With baseball transitioning into the offseason this week and the hot stove season beginning to simmer, it's time to revisit the Orioles' organizational depth across the diamond as a means to establish where they're strong and which areas they'll need to address, both this offseason and going forward.
For the next two weeks, we'll assess the Orioles' present and future at every position, and recap how both the major and minor leaguers at each spot fared in 2017, today looking at the infield with shortstops and second basemen.
In July, the Orioles got a jump on what was expected to be an offseason of transition for their middle infield by acquiring former No. 1 overall pick Tim Beckham, 27, for Rookie-level pitcher Tobias Myers at the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. Combined with second baseman Jonathan Schoop, their up-the-middle infielders were huge catalysts in an August run back to relevance that sent the Orioles into September firmly in the playoff picture.
Beckham taking over at shortstop came at a time when the Orioles were cycling through the likes of Paul Janish, Rubén Tejada, and Johnny Giavotella in the middle-infield spots with starter J.J. Hardy out with a fractured wrist and utility man Ryan Flaherty dealing with a shoulder injury.
It's no coincidence that no position is better settled in the short and long term for the Orioles than second base, where Schoop had a breakout year, when he was named the club's only All-Star and ascended to become one of the top players at an otherwise loaded position around the game. He hit .293 with an .841 OPS to go with a career-high 32 home runs and 105 RBIs while playing league-average defense, graduating to become a middle-of-the-order hitter in manager Buck Showalter's eyes.
Though Beckham's two months with the Orioles were drastically different, he created an overall positive impression. A torrid August and a sluggish September saw him settle at .306/.348/.523 with 10 home runs in 50 games in an Orioles uniform, and though he's not the defender Hardy is at shortstop, he fit right into the team's all-or-nothing approach at the plate.
Hardy's last season with the Orioles, who will likely decline a team option for him this week and instead pay a $2 million buyout, was hampered by another freak injury. He lost several months and ultimately his starting job when he was hit by a pitch on the wrist, and ended up hitting .217 in 73 games. Flaherty, likewise, is bound for free agency as the rare six-year free agent who never really got a chance to start. A shoulder injury limited him to 23 games in 2017, and he hit .211 in that time.
With Ryan Mountcastle moved off shortstop to third base in July when he was promoted to Double-A Bowie, the Orioles have a massive gulf between their productive middle infielders at the major league level and the potential impact talent up the middle in the minors.
In terms of prospect status, the team will likely point to Canadian shortstop Adam Hall, their second-round draft pick this year who had six hits in two games in the Gulf Coast League before an oblique strain ended his season. He came back to play regularly in instructional league and showed the speed, arm strength and defensive ability to handle the position — though most of his tools are raw and the team is expecting a slow but promising development for him in the coming years.
For Triple-A Norfolk, the middle infielders were major league veterans Robert Andino, Luis Sardiñas, Giavotella, Janish and Tejada. Sardiñas, 24, re-signed for next season and was probably the most promising, as he hit .319 with a .767 OPS in 83 games.
At Double-A Bowie, former third-round pick Adrian Marin, 23, had his best season since 2013 by batting .266 with a .655 OPS, but the more promising infield prospect there was utility man Steve Wilkerson.
Primarily a second baseman since joining the organization, Wilkerson played all four infield positions and right field this season in a bid to transform himself into a utility man for the big league roster. He hit .305 with a .798 OPS between Bowie and High-A Frederick, showing himself to be a good runner and one of the organization's best athletes to earn a trip to showcase himself in the Arizona Fall League. Wilkerson, 25, is limited by the fact that he doesn't project to play shortstop at the major league level — a major consideration for a utility player — but remains an interesting player nonetheless.
Among the 2017 draftees in the lower minors, the team was intrigued by sixth-round shortstop Mason McCoy out of Iowa. He hit .301 with a .791 OPS while walking 26 times and striking out 28 in 53 games with Short-A Aberdeen. He also played a strong shortstop, and is a candidate to move quickly into the high minors. Kirvin Moesquit, a Curaçaoan switch-hitting second baseman drafted in the 24th round in 2015, hit .276 with a team-high 29 steals in 61 games with Aberdeen, while 19-year-old Dominican infielder Carlos Baez showed promise in his stateside debut this summer, hitting .270 between the Gulf Coast League and Aberdeen.
Max Hogan, the Orioles’ 32nd-round pick this year, was a postseason All-Star in the GCL after batting .310 with 18 extra-base hits in 40 games.
Executive vice president Dan Duquette saved himself a headache this offseason by addressing the post-Hardy era at shortstop with Beckham, no matter how loud the grumbles about his defense get from other corners of the organization. Without Beckham, who is under club control through 2020, and Schoop, who hits free agency after the 2019 season, the Orioles are perilously thin when it comes to middle infielders.
They have plenty of time to rectify that before those two hit free agency, and took some strides in this year's draft to do so. But save for the stars at the top, this part of the future Orioles spine looks lacking.