What role does Adam Frazier have on the Orioles?
By Timmy Wilcox
This offseason, the Baltimore Orioles signed MLB-veteran Adam Frazier to a 1-year, $8 million contract. Frazier, 31 years old, has primarily played second base during his career, but has the versatility to play all 3 outfield positions and shortstop too. An all-star in 2021, Frazier saw his offensive production dip to near-career-lows, particularly his .238 AVG and .612 OBP. With all this talk about prospects soon to debut in Baltimore, does signing Adam Frazier make much sense at this stage in the rebuild?
A positive about Frazier is that he brings great experience with his 7 years of MLB service time. The Mississippi State product was a former 6th round draft pick of the Pirates in 2013 and has since spent time at the big league level with Pittsburgh, San Diego, and Seattle. His all star year he finished fifth in NL batting average when he hit .305. Among active second baseman he also ranks seventh in fielding percentage at .984.
But, does giving Frazier a roster spot damage the development of prospects such as Jordan Westburg, Joey Ortiz, Colton Cowser and Connor Norby? All of which were named Organizational All Stars for the Orioles last season and are going to be in the big leagues soon. With veterans such as Frazier penciled into the lineup, prospects could miss out on valuable playing time for their development. Not too far down the road, other prospects such as Heston Kjerstad and Jackson Holliday could even be impacted by roster congestion.
Don’t get me wrong, I trust that Mike Elias, Brandon Hyde and the front office will bring prospects up when they feel the time is right. However, it seems as though this Frazier signing does not benefit the team as much as if prospects were to play in his place.
Across the course of last season, there were similar players to Frazier on the Orioles roster. MLB veterans Chris Owings, Rougned Odor, Jesus Aguilar and Brett Phillips all donned the Orioles uniform at some point. Of the group, most fans appreciated Odor’s contributions the most. The longtime Ranger was fourth on the team in home runs (13) and fifth in RBI (53).
The other three players provided little to no offensive production, all hitting below .230, with Owings and Phillips slashing below .150. Odor was fun to watch at times in 2022, but how much sense does it make to have these players take up roster space when younger players could be getting MLB reps instead?
The Orioles are at a critical stage in their rebuild. The Birds are coming off a season in which they exceeded expectations finishing 4th in the AL East at 83-79. Last year, Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson and Kyle Stowers made their way to Camden Yards. They were all among the first wave of prospects to debut during the Elias era.
Now it is time for the next wave of young Birds to make their way to Baltimore. Soon enough, Westburg and Ortiz will potentially slot into the infield alongside Henderson and Ryan Mountcastle. Third base prospect Coby Mayo and Holliday are not too far behind.
Westburg brings a lot of excitement as a powerful hitter and strong infielder. In Bowie and Norfolk last season, the 2020 30th overall pick slashed 27 home runs en route to a .265 AVG and .851 OPS. The Orioles’ fifth ranked prospect also led the farm system with 106 RBI and 39 doubles. He could appear in Baltimore very soon.
Ortiz, another middle infielder, has been praised for his defensive skills during his rise in the system. The 2019 fourth round pick can also swing the bat as he led the organization with 153 hits last season across double- and triple-A. Ranked eighth in the system, Ortiz showed his power as he slashed 19 home runs along with a .284 AVG. He will likely be with the big league squad in the near future too.
With Frazier’s ability to play outfield too, it does not appear that the Orioles will need him there either. The Orioles outfield is in a great spot with all-star Cedric Mullins manning center field and Austin Hays, Anthony Santander and Kyle Stowers sharing time in the corners. Norby and Cowser are knocking on the door to Camden Yards too. This does not bode well for a player like Frazier who has shown inconsistent production at the plate over his career.
Last year, Norby climbed 3 levels of the farm system and did so while crushing an organization leading 29 long balls and driving in 73 runs. With an OPS of .886 it will be hard to keep the Birds’ ninth ranked prospect away from Baltimore for much longer.
Cowser is also a prospect that brings a lot of excitement. The fifth overall draft pick in 2021 posted 19 home runs and a .875 OPS while on a similar track as Norby last season. Cowser, the Orioles’ fourth ranked prospect, demonstrates some very impressive power too. This spring he has hit 3 home runs with a .920 OPS in 33 at bats.
Elias and Hyde will have some tough personnel decisions this season. With the young Birds on the verge of debuting, I have a feeling it will be difficult for Frazier to earn consistent playing time in 2023.