For most of the last 10 years, the question about who would play first base for the Baltimore Orioles was easy.
It always belonged to the Baltimore Orioles most expensive player ever, Chris Davis.
But, this is no longer the case. With workouts beginning today, the decision-makers will have a serious question to answer: who’s on first?
With so many young players vying for a spot on the roster, first base will be a spot that several of those players will attempt to win. Any player who wins that coveted spot could make a major impact on the team in 2020 and the near future.
In 2019, Davis played in 105 games, which is 64% of the games. That would equal 38 games in 2020. In 14 of the games, he was a pinch hitter, pinch runner, reliever, or right fielder. His inconsistent hitting has made him more of a liability than an asset. A young player could bring more.
With Davis’s $23 million on the books through 2022, the team might still put him in first on a regular basis, simply to justify his contract. Still, he won’t play everyday, so a solid utility player will also be needed.
No matter what shakes out in the upcoming weeks, someone has to be able to play first in the other 30% to 40% of the games that Davis probably won’t play. Let’s look at who’s most likely to have a set position in the infield:
Second base belongs to Alberto, who shuffled between second and third throughout 2019. Once Jonathan Villar left, Alberto was a perfect fit for the position.
Richie Martin spent most of 2019 manning shortstop, but Iglesias was given a $3 million contract to take over the spot. And, Iglesias won’t disappoint. He’s consistent at the plate, and more than able on defense. Fans will enjoy Iglesias, and he brings a bit of swagger that only MLB veterans can. Martin will certainly be used to fill in at short.
Third base isn’t a certainty for Ruiz, but his 114 games at that position seemed to be grooming for him. If he doesn’t perform in Summer Training, it could go to someone else.
With Martin and Velazquez needing spots, they could be the most likely candidates for a regular rotation as utility players. Orioles fans probably aren’t familiar with Velazquez as he was selected off of waivers from the Indians in mid-February. He still has two waiver options left, so the O’s could move him into the secondary squad if they can’t find a spot for him. Velazquez spent most of his time with the Indians in the minors, so it wouldn’t be anything he hasn’t already experienced.
More from Orioles News
- Orioles News: Should the O’s Pursue Eovaldi? + More MLB News
- Should the Baltimore Orioles Consider Signing Nathan Eovaldi?
- Orioles News: Predicting the Opening Day Infield and More MLB News
- Last Chance O’s Fans: Bet $40, Win $700 if ONE POINT is Scored in ANY NFL Game This Week
- Predicting the Baltimore Orioles Opening Day Infield
Of the three non-roster invitees, Wilkerson could see more time with the team. He earned a spot in the record books with his pitching debut in July, where he earned a save. With Trey Mancini out for the season, he could spend more time as an outfield utility player. A switch hitter is always valuable, but Wilkerson only batted .225/.286/.383 in 2019. He’ll have to do better, especially for a team that already has several sub-.230 hitters.
That leaves Valaika and Herrera. Valaika was another waiver pick-up, this time from the Rockies. He’s another mediocre hitter, but has experience all over the infield. Herrera was a free-agent signing and his batting stats are about the same as Valaika’s: blah.
Gone are the days of the Orioles having their biggest hitters playing first base. When it comes to comparing the Orioles first-base OPS statistics, Davis landed in 57th place, tied with Mark Reynolds. The men at the top of the pile, Pete Alonso, Freddie Freeman, and Josh Bell had OPS stats of .941, .938, and .936, respectively.
Of the daily players, the Orioles highest OPS in 2019 belonged to Mancini at .899. No one else came close. It’s going to be a long 60 games.