This electric infielder is now a mainstay in loaded Orioles' lineup after brutal 2023

Baltimore Orioles v Chicago White Sox
Baltimore Orioles v Chicago White Sox / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

No one can deny the excitement and energy that Jorge Mateo brings to the baseball field. He is a terrific defender with well above-average speed, and when he reaches base, chances are he'll wreak havoc.

No, the problem with Mateo has always been his bat, a problem that was exemplified during an ice-cold May through September of 2023. Indeed, despite slugging six home runs in April 2023 and putting up a 1.062 OPS through 23 games, Mateo somehow hit only one home run the rest of the way - an inside-the-park home run in Oakland - and finished with a putrid .607 OPS.

Many pundits reasonably wondered whether Mateo would - or should - return to the Orioles in 2024. Although Mateo had a solid playoff debut against Texas, it seemed his poor 2023, combined with a the logjam the Orioles had in their infield, would leave Mateo as the odd man out. Mateo entered Spring 2024 showcasing his versatility, hoping to make the team as a super utility player. Although Mateo broke camp with the Orioles, the expectation was that he would split time with Ramon Urías in the infield until Jackson Holiday was ready.

Eventually, the Orioles recalled Holliday, and the assumption was there simply would not be enough room for Mateo and Urías to coexist any longer. Then the unthinkable happened: Holliday struggled for long enough that the Orioles sent him back down, opening the door for regular at bats (again) at second base. Given another opportunity, Mateo did not disappoint.

Mateo has started 22 of the 29 games the Orioles have played since Holliday was optioned. He has hit all three of his home runs in May, including a laser beam, tie-breaking three-run shot in Chicago this past weekend.

Orioles' infielder Jorge Mateo has flourished since Jackson Holliday's demotion

Mateo has also been pleasantly consistent. Since Holliday's demotion, Mateo has amassed hits in 16 of 22 games, racked up a team-leading 7 stolen bases, and scored 15 runs. A Gold Glove-caliber shortstop, Mateo has been tremendous defensively at second base as well. With Urías' struggles and his supposed partner's playing time growing sparser, it appears the only things that would take Mateo out of his starting spot at this time are an injury or the return of Holliday.

And let's face it: Jackson Holliday's return to the Orioles is imminent. It is a question of when, not if. And with Jordan Westburg and Gunnar Henderson starring for the Orioles, Mateo likely won't be starting forever. But for a player who some thought might not even make the Orioles in 2024, Mateo has shined. Even when Holliday returns and Mateo must, reluctantly, relinquish his starting spot, it is clear that he has a spot on this team as a super utility player who, as shown since Holliday's demotion, can fill in as a starter as needed.