Orioles infielder Alcides Escobar was granted his unconditional release Wednesday, the team announced, as the club took another step toward paring down its Opening Day roster.
Escobar, a former All-Star and Gold Glove Award winner with the Kansas City Royals, signed a minor league contract during the first week of spring training as cover for Rule 5 shortstops Richie Martin and Drew Jackson, neither of whom has ever played above Double-A.
Strong camps from those two young players, plus good springs from some of the team’s other infielders, made Wednesday’s decision apparent.
“It's just unfortunate,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “[Escobar] is a pro, and we just felt like we have a lot of infield depth here, and it just wasn't going to fit, but I'm going to recommend him to as many people as we possibly can. He was unbelievable in camp, from a professionalism standpoint to helping the younger guys, I really liked the time we spent together.”
The veteran Escobar had a strong start to camp but tapered off at the plate, and was batting .219 when he was granted his release. MLB.com reported he had an opt-out in his contract for Wednesday.
Escobar’s release likely means that Martin and Jackson have each played their way onto the club, the former as the primary shortstop and the latter as a utility player who can play all of the infield and outfield spots.
The Orioles now have 38 players in camp, and there could be a few beneficiaries in the club not taking Escobar for Opening Day, namely corner infielder Rio Ruiz and infielder Hanser Alberto.
Ruiz has had a strong spring on both sides of the ball but could find himself outside the Opening Day roster equation as incumbent third base starter Renato Núñez is out of minor league options. Alberto has bounced around waivers all offseason but could provide infield depth if Jackson isn't enough to cover Martin on his own.
“We feel good about how both of those guys [Martin and Jackson] have played,” Hyde said. “Alberto has played multiple positions in the big leagues as well, so we have some guys that can move around, play multiple spots. [Jonathan] Villar can play both spots in the middle, so there's movable pieces. There's a lot of depth there, and so we feel good about kind of what we have right now.”
There’s no apprehension if Martin, 24, makes his major league debut as the Orioles’ everyday shortstop without much experience at the level, Hyde said.
“That's yet to be determined, but I think rookies break through all the time,” Hyde said. “In our situation, where this is a development-type deal and we're going to try to go out and compete every single night but we want to get as much talent as we can on our team, we feel like both Richie and Jackson have high upside, and so we want to continue to keep looking at them and give them an opportunity.”
With a decision on Escobar made, the Orioles have several other nonroster invitees in the major league mix still in camp, including catchers Jesús Sucre (whose opt-out is reportedly Friday), Andrew Susac, and Carlos Pérez, outfielder Eric Young Jr., infielders Jace Peterson and Jack Reinheimer, and reliever Josh Lucas.
Núñez still sits
Despite what Hyde called “quite a bit” of progress on Núñez’s sore right biceps, the incumbent third baseman was out for the third straight game Wednesday night against the Boston Red Sox.
While Núñez played well in the second half of last season for the Orioles, batting .275 with seven home runs while improving at third base, he’s had a slow spring in which Ruiz has challenged him for his position.
“We'd like to see him play a little more, to be honest with you,” Hyde said. “But he swung the bat well when he was here last year toward the end of the year. That definitely plays a huge factor in the decision-making. But I'd love to see him get on the field a little bit more before we break.”