Which young Oriole could be the most likely to win a batting title? The answer may surprise you.
By Brian Barr
The Baltimore Orioles in 2023 again have the top rated farm system in baseball. Star players like Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson have grabbed headlines while each has spent time as the top overall prospect. Grayson Rodriguez has been the top pitching prospect and remains a top 10 overall prospect. More recently, 2022 first overall pick Jackson Holliday garnered a lot of attention with his susccessful spring training.
Others such as Kyle Stowers and DL Hall have made solid impressions in there time with the Orioles and continue to perform well in Triple-A Norfolk. There are several other Orioles prospects that have garnered noteworthy attention since 2022, but there is one that I believe gets overlooked.
Terrin Vavra debuted for the Orioles in 2022 as a second baseman. Vavra is the son of Joe Vavra, a former major league hitting coach with the Detroit Tigers, and has a professional approach. Vavra stays within himself, doesn't chase pitches out of the strike zone often and has the ability to spray the ball all over the field. Vavra also has the power to drive the ball out from time to time. When looking to draw a comparison of Vavra to an established major league star, one might look to the reigning American League batting champion, Luis Arráez.
Born just a month apart, both Arráez and Vavra are 25 years old. They both are primarily second basemen that hit left handed and both are known as contact first hitters (a rarity in todays launch angle baseball). Arráez and Vavra took very different paths to the majors; Arráez was signed by the Minnesota Twins as a 16 year old out of Venezuela and Vavra played three years of college baseball before being drafted by the Colorado Rockies. However, Arráez spent seven years in the minor leagues before making his debut in 2019 and when you add the four years that Vavra spent in the minors to the three collegiate years he had, you get seven years of high level baseball for each to compare.
Arráez was a singles machine in the minors batting a combined .331 during his time there. However Arráez didn’t display much more than that offensively. He only hit six total home runs and his .385 OBP and .413 SLG showed that Arráez wasn’t going to provide much more than singles. Arráez displayed moderate speed with 29 minor league stolen bases but was caught stealing 22 times.
Arráez did display solid defense with a .983 fielding percentage however it was his bat to ball skills that got him to the show. In 1,594 career minor league plate appearances, Arráez struck out a minuscule 129 times and only walked 123 times. Overall, Arráez is proof that when you put the ball in play, good things happen.
Vavra couldn’t be stopped in college. During Vavra’s three seasons as a collegiate athlete he posted a .349/.410/.507 slash line. The jump to the minors didn’t slow him down much. Vavra put up a .306/.410/.468 slash line through four years of minor league baseball. While Varva’s batting average fell off a bit since entering professional baseball (albeit still a very good average), his on base percentage remained identical. Vavra showed more power than Arráez hitting a combined 34 home runs during his seven years prior to the major leagues (13 college and 21 minor league).
Vavra also flashed more speed on the bases with 55 stolen bases (15 college and 40 minor league) only getting caught 17 times (four college and 13 minor league). Vavra matched Arráez with an identical .983 fielding percentage in the minors. During that seven years Varva did strikeout at a higher rate than Arráez but he also walked more. Vavra had a combined 1,728 plate appearances where he struck out 259 times but also walked 200 times.
Arráez was forced to go through several position changes for teams wanting to keep his bat in the lineup. Likewise, this spring Vavra saw time at first base, second base, third base and both corner outfield spots. Obviously the Orioles want to keep his bat around as well. Vavra has done everything in his power to earn playing time this season. He posted a .348/.293/.565 slash line this spring. In 16 spring games Vavra had 16 hits including two doubles, a triple and two home runs. Vavra has cooled off a bit at the plate in his limited game action with the Oriloles this season but has maintained a good on-base percentage. Vavra's versatility allowed him to beat out Franchy Cordero, Ryan O'Hearn, Lewin Diaz and Josh Lester for the Orioles last roster spot.
Cordero signed with the Yankees and has had success early this season and O'Hearn broke into the Orioles lineup with a bang just a few days ago. In eight regular season games in 2023, Vavra has already appeared at second base, left field, right field and DH. Vavra has fit nicely into the super utility role and should continue to be an asset for the Orioles all season long. Vavra's ability to play nearly any position behind the pitcher should be very valuable to the Orioles as they deal with anything that pops up during the 162-game season.
Does all of this mean that Vavra will be the 2025 American League batting champion? Obviously not. And with such Orioles as Cedric Mullins, Rutschman and Ryan Mountcastle likely to fill the top of the lineup for years to come, Vavra probably won’t get the same opportunity Arráez got at the top of the order. But could he use his superior on base and base running skills to be the number nine hitter setting up the top of the Orioles lineup for success? I like to think so.
Vavra does have challenges when it comes to earning playing time. The Orioles signed Adam Frazier, another left handed hitting second basemen, over the offseason who has played well in what could be are bound year for him, and with guys like Holliday, Jordan Westburg, Conner Norby and Joey Ortiz all locked and loaded down in the farm, Vavra will have to fight for every second of playing time he gets. But you have to love a guy willing to do whatever it takes.