors. If O’Hearn can get back to being the player who hit .317 with an OPS near .900 over June and July, the O’s front office and coaching staff could choose to keep him on the roster in lieu of rushing Cowser and Kjerstad into every day roles. That’s a big “if,” though, and it’s why more than ever O’Hearn feels like he’s on the roster bubble for 2024 as we head toward the last month of the season.

Ramón Urías

Now we start getting into the players you would really hate to see go—but you can also imagine a world where the front office decides to move on from them if they don’t light it up at the end of this season. We all know the things that Urías does that make him an incredibly useful player to this Baltimore team. He’s not only one of the best third basemen in the majors, but will selflessly move to any spot on the infield and play it at a high level.

And yet, for every “wow” play he makes with his glove, there is an equal number of times where you’re left wanting more when it comes to Urías as a hitter. While they shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all when it comes to evaluating a player, the number of “blue dots” you see on Urías’ Baseball Savant page page doesn’t paint a great picture for him as a hitter. After hitting 16 HRs and 17 2Bs last season, there has been a bit of a power regression this year from Urías, as his slugging% has dropped by 29 points while his hard hit rate has dropped by 7.5%.

While Urías hasn’t exactly lived up to the Gold Glove standard he set last season, the Orioles' best defensive infield this season is still him playing 3B while Henderson plays SS. Unlike the previous entries on this list, Urías is actually trending up so far in August, posting a .279 average and .745 average that both outpace his season averages by a good amount. If he continues that upward trend at the dish, Urías may find himself as the veteran mentor for next year’s presumptive everyday infield of Henderson-Holliday-Westburg. Take a step back at the plate, and it may signal to the Orioles front office that they’d be better off exploring a Urías trade in order to throw the doors wide open for their young infielders.

Anthony Santander

I need to preface this by saying in no way do I want the Orioles to move on from Tony Taters after this season. He’s consistently one of the most fun players on this Orioles roster and deserves to be part of this new era of Orioles success. However, it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore the massive slump Santander finds himself in since the All-Star break.

Once the most consistent power threat in this Baltimore lineup, Santander has scuffled to a .180 average and .350 slugging% since the Midsummer Classic. Perhaps even more concerning is his skyrocketing strikeout rate. From May through July, Tony’s K rate consistently hovered around 21%. That number has jumped all the way up to above 26% in August.

Santander is also the only player on this list whose place on the 2024 roster may be influenced by finances as well as his on-field performance. The former Rule 5 draft pick becomes eligible for free agency after the 2024 season and is due another pay raise on his $7.4M salary for this season. If the Orioles owner wasn’t John Angelos, this might not be seen as a barrier. However, with Angelos crying “small market team” every chance he gets, the Orioles may see it more prudent to trade Santander this winter than to carry a potential $10M+ salary into 2024 and then let him walk after the season.

And yet, Tony Taters earned his nickname in part by continually hitting himself into larger and larger roles in this Orioles lineup. If he can do that once again in the closing weeks of the 2023 regular season, he can still convince the front office to bring him back for (at least) one more season as part of the heart and soul of an Orioles team that should be competing for the AL pennant.


Which player would you most like to see stay on the roster for the 2024 season?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    Jorge Mateo
    (66 votes)
  • 1%
    Ryan McKenna
    (26 votes)
  • 7%
    Ryan O’Hearn
    (110 votes)
  • 14%
    Ramón Urías
    (208 votes)
  • 71%
    Anthony Santander
    (1042 votes)
1452 votes total Vote Now