In less than a month, Orioles pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Sarasota, Florida, to mark the start of spring training. Yet, there remains uncertainty as to whether that will happen as planned with the league’s owners continuing to lock out the players as the sides plod toward a new collective bargaining agreement.
But as the lockout marches on, so too does Oriole of the Day, The Baltimore Sun’s series examining each member of the 40-man roster’s 2021 season and what’s ahead for them in 2022, assuming the league and the players’ union eventually come together.
Jorge Mateo’s first stint with the Orioles was brief but exhilarating. Once ranked the New York Yankees’ top prospect, Mateo got his first run of extended major league playing time with Baltimore and thrived, only for a back injury to cut the showcase short.
2022 Opening Day age: 26
2021 stats: .247/.293/.376, .670 OPS, four home runs, 26.3 K%, 4.3 BB%, 0.5 fWAR between San Diego and Baltimore; .280/.328/.421, .748 OPS, two home runs, 24.1 K%, 6.0 BB%, 0.3 fWAR for the Orioles
Under team control through: 2025
2021 in review
Baltimore Orioles Insider
Number to know: 30.4. Mateo was one of only seven major leaguers with an average sprint speed greater than 30.0 feet per second, the mark that Statcast considers elite. He flirted with the top spot throughout his time with Baltimore, and he ended the year trailing only Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star Trea Turner among players who were primarily infielders.
What was good: Although his speed likely carried him to the majors, it also pigeonholed him into a bench role with the San Diego Padres, who largely deployed him as a pinch-hitter and late-inning defensive replacement. But with opportunities available on their infield, the Orioles gave Mateo regular starts after claiming him on waivers in early August. In two seasons with San Diego, he received 121 plate appearances and started 15 games. In a month as an Oriole, he nearly matched the former and almost doubled the latter. He capitalized on that playing time, especially early, hitting .321/.368/.506 in his first 23 games for Baltimore.
What wasn’t: In a 12-game span from late August into early September, Mateo walked seven times in 50 plate appearances, more than twice as many his count of free passes over his first 176 career plate appearances. Still, he ended the season with a 6% walk rate as an Oriole while striking out in nearly a quarter of his plate appearances. Including his time in the minors, he hasn’t posted a walk rate of at least 7% over a season since 2015. More walks and fewer strikeouts going forward would certainly make his success more sustainable.
Looking ahead to 2022
Likely 2022 role: Starting or utility infielder
What’s projected: Even if the Orioles don’t add more infielders out of the lockout, Mateo is among those they already have who could play musical chairs throughout spring training, where there won’t be enough chairs for everyone once the music stops. But unlike Rougned Odor, Ramón Urías and Kelvin Gutiérrez, Mateo has shown himself capable of playing all three infield spots and the outfield. Even if he isn’t a true starter, his speed and versatility mean he holds a ton of value as a utility player. Both Steamer and ZiPS project a career high in plate appearances, with his final numbers coming in near what he posted across all of 2021 rather than only his Baltimore stint. That seems reasonable given that his production as an Oriole came in a rather small sample size.
A step forward: If a run of regular playing time was all Mateo needed to finally play to his potential, the Orioles would be wise to provide it to him. It might be unfair to expect Mateo to replicate his 2021 numbers with Baltimore across a full season, but if he proves that stint wasn’t an aberration but a coming-out party, the rebuild’s haystack of waiver claims would have produced at least one needle on the position player side.
Three up, three down
This series is ordered based on the WAR, as measured by FanGraphs, each member of Baltimore’s 40-man roster produced in 2021. The past three players featured in the series were Rougned Odor, Paul Fry and Keegan Akin. The Orioles due up next are Dillon Tate, DJ Stewart and Tanner Scott.