Hanser Alberto is proving to be a valuable offseason addition for the Baltimore Orioles.
It was during a game against the Tampa Bay Rays in which I fell in love with Hanser Alberto. MASN cameras showed the Baltimore Orioles‘ utility man sitting in the dugout, drinking an iced coffee as the game kicked off. He wasn’t starting that game, but his body language, as he sat drinking his iced boost of energy, expressed content. He was thoroughly enjoying the moment of sitting in a major league dugout, ready to contribute at a moment’s notice. For whatever reason, that moment stuck with me.
There is very little to cheer for in 2019, if you are a fan of the Baltimore Orioles. Few players on this roster are interesting and even fewer will be around in two years. When a storyline like Alberto’s comes around, it makes this season a bit more bearable and brings about some positivity in between opponents rocketing home runs at a record-breaking pace.
Alberto originally joined the Orioles back on January 11th, after being claimed off waivers from the New York Yankees. Around five weeks later, the O’s designated him for assignment and he was off to San Francisco to join the Giants. It was his third ballclub in less than two months.
One week later, Alberto was back on the waiver wire and was once again claimed by the Orioles. The news didn’t make waves, for obvious reasons, but Mike Elias clearly saw something in the 26-year-old utility man.
Few roster prediction pieces had Alberto making the Orioles’ 25-man roster out of spring training. I, like many, assumed he would be a quick roster cut with a number of solid performances coming from rookies like Austin Hays, among others. Alberto’s spring numbers weren’t impressive (.250/.273/.275, one extra-base hit, 9/2 K/BB ratio), yet his versatility and the desire to keep younger players down in the minors led Alberto to making the team.
Now, here on May 29th, Alberto is one of my favorite players on the active roster. I don’t care about what he lacks on defense, he doesn’t have any sort of trade value, and he isn’t a piece for the future, but I need some fun when watching Orioles’ baseball and Hanser Alberto brings just that.
It helps that he is producing solid numbers. With 149 plate appearances under his belt (a career-high), Alberto is hitting .301 with three home runs, five doubles, and 14 runs driven in. His wRC+ of 89 and 0.4 fWAR all rate him as around league average, slightly below when looking at just his offense. But when you look at last season’s numbers (excluding Manny Machado), Jonathan Villar was the only O’s hitter who finished with an fWAR over 1.0 and only Villar, Trey Mancini, and Pedro Severino rank higher than Alberto in this number in 2019.
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He may be league-average, but he’s our league-average player and he’s keeping Jace Peterson in AAA Norfolk.
Since May 20th, Alberto has found his name at the top of the lineup five times. He is hitting .391 with a 1.043 OPS with four extra-base hits in those games. Alberto is also handling left-handed pitchers extremely well. As pointed out many times during broadcasts, Alberto leads all hitters in baseball with a .414 average against lefties (minimum 50 plate appearances).
Can he stick around with this team for a few seasons as the roster shakes out? The Orioles are pretty thin at infield prospects in the upper minors, with top middle infield prospects like Adam Hall a few years away from breaking into the majors (if his development continues trending up). As long as Alberto’s defense can show improvement, his versatility (and ability to pitch) just may be enough to keep him around (only half-joking about the pitching thing).
There is something else he needs to work on. Alberto owns a league-worst 2% walk rate (among all major league hitters with at least 100 plate appearances, tied with Willians Astudillo of the Minnesota Twins). He’s a free-swinger and patience isn’t his greatest virtue, however, his strikeout rate is a highly respectable 12%. A little more patience and a little more work with the glove and the Baltimore Orioles have themselves a solid utility man to get them through the rebuild.
Alberto hit leadoff for the Brandon Hyde again last night, going 1-4 with no walks or strikeouts.