Baltimore Orioles: Can Richie Martin stick at shortstop?

It seems likely that Richie Martin will make the Baltimore Orioles opening day roster. What can we expect from the young Rule 5 pick?

We’re still early in spring training, but so far it looks as though the Baltimore Orioles have two solid Rule 5 picks on the roster. Drew Jackson and Richie Martin have been impressive at the plate, showing unexpected plate discipline and contact skills. Both players have a chance to play in Baltimore in 2019; if Jackson sticks on the roster, it’ll likely be as a utility player, but Martin has a real chance to be the O’s shortstop on Opening Day.

Over the course of 11 spring games, Martin has hit .310 with three extra-base hits, and two walks to go with six strikeouts. The K’s have never been a huge concern with Martin, who has a career 17.6% strikeout rate over four minor-league seasons.

Of the issues we have seen with him though, one of the biggest has been the contact skill. It took a while but finally started to come around in 2018 when Martin hit .300 in a repeat trip to Double-A Midland. Though he hit .266 in 23 games at High-A Stockton in 2017, Martin had never hit higher than .237 in a full season.

But how will Martin’s approach translate to the majors this year? Can the bat stay consistent, and will he have the plate discipline required to stay on the roster all year? And can Martin buck the trend of Rule 5 hitters not having success in the majors?

The track record for Rule 5 picks overall is obviously not great, considering that they’re players who were essentially given up on by their original team. Pitchers usually perform better than hitters but generally speaking, Rule 5 players aren’t successful, at least in the season following their selection in the draft.

Using data from Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, and MLB.com, I looked at the last 10 years worth of Rule 5 picks and their success in the majors during their Rule 5 year to see what Martin might be compared to.

Twenty-nine hitters played in the majors after being selected in the Rule 5 draft, roughly 3 per year. Of those 29, just six were worth more than 0 fWAR.

Santander and Blash hardly count, with neither receiving significant playing time, so there have really just been four Rule 5 hitters over the last ten years who provided positive value to their new clubs. Of the remaining 23 hitters, there were 13 who received more than 100 plate appearances and posted negative fWAR.

What’s notable is that Cabrera is the only shortstop on the list above, and the other three Rule 5 shortstops who saw time over the last ten years have been awful. Marwin Gonzalez posted -0.6 fWAR in 2012, and Josh Rutledge and Allen Cordoba posted -0.4 and -1.1 fWAR respectively in 2017.

If Richie Martin follows in the footsteps of the Rule 5 hitters before him, it’s unlikely that he’s successful. But heading into 2019, the Baltimore Orioles don’t need Martin to be an All-Star; they just need to know if he can be a part of their future.

Martin has the defense to stick in the majors, but he’s most likely going to struggle at the plate. However, the Baltimore Orioles don’t have any good options behind him, so he should receive the lion’s share of playing time, and will be able to work through whatever issues arise.

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It feels reasonable to expect Richie Martin to get somewhere close to 400 plate appearances and hit between .240-.250 with limited power, and steal 12-15 bases. As long as he’s providing solid defense and showing confidence and the ability to adjust to major league pitching, it’ll be worth keeping him in the lineup.

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