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Best Orioles of the Century: Standouts with different styles at second base

Best Orioles of the Century: Standouts with different styles at second base

With fans stuck inside and no live sports for entertainment, it's time to look to the past. Over the next few weeks, NBC Sports Washington is putting together a Best of the Century team for the Baltimore Orioles. Through the past two decades, there has been a surprising amount of star power to come through Charm City, and now we can determine who has truly been the cream of the crop.

We started with catcher and then moved to first base. Now it's time for the keystone position: second base.

Unlike first base and catcher, second base has two options so clearly ahead of the rest of the pack that it didn't make sense to include any other options as a finalist.

Jerry Hairston Jr. and Delino DeShields enjoyed short stints at the turn of the century that most O's fans remember, Ryan Flaherty became synonymous with the versatile Orioles of the mid 2010s, and Jonathan Villar was the second-best player on the 2019 team. And who will ever forget Robert Andino's starring role in the greatest regular season day in baseball history, the finale of 2011?

But this is a position dominated by two names: Brian Roberts in the first decade of the century, and Jonathan Schoop in the second.

They controlled the game with different styles: The former, speed and smarts. The latter, power and flash.

Both are deserving choices. Who will be the choice?

Here are the top contenders at second base, in chronological order.

The Contenders

Brian Roberts (2001-13)

Roberts spent more than a decade with the team, though it was a decade without any winning. The always-smiling second baseman was in town during the lean years, but it didn't stop him from winning over fans with his record-breaking doubles and stolen base totals.

He topped 50 doubles three times and 50 steals once. His best season came in 2005, when he hit a career-high 18 home runs to pair nicely with his speed and glove. It was also the only year in which he hit over .300.

Roberts was part of one of the best infields in baseball, along with Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada, in the middle of the decade.

According to FanGraphs, Roberts (29.4) is actually just 0.1 WAR away from tying Adam Jones for the most total WAR this century in Baltimore, and Melvin Mora is the only player within 10 WAR of him in the 2000s.

It's a shame that he wasn't around to enjoy the team's best years from 2012-16, but Roberts was one of the franchise's most impactful players at any position this century. There's a reason he was a fan favorite and the face of the franchise for several years in a row.

He's also stayed involved with the organization, lending his talents post-retirement as an analyst for games on TV and radio.

Jonathan Schoop (2013-18)

Schoop, an international free agent signing, came up through the minor league system at the same time as superstar Manny Machado, which meant he often was in his best friend's shadow.

That never stopped him from flashing his trademark smile or turning some of the most impressive double plays in Orioles' history.

Schoop wasn't blessed with elite range, but what he did own was the strongest arm for any second baseman in baseball. He regularly gunned down runners when it seemed impossible. And the field wasn't even where he showed off most of his strength.

The second baseman was a power bat and a free swinger. He never walked more than 35 times in a single season, but he did hit at least 15 home runs over five consecutive seasons, peaking with 32 in 2017. That was his lone All-Star season, and he finished 12th in AL MVP voting.

Schoop's peak was strong. Was it strong enough to be named Best Oriole second baseman of the century?

The Winner

Schoop puts up a worthy fight, especially when you consider his role on the playoff teams in 2014 and 2016, but this title belongs to Brian Roberts, the face of the franchise for a generation of fans who grew up without many stars in orange and black.

Roberts trails Schoop in home runs, but he paces him in most other categories. He played twice as many games in Baltimore as Schoop, making two All-Star Games in the process. 

Yes, Roberts finished his career in pinstripes, but 13 of his 14 seasons were spent in Baltimore. His late-career injury issues frustrated fans, but Roberts was the best, most exciting player on the team for multiple years. He was the prototypical leadoff hitter, and his longevity gives him twice as much WAR as well.

His best season, 2005, put him in MVP territory with 7.3 WAR. He has the peak, he has the length, he has the leadership, and he has the status of fan-favorite as the best player on the team pre-Markakis/Jones.

The only thing missing is the winning, but otherwise, Brian Roberts was the total package. At second base, he is the Best Oriole of the Century.

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Could signing Bartolo Colon make sense for the Orioles if baseball returns? 

Could signing Bartolo Colon make sense for the Orioles if baseball returns? 

It appears “Big Sexy” is ready to make his big return to Major League Baseball, according to ESPN.

Colon is hopeful that with expanded rosters and the possibility of a season with less than 100 games, the starting pitcher will be able to find himself on an MLB roster if the season is able to start back up.

The 47-year-old has a number in mind, too: 46.

He wants to pass Hall of Famer Juan Marichal for the most number of innings pitched by a Domincan pitcher. In order to accomplish that, he said he’ll sign “with the first team who wants me.” Marichal threw 3,507 innings in his career. Colon needs a team to help him reach that number.

Could the Orioles be that team?

The Orioles have shown they’ve got no reservations about adding veteran talent to the back-end of the starting rotation, as they added Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone just a few weeks before Spring Training began in February. With starting pitching an issue, they could dip into the veteran pool to eat some innings

And if they’re looking for a boost, Colon could add some innings. If nothing else, it could be fun. 

Colon has pitched in the majors for 21 seasons since 1997 for 11 different teams. He’s accumulated a 247-188 record with a career 4.12 ERA in 575 games. He’s pitched 3,461 ⅔ innings in his career and posted a WHIP of 1.312. 

He last pitched in the majors for the Rangers in 2018, where he went 7-12 with a 5.78 ERA. He threw 146 ⅓ innings in 28 games, 24 of which were starts. 

The Orioles aren’t expected to be remotely competitive in 2020, even if a season takes place. The addition of Colon, as long as it doesn’t interfere with innings pitched for some of the younger players in the organization, could be a fun storyline to monitor as Colon looks to set the record for innings pitched by a Dominican player.

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Who the Orioles could pick at No. 2 in 2020 MLB Draft, according to one expert

Who the Orioles could pick at No. 2 in 2020 MLB Draft, according to one expert

In the 2019 MLB Draft, the Baltimore Orioles took a major step toward rebuilding their roster and farm system by selecting catcher Adley Rutschman No. 1 overall. The switch-hitting backstop projects to become the cornerstone of the franchise. This year, the team can add another major piece in the 2020 MLB Draft as they have the second overall pick.

Though the draft has been shortened from 40 rounds to just five, it doesn't truly impact what Baltimore will do at No. 2. There, they will still have an opportunity to select the next piece of their future, and plenty of good options will be available.

But, unlike last year where Rutchsman was the shoo-in all along, the choices are not as clear cut in 2020. MLB Pipeline senior writer Jim Callis, who has closely studied the group of prospects, believes there are a few different ways the Orioles could go.

“I don’t think it’s a clear cut decision at No. 2 yet," Callis told MASN's Steve Melewski.

When it comes to who Callis could see Baltimore selecting, the dream-scenario would be Spencer Torkelson out of Arizona State University. However, it's considered a dream because the most likely outcome is that the Detriot Tigers will take Torkelson first overall. The first baseman has a special bat according to Callis and resembles the talent Rutschman has demonstrated at the plate.

Though there is a slim chance of it happening, the idea of those two one day sharing a lineup card in Baltimore would have the Orioles over the moon with excitement.

“To image those two guys in the middle of the lineup," Callis said. "Woo, that would be pretty exciting.”

Yet, if Torkelson does go No. 1, there is still plenty of talent available in the draft class. A name that comes to mind for Callis is Vanderbilt's Austin Martin. The position player asserted himself as a top prospect after his 2019 collegiate season in which he led the SEC in batting average (.392) and on-base percentage (.486) all while helping his team dominate the toughest conference in baseball and claim a College World Series title.

In Martin, the Orioles could be getting another reliable bat for years and years to come, one Callis claims to be the "best pure hitter in the draft." However, Martin's major area of concern is defense, as many are still unsure as to what his best position is. 

“I think there’s some questions as to where he’s gonna play," Callis said of Martin. “Is he a center fielder, a third baseman, an offensive second baseman? That’s a little unclear.”

After struggling in the infield, largely due to an inability to consistently make the throws from the left side of the diamond, Martin made the move to center field. However, due to the shortened 2020 season, he lost valuable reps in the outfield. Despite that, Callis sees that and one other option as Martin's best spot in the pros.

“My guess is he’s going to be a center fielder or second baseman," Callis said.

If the Orioles are not sold on Martin, or want to grab a player of similar skill but for a little less price, Nick Gonzales out of New Mexico State could be a fit as well. Versatile, he led the NCAA in batting in 2019 with a .423 average.

Baltimore could also decide it wants to add a pitcher at No. 2 overall, and based on how Callis views that portion of the draft class, it could be a beneficial decision. After a down year for pitchers in 2019, things look a lot better in 2020.

“[2019] was not a good year for college pitching. It was probably, I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, the worst draft I’ve seen in terms of first-round caliber college arms," Callis said. "This year, college pitching is a strength. There’s a lot of good college pitching.”

The best, according to Callis, is Texas A&M's Asa Lacy. The left-handed starter was off to a strong start to the 2020 season (3-0, 0.75 ERA) before games were canceled. The Orioles could always use another arm to one day rely upon at the Major League level, and Callis sees Lacy as the best prospect to fit that mold.

Even with Lacy's potential, the talented pitching class may sway Baltimore away from him. The Orioles also hold the No. 30 and No. 39 picks in the draft in addition to their first-round selection, and Callis has a feeling that other very good arms will be available.

“There’s gonna be really good pitchers available at 30," Callis said. "Much more so than I think the hitters that will be available at 30.”

With the draft just a couple of weeks away, Martin, Gonzales and Lacy are seen as the three most likely options for the Orioles. No matter who the team ends up selecting with the No. 2 overall pick, Callis believes that they will become a big part of Baltimore's future success. A few years down the line, the 2020 class should have a good reputation in Callis' eyes.

“It’s the first year of the decade. I would bet that we look back in history and this would be one of the top two or three draft classes of the 2020s," Callis said.

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