Baltimore Orioles Second Base Preview: Maybe Some Ryan Mountcastle?
By Nick Stevens
We continue our 2020 position-by-position preview by taking a look at what we can expect to see from Baltimore Orioles second basemen.
Since the 2014 season, second base at Camden Yards was manned by Jonathan Schoop, that was until the great purge of 2018 which saw Schoop and a number of fan favorites and homegrown talents shipped out to other organizations to kick off a massive rebuild for the Baltimore Orioles.
The Orioles now enter 2020 looking for a new full-time second baseman, this after Jonathan Villar, who started a team-high 85 games at second for Baltimore, was not tendered a contraction earlier this offseason and traded to the Miami Marlins for a low-level minor league pitcher.
What can we expect to see this season from Orioles second basemen? Will anyone step up and take over full-time duties? We continue our position-by-position 2020 preview by taking a look at what went right in 2019 at second, what went wrong, and a look ahead to what 2020 could bring from the unsettled position.
Current 40-man/spring invite options
Baltimore Orioles general manager Mike Elias continues to bring in players who provide position flexibility, so we will likely see a number of different players at second base this season. Hanser Alberto is the early favorite to start at the position, while recent waiver claims Richard Urena and Pat Valaika could also fill in from time-to-time when Alberto moves over to third base.
All five infield non-roster invitees are also options to play some second base in spring, down in the minors, and at the major league level, if they are able to crack the roster. Those NRIs include Rylan Bannon, Mason McCoy, Jose Rondon, Dilson Herrera, and Malquin Canelo.
What went right in 2019?
Per Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement value, Jonathan Villar’s 4.0 fWAR was the highest among every Orioles hitter in 2019. His bat used to hit the 6,106th home run in the major leagues last year was sent to the Hall of Fame, he hit a career-high 24 himself, and his 40 stolen bases was the most for an Orioles baserunner since Brian Roberts stole 40 back in 2008.
The Orioles weren’t a lot of fun to watch on a nightly basis, but Villar’s breakout season quickly made him a fan-favorite heading into 2020, until he was sent to Miami.
When Villar slid over to shortstop in place of Richie Martin, Hanser Alberto had his name penciled into the lineup at second base 66 times and ended the year as one of the bigger surprises in all of baseball. His .305 average, 9.1% strikeout rate, and 12 home runs were all intriguing and his extreme lefty/righty splits were truly mind-boggling.
Villar and Alberto combined for 5.9 fWAR, good for fifth among major league teams in 2019, behind second basemen of the New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks, St. Louis Cardinals, and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Defensively, Alberto ranked 12th among all second basemen with +4 Infield Outs Above Average, supporting his 5 Defensive Runs Saved and 4.0 Ultimate Zone Rating defensive numbers on Fangraphs. Second base was clearly Alberto’s more natural position, where he could be an asset in 2020. On the flip side, Villar ranked dead last among 38 second basemen in baseball with -7 Infield OAA
Despite the overall defensive effort, second base was a bright spot for the Orioles last year. Will we be able to say the same thing at the end of 2020?
What to expect in 2020.
As of right now, Hanser Alberto is the starting second baseman. His positive defensive metrics across the board should pair well with Jose Iglesias at shortstop, giving the Orioles a bit of strength up the middle this season.
However, odds are low that we see Alberto repeat his 2019 campaign, and even so, he’s likely to continue to see more time at third base. With his success vs left-handed pitching and Rio Ruiz‘s struggles against left-handed pitching, platooning the two at third will be in the mix.
When that happens, the Orioles are hoping Richard Urena can slot and fill the void. The 23-year-old switch hitter brings solid defense to the table, but not much in terms of offense. That’s the case with many of the non-roster invitees like McCoy, Canelo, and Rondon, all of whom have major league-quality defense, but big questions when it comes to producing at the plate against major league pitching.
Having an improved defense behind a young pitching staff is certainly a good thing, but what if the Baltimore Orioles could find themselves a second baseman with a big bat, like Ryan Mountcastle?
It’s already been reported that Mountcastle will be shuffled around between first base, second, third, and the outfield during spring training, but second seems like a fantastic fit and short-term option for finding a spot in the batting order for last year’s International League MVP.
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A deep outfield and growing list of prospects who will be banging on the gates of Camden Yards in the near future, along with a long line of first base/designated hitter types on the roster, leaves Mountcastle looking for a home in the big leagues.
If Chris Davis is sticking around, Trey Mancini isn’t getting traded yet, and the Orioles want more looks at outfielders like Anthony Santander, Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, Dwight Smith Jr. and DJ Stewart, why not move Mountcastle to second and get his powerful bat in the lineup?
It wouldn’t be a full-time move, for now, just to spell Alberto when he moves over to third base and maybe split some time with Urena as Mountcastle finds his footing. When 100+ losses is essentially a guarantee next year, what would it hurt?
We will have to wait and see how it all shakes out, but for now, expect to see a number of different names take over at second base as the Orioles try and find stability at the position. If you missed any of our previous previews, you can read up on the catching position here and first base position here.