Thursday's announcement of the finalists for the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards came and went with nary a mention of an Orioles player, which is no surprise for a defense that collectively was one of the worst assembled in major league history.
The Orioles' minus-94 defensive runs saved was third worst in 2018 behind the Toronto Blue Jays (-99) and the Philadelphia Phillies (-146), but the 11th worst out of the 510 seasons since FanGraphs began tracking the stat in 2002. Their 104 errors were the team's most since 2012, and the team's best defender by DRS was spare outfielder Craig Gentry, who posted 7 DRS and was cut Aug. 31.
Despite entering the past two offseasons saying that they needed to improve their defense, the Orioles did no such thing and paid the price. But Gold Gloves are, at their core, rather arbitrary and skewed a bit by the fact that they’re voted on by coaches and managers who get different looks at everyone, though the addition of some defensive metrics has helped.
This will be the third year the Orioles are not represented among the winners, though, and it might be just as long until they're back. Here are the Orioles who could find themselves among the finalists before long — and we have to dig deep here.
The man who took over for Adam Jones in center field down the stretch for the Orioles had some growing pains as he got used to all that comes with playing a major league outfield. Though he rated rather poorly on most public metrics, that comes with the caveat of a small sample size.
There were plenty of balls Mullins got to that he didn't make plays on, and his arm was tested at every turn, often successfully for the runner. But whether it's in center field or left field, where his arm might not be a problem, Mullins has the ability to become one of the Orioles' best defenders.
When Hays was in short-season ball after the 2016 draft and was out with a wrist injury, that didn't stop him from power-shagging fly balls in the outfield to keep himself sharp. He came to prominence in 2017 for his bat, but also defended well at every level and even shined in center field this year while dealing with what turned out to be a stress fracture in his ankle.
Hays makes very good reads, moves well in the outfield and has a plus arm. It might be a long time before anyone in the American League beats out Mookie Betts for the Gold Glove in right field, but perhaps Hays will have the honor of being nominated at some point.
Hays didn't get much time in center field in Bowie this year, especially down the stretch, because of McKenna's presence on the roster. Of the team's bevy of high-minors outfield prospects, McKenna might have the best chance to play center field long term. He has great instincts and runs well, though, like Mullins and even Hays, just because he has the ability to play center field doesn't mean he'll be the best fit there. Some of the best defenses in the league feature center fielders at the corners, though that requires better hitting than just being a good defensive center fielder would.
Pretty much everything from this group applies to Díaz, the top prospect in the organization and the prize of the July trade of Manny Machado. He can capably play center field at his best, but got time all over the outfield this year and is certainly a player whose bat could play at a corner spot. Lining up any of Mullins, Hays, McKenna and Díaz across the outfield might not reveal any individual defensive standouts who become worthy of Gold Gloves, but it would be a group that covers a lot of ground.
In the infield, the only Oriole currently in the majors with the capability to win a Gold Glove is Villar, who was acquired in July for Jonathan Schoop and took over at second base almost immediately. He got some time at shortstop down the stretch, but had the best defensive season of his career at second base, where he had 7 DRS and a 2.0 UZR/150 between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Orioles. That kind of defense over a full season might have put him in the running for a nomination this year, had he not changed leagues. The Orioles might have no choice but to play him at shortstop, considering the alternatives, but he could make a real impact at second.
The Orioles' competitive balance pick in 2018 was the nation's best defensive shortstop in college at Oregon State this year, and did nothing to change that perception once he debuted at Low-A Delmarva. Grenier has the makings of an above-average defensive shortstop in every sense. The challenge will be bringing his bat along to the point in which a team can feel good running him out there to pick it every night and have him play enough to warrant such an honor.