José Iglesias came to the Orioles in 2020 with a reputation as one of the league’s premier defensive shortstops, and he left as what manager Brandon Hyde called one of the better hitters in the American League.
It didn’t come out of nowhere, but it’s easy to explain why. For years, Iglesias prioritized his glove wizardry at shortstop both as an amateur and as he climbed to the big leagues. Eventually, his bat caught up.
The Orioles are hoping for similar surges in production for their new infielders at this stage of their careers in Freddy Galvis and Yolmer Sánchez.
“You can watch them do their defensive work and they make it important,” Hyde said. “And I know they’re working hard right now with our hitting guys, making some adjustments, and want to have good offensive years. I think anything’s possible.”
Though neither Galvis nor Sánchez has the name recognition of Iglesias, who was a star signed out of Cuba and has been one of baseball’s best shortstops for a decade, they’re both capable defenders who the Orioles hope will bring stability to their middle infield.
Both Galvis and Sánchez grew up in Venezuela idolizing Omar Vizquel, who won 11 Gold Glove awards in 24 major league seasons. Emulating him on the infield dirt took priority over developing as a hitter.
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“I never paid attention to hitting a lot of baseballs, but I love to take grounds and try to make crazy plays,” Galvis said last month.
It was only after he got to pro ball and really the big leagues where his swing became a priority, and Galvis’ offensive record shows that. He hit a career-best 23 home runs in 2019, and his OPS the past two seasons were the two best of his career.
Sánchez said from a young age, “playing defense for me was the best thing that I can do, so since I was little I always liked to get in the dirt, dive for a ball, making double plays, fantasy plays.”
As for his own offensive production, he had 52 extra-base hits in 2018 but only has one qualifying season in the big leagues with an OPS over .700. He said this week there’s more in his bat than what he has shown.
“I think I can do better than that,’ Sánchez said. “You always try to be better, get better each year. I believe in my talent and believe I can do better than that.”
The Orioles can probably get value for the two, who will make a combined $2.5 million, for their steady gloves alone. The same was true with Iglesias before he had a career year at the plate, batting .373 with a .956 OPS despite not being fully healthy all season.
“Nobody expected that,” Hyde said. “So, I think that there’s an opportunity and room for these guys to get better offensively and I know they’re working on it.”