Hello, Birdland! The Baltimore Battery’s Monday Thoughts column is back! Going into the 2021 season, we will deliver weekly news and updates, as well as insight on what we think the Orioles should be doing on and off the field. Basically, anything that interests us, we’ll talk about it!
Starting here where we sit, a month away from spring training, the Orioles have a few decisions still to be made. On this edition of Monday Thoughts, there are three things I, Justin Sutphin, want to cover in regards to the upcoming 2021 Orioles season and a few exciting news updates.
1. We need help at the shortstop position, and we need it quickly:
Going into 2021, the predicted starter at shortstop is Richie Martin. Martin was easily forgetting last season, as former Gold Glove winner, José Iglesias, stole the show and the hearts of Oriole fans.
After a season in which Iglesias appeared in 39 games, a $3 million extension was a no-brainer for the guy who had just hit .373 with a .956 OPS. Even at 31 years old, his 1.3 WAR, defensive mastery, and offensive production would have been a valuable asset, even on a still rebuilding team.
However, Mike Elias truly did make a great move in trading him to the Angels for two young pitching prospects. One of these, Garrett Stallings, even landed at No. 26 on the Orioles top 30 propsects list for 2021!
What that leaves the Orioles with at the shortstop position is none other than Richie Martin. In 2019, Martin showed fans that his glove could certainly be a staple, however, his inconsistency and horrid plate presence make it hard to envision Martin as a true major league shortstop.
With a few anticipated shortstops still climbing through the minors, the O’s need help now. There are a plethora of free agent shortstop names out there, and a few stick out to me as an Orioles fan.
The first is Freddy Galvis. Although also 31, Galvis would bring a good glove at shortstop or even second base, if needed. As a switch hitter, Galvis could help the lineup with its lack of quality left-handed hitters outside of Anthony Santander. A deal to bring Galvis to Baltimore would be nice and cheap, while allowing Richie Martin time to develop in Triple-A.
The other name, one we already know pretty well, is Jonathan Villar. Again, a guy who is not part of the rebuild, as we saw before, yet will bring production to our lineup in a position that needs it immediately. The Orioles could certainly use his switch hitting bat again, as well as being able to utilize him at shortstop or second base, as we see how Yolmer Sánchez works out at second. Pending the Orioles do not continue to try and re-sign Hanser Alberto, someone like Villar would truly help supplement that loss of production in terms of being as close to competitive as possible in 2021.
2. Chris Davis needs to not see the field, but, instead, help coach the players on it:
The age-old question for Oriole fans in the last five seasons is, what in the world should Elias do about Chris Davis? If any saw and/or read about Davis’ interview with Elias earlier this offseason, it is clear Davis will be a part of the Orioles in 2021, but how much? I have an interesting proposition to how Davis can be a productive part of the team. And, this would be done by keeping him OFF the field.
A sub .200 average, less then 10 home runs, and virtually no batter’s eye whatsoever will never cut it in MLB. Luckily for Davis, his above average first base play over the years has almost, by itself, kept his horrid bat in the lineup (A ginormous unavoidable contract also helped that).
Now the Orioles are in a true dilemma, as we have two true first baseman: Ryan Mountcastle, who acted as a left fielder last season, and the return of Trey Mancini. Continuing to play Chris Davis is simply ruining time for these two younger guys. That’s why I believe Davis’ best attribute to the team at the moment is his mind in the dugout.
We have seen it time and time again with former great players. They lose playing time to younger guys, suck it up, and become mentors. That is what the Orioles need from Davis. Will that supplement his $21 million he is set to make in 2021? Absolutely not, but that is truly the only way Davis can help this team, and I believe he has a great baseball and first base mind.
That mind can be used as a great mentor, teaching the young guys about all the ups and downs of baseball, while assisting in the infield coaching, which is something he is not unfamiliar with in his time at first base.
3. When and who do we see make their first call-ups this season?:
Arguably, the worst loss in 2020 was the cancellation of the minor leagues. For a team like the Orioles, the minor leagues are their heart and soul. We saw the emergence of a few top prospect last year in Ryan Mountcastle, Keegan Akin, and Dean Kremer, yet the shortened major league season and lack of minor leagues truly robbed us of a few more call-ups.
Luckily for the Orioles this season, we are slated to see a large number of prospects make their way to the majors.
The first, and maybe second, biggest name in the Orioles system at the moment, is Yusniel Díaz, who is known as the centerpiece of the Manny Machado trade that sent the phenom third baseman to the Dodgers in 2018. After a few lackluster season that showcased multiple injuries, Díaz took great advantage of the Alternate Training Site last season.
Before the shutdown, Díaz showed that he may finally be ready in spring training, when he went 6-for-20 with two triples. After the shutdown, Díaz got a lot more personal work, the same work that seemed to very much help people like Akin, Mountcastle, and Kremer.
The next name to watch will be Rylan Bannon. This one may be a little unpopular among other players like Zac Lowther and Michael Baumann, however, his production before 2020’s shutdown and potential assistance to a tiny middle infield group could open some eyes. Not to mention, he can also play third base.
The 24-year-old infielder torched Triple-A Norfolk at the end of 2019. He hit .317 with three homers and 17 RBI in 20 games following 110 at Double-A Bowie, where he excelled enough to move up.
The third name I will mention here is one I dropped above, and that is Zac Lowther. Drafted back in 2017, Lowther has steadily climbed the ranks of the minors. His career-high ERA in the pros is 2.55. That’s pretty good.
Lowther is a high strikeout guy, netting 9.5 Ks per nine, while allowing a 0.5 HR per nine in 2019. He is truly someone who is an interesting prospect because his production far surmounts what he seems to be able to do on paper. A very good spin rate on his pitches is something that intrigues me, as it’s becoming the new wave of how pitchers can be excellent in the major leagues.
In the updated list of the top 100 prospects in all of baseball, the Baltimore Orioles landed five of those 100. That is better than all but three teams. These names include Adley Rutschman (#2), Grayson Rodriguez (#22), DL Hall (#52), Heston Kjerstad (#62), and Ryan Mountcastle (#63).
Trey Mancini update: the biggest story of 2020 was the very unfortunate news of Trey Mancini being diagnosed with stage three colon cancer. Amazingly, Mancini is fully expected to to start spring training with the team, according to GM Mike Elias.