Through the Orioles’ rebuild so far, one major trend in the infield is manager Brandon Hyde mixing and matching starting lineups. In 2019, regulars for the O’s moved around from position to position.
Heading into 2020, returning standouts and new prospects will provide the Orioles with one of the better corner infields in the American League East.
Here is a preview of who we can expect to see in spring training at the corner infield positions!
Rio Ruiz is most likely going to be the Opening Day starter at third base. Ruiz started 89 games at third base last season and appeared in 114 at the position.
Ruiz had never been a part of the regular lineup in his three years with the Atlanta Braves. Thrown into an everyday role last season with the Orioles, Ruiz hit .232 with 46 RBI and 12 home runs.
While Ruiz had an up-and-down season at the plate in 2019, his fielding was very consistent. In 2020, O’s fans will be hoping to see Ruiz continue his defensive prowess, while boosting his numbers at the plate to become a consistent starter.
The wildcard to both third and first base this season will be the 2019 International League MVP, Ryan Mountcastle.
The soon-to-be 23-year-old played mostly third base in his rise through Double-A Bowie but was switched to first base in Triple-A Norfolk. Despite being a dominant hitter, fielding is the weaker part of his game right now.
Mountcastle started 84 games at first base for Norfolk last season, while he got some reps in the outfield as well. The Orioles see a lot of Trey Mancini and a young Chris Davis in Mountcastle; the only problem is fitting him in a roster that still includes both Mancini and Davis.
Although Mountcastle is likely to settle in at first base later in his career, I could see the Orioles giving him reps at third base upon being called up to the majors if Ruiz is struggling at that position. His dominant plate presence alone is the reason Mountcastle will find his way into Orioles’ lineups this season.
Ryan Mountcastle (again):
Mountcastle is the easy transition from analysis of third base to first because we are yet to see where the Orioles’ No. 4 prospect will land positionally.
While he is not a strong fielder, his versatility around the diamond and in the outfield will make it easy for Brandon Hyde to give him reps next season. First base is pretty secured with veterans in the coming seasons for Baltimore, but expect some time at first for Mountcastle in 2020.
Trey Mancini had another excellent season in 2019, hitting .291 with 97 RBI and 35 home runs. Mancini may be best suited defensively at first base, but his versatility allows him to move around to make space for other players at the position.
In 2019, Mancini started 78 games in right field and 51 at first base. Next season, I would expect to see a similar divide between corner infield and the outfield because Chris Davis is limited mostly to first base these days.
Additionally, Mancini’s ability to play the outfield will give Mountcastle some reps at first if Hyde and the Orioles choose to take that route with the star prospect.
Chris Davis has been a staple at first base, despite his recent hitting woes. He started 86 games at first in 2019 and hit a dismal .179 with 36 RBI.
While his hitting has regressed severely, he remains a staple defensively at first. Additionally, Baltimore still owes him millions of dollars through 2022. I would predict to see Davis as the Opening Day starter at first, with Mancini and Mountcastle splitting the load.
Renato Nuñez mostly played DH for Baltimore last season, but he started 21 games at first and is a capable fielder at the position. Nuñez will likely stick to DH but provides quality depth at the position.
As a whole, Baltimore’s corner infielders create one of the strongest position groups for this team.
Shortstop is a position that concerns me, but having reliable fielders on the corners always helps the middle infielders.
If Mancini can answer back in 2020 with another strong showing and new names like Mountcastle can contribute, Brandon Hyde will have plenty of variety in his starting lineups in 2020.
What do you think of the corner infielders heading into spring training? Let us know in the comments, and make sure to follow The Baltimore Battery on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram!