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Orioles Season Preview: Potential for newcomers across the board for infield

Orioles Season Preview: Potential for newcomers across the board for infield

The Orioles may have lost their most productive infielder last season in Jonathan Villar, but the majority of last year’s infield will return. 

Chris Davis, Hanser Alberto, Jose Iglesias and Rio Ruiz are set to patrol the infield with Iglesias as the only newcomer. Iglesias, on his third team in three years and fourth team overall, slashed .288/.318/.407 last season with an OPS of .724. He also hit 11 home runs last season.

Villar was traded to Miami for minor league pitcher Easton Lucas in early December which left a hole at shortstop, which Iglesias is expected to fill. 

Richard Urena Jr. figures to be a utility infielder, capable of playing shortstop, second base or third base. He spent the last three seasons in Toronto and slashed a combined .253/.300/.336 and had a .972 fielding percentage with seven errors in 624 ⅔ innings.

Where the infield gets interesting, however, is at first base. 

Davis returns with three years left on his 161 million dollar contract and a bevy of questions about how productive he can be after his fourth season in a row where he batting average didn’t eclipse .221. Last season, he slashed .179/.276/.326 and had an OPS of .601. While that was an improvement from 2018, his future remains uncertain in Baltimore. 

Davis, who will be 34 when the season begins in late March, has not posted a positive WAR (wins above replacement) season since 2016. His highest mark in the last season was 0.0, and in the last two seasons he posted a negative number.

He’ll start the season at first base, but Ryan Mountcastle figures to be right behind him. 

The 36th overall pick in 2015, Mountcastle is on the top 100 prospects list according to mlb.com. And last season in Triple-A Norfolk, he earned International League Most Valuable Player after a season where he slashed .312/.344/.527 and had 25 home runs and an .871 OPS. 

Mountcastle, who has risen through each step of the Orioles farm system since 2015, appears ready to break into the lineup at some point in 2020. At that point, the Orioles will have to find some room for Mountcastle to see if he’s able to become a regular big league contributor. 

Should the Orioles need it, Trey Mancini is an option to play at first base should Davis or Mountcastle not be available.

As for bench roles, Richie Martin and Renato Nunez could fill bench roles and solidify the middle infield. Ruiz, who started 89 games at third base, is also an option to fill a role as designated hitter. 

And when it comes to prospects on the rise, there’s not much immediately available for the Orioles to pick from. 

Gunnar Henderson, a shortstop who was selected in the second round of last year’s MLB Draft, is still just 18 years old, is a few years away from reaching the major leagues. 

There are options available for utility sake, but as for the rebuild, there’s still a ways to go before some of the younger talent reaches the major league.

40-man roster: 

Hanser Alberto

Chris Davis

Jose Iglesias

Richie Martin

Ryan Mountcastle

Renato Nunez

Rio Ruiz

Richard Urena Jr. 

Ramon Urias

Non-roster invitees:

Rylan Bannon

Malquin Canelo

Dilson Herrera

Mason McCoy

José Rondón

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Orioles are not letting postponement get in the way of their pitchers' development

Orioles are not letting postponement get in the way of their pitchers' development

The Orioles were supposed to be in the midst of their opening series of the 2020 season against the Yankees this weekend.

But due to the league’s shutdown because of coronavirus, Camden Yards remained empty on what would have been Opening Day. 

Now, the Orioles are stuck with decisions on how to keep their players — notably their pitchers — in form for whenever the season comes back. The problem is, however, that no one knows when baseball will return.

“I think we’ll hopefully have a better idea as we go along,” manager Brandon Hyde said a little over a week ago on a conference call, “But as of right now, it’s a real individualized plan for everybody that our medical team as well as our trainers, strength coaches, pitching coaches, have all gotten together with on conference calls and how we were going to really talk and put these plans in place for our pitchers.”

John Means, who was likely the starter for the season opener against the Yankees, has already kept up with live batting practices.

For a young team like the Orioles, development is paramount. That’s not the easiest thing to work through when there’s not a set end date for baseball’s return.

“But the first thing was to get our pitchers in a healthy place, a safe place, and now we’re talking about what kind of throwing program that they’re going to be on here for a while with an unclear date of when that’s going to end,” Hyde continued.

While the starting rotation, likely, would’ve been a bit older at the outset of the season with Asher Wojciechowski (31), Alex Cobb (32) and Wade LeBlanc (35) all figured to see significant innings, the youth movement of the pitching staff was likely to come later in the season. 

Now, there’s a whole lot of uncertainty surrounding a unit that was the league’s worst just a season ago.

“I think it is impactful in that there’s a lot of development to be had by a lot of players, obviously,” Hyde said. “This can cripple the development a little bit in that you want guys to get innings, you want guys to get at-bats, you want the guys to go through full seasons. That’s really important, especially early on in understanding what it takes to live through a full season and to compete for a full season, so that’s going to be cut short. But it’s something that everybody is dealing with.”

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The quietest Opening Day in Camden Yards’ history

The quietest Opening Day in Camden Yards’ history

BALTIMORE — At first glance, the corner of West Camden and Eutaw Street in Baltimore offered no signs anything was amiss. 

The wind breezed lightly through the city on a late-March afternoon, where the temperature neared 60 degrees and partly cloudy skies allowed the sun to shine bright on an early spring day. 

The trees that bloomed all around Oriole Park at Camden Yards at every street corner meant warmer weather was here and baseball season had arrived.

On Thursday, though, there was no baseball. There won’t be baseball Friday either, and there won’t be baseball for, at the very least, a few more weeks — and perhaps longer. 

Two weeks ago, Major League Baseball announced the postponement of the regular season due to the coronavirus pandemic. There still isn’t a known start date for the 2020 regular season. Instead of Yankees ace Gerrit Cole making his AL East debut against John Means — the likely starter for the Orioles — baseball stood still.

“It’s going to be weird knowing that we’re not playing,” manager Brandon Hyde said last Thursday on a conference call. “But there are a lot bigger things than Opening Day right now and a lot bigger things going on in the world.”

The coronavirus pandemic has led to businesses operating in a limited capacity, if at all, as every aspect of life around Baltimore and the U.S. has changed drastically in the last two weeks. As Thursday proved, not even the Orioles are insusceptible. 

Opening Day almost assuredly wasn’t going to be the start of a miraculous run toward relevance for the Orioles. But it was the first chance for fans to see the new look Orioles squad, now in the second year of a rebuild, try and get halfway to the total wins they had over the Yankees last season — two. 

And with the game postponed, perhaps the most human part of Opening Day was canceled, too.

Pickles Pub wasn’t filled to the brim with Orioles fans clad in orange and black, paying no mind to the time or the drinks in their hands. Street vendors weren’t selling hot dogs to parents and kids who decided playing hooky for the day would be a better use of their time. 

John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” didn’t blare through the speakers in the late afternoon for the seventh-inning stretch, either. 

Instead, one of baseball’s most beautiful parks was quiet on the most celebrated day of the season.

Neighborhood streets and parking lots around Camden Yards were filled with cars, but only because everyone sat at home with no baseball game to attend to. 

The earliest, and 66th, Opening Day in Baltimore Orioles history didn’t happen. The Orioles are now ontrack, should the season resume, for the latest Opening Day in history. 

For now, the park will remain closed. Over 10 days ago, the CDC recommended gatherings of more than 50 people be stopped for at least eight weeks, which could lead to some clues as to when Eutaw Street is filled once again.

That reality is, however, that the corner of West Camden and Eutaw will remain quiet for the foreseeable future. 

Opening Day will come for Baltimore in the 2020 season. 

The biggest question, though, is when?

“Opening Day is such a special day, and there’s a lot of emotions that go through everyone involved in an opening day ceremony,” Hyde said. “It’s something you never forget. This year is going to be pushed back. Now, we’re going to be looking forward to the 2020 opening day, whenever that is.”

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