With the 2016 season finished, there’s no better time than the present to take stock of the Orioles’ organizational depth at every position around the diamond.
Over a few weeks, we’ll break down every position individually and separate the players all through the system into three categories: who was the man there this year, who else was in the picture, and who is working through the minors to join them. We round our trip across the diamond with right field, where the major league home run leader improbably called home this season.
The man: Right field was one of the more unsettled positions the Orioles had in 2015, but almost out of necessity, Mark Trumbo settled it this season. Trumbo was seen as first base and designated hitter depth after the team acquired him from the Seattle Mariners for backup catcher Steve Clevenger, though he entered the right field mix permanently when the Orioles signed Pedro Alvarez in March.
Simply put, Trumbo was there for his bat. The free agent-to-be slugged a league-high 47 home runs as part of a career year with the Orioles, leading the team with a career-high 108 RBIs while batting .256/.316/.533. That’s good for a career-high .850 OPS.
Trumbo did most of his damage in the first half, when he played far above his career paces, with 28 home runs at the All-Star break and a .288/.341/.582 line. He slowed considerably after the break, though ended up average-wise near his career mark of .251, with his other rate stats buoyed by the strong first half.
Defensively, it was a different story. Trumbo was realistic entering the season about his limitations in right field, a position he played only occasionally before seeing 95 starts there for the Orioles this year. He had 10 outfield assists and five errors, though his lack of range made it so most defensive metrics rated him poorly out there. He still earned plaudits from teammates and coaches as the season went on for playing a more difficult position under such scrutiny.
The alternatives: Trumbo was essentially only the right fielder against right-handed starters, and would shift to designated hitter when the opponent put out a left-hander. Early in the season, rookie Joey Rickard would shift there from left field against lefty starters.
Once Rickard went out with a torn thumb ligament in July, several other players were called upon to give Trumbo a day off his feet. There was always Nolan Reimold, but Steve Pearce, the team’s July 31 trade deadline acquisition from the Tampa Bay Rays, gave manager Buck Showalter alternatives. Showalter played both Pearce and Chris Davis in right field at times, with Pearce able to play first base in Davis’ stead as well, though a lingering elbow issue prevented Pearce from playing right field much once he arrived.
In September, waiver addition Drew Stubbs and Aug. 31 trade acquisition Michael Bourn were added into the right-field mix. Bourn actually became the everyday right fielder for the last few games of the season, with Trumbo slotted in at DH.
The future: Both of the most well-known names in the system in right field have major league time, though both of them seem to have lost their luster in the organization. Dariel Alvarez had two stints with the Orioles this season, but spent most of his time at Triple-A Norfolk. He hit .288 there, but had just four home runs after two straight seasons of 16 home runs in the minors. Henry Urrutia, who appeared with the Orioles in 2013 and 2015, began in Norfolk as well, but was designated for assignment and outrighted to Double-A Bowie midseason. He hit .245 for the Tides, but did well in the Eastern League, batting .316 with 21 extra-base hits in 75 games.
Mike Yastrzemski has also been on the radar, and began the season back at Bowie, but earned a promotion after 33 games. He hit .234 with 13 home runs and 14 steals between the two levels.
We haven’t mentioned the players at High-A Frederick often in this exercise, but they had two good performers in right field this season. Cam Kneeland, 26, was a utility man who saw the most time at right field and hit .245 with 47 extra-base hits for the Keys, while Conor Bierfeldt hit .265 with 20 home runs between Frederick and Bowie.
There were also a pair of strong right fielders at Short Season Class-A Aberdeen, where 2016 third-round pick Austin Hays gave early signs he was worth that lofty pick by hitting .336 with four home runs in 31 games. His season was shortened by a wrist injury, but while he was out, 19th-round pick Cole Billingsley hit .286 with three home runs in 53 games.
The skinny: Other than catcher, where pending free agent Matt Wieters could be gone, there’s no position with more uncertainty this offseason for the Orioles than right field. Trumbo was a bargain this season, but could use his big year to cash in on a contract in free agency and leave the Orioles searching. Extending the qualifying offer to Trumbo, which could be worth a reported $17.2 million for one year, gives a chance to get him back on a short-term deal, but the Orioles can’t extend that lightly, and he might go for a longer-term deal anyway.
If he does return, he might not even see as much time in right field. As it stands, the position offers the best chance for the Orioles to find the on-base/defense element of their roster that is under-represented in a room full of sluggers. There are plenty of options within the system for platoon help at this position, starting with Rickard, but nothing to replace the everyday lineup presence Trumbo provided.