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Examining the Orioles' infield depth chart after first workout offers hints at plans

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

If anything has become clear in the first week of spring training for the Orioles, which culminated Monday with the first full-squad workout for Brandon Hyde's prospective major league team, it's that no more than a handful of players have a clear path to Yankee Stadium for Opening Day next month.

On the small infield near the front of the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota, however, the group of infielders who enter camp in one of the most open competitions at least found out their starting points.

Two groups of infielders rotated through drills down the baseline and fielded ground balls at their positions and vice versa, one group mostly of players with major league experience and the other mostly minor leaguers trying to break through.

Asked whether it was fair to assume the positions those players took Monday would be their primary position going forward, Hyde said he thinks it will be, even if it wouldn't be their only one.

"I think it's where guys have played in the past, and trying to get them comfortable on the field," Hyde said. "I think you're going to see a lot of movement. Guys are going to be flipped all over the place as we go forward, for sure.”

On that front, Hyde said there would be plenty of time to sort out where the best actual fit is. It might not be the first one, but the first position does set a tone for the competition he's hoping to breed at camp.

"There's so much time. You've got 40-plus days to have a guy work one place one day, a different place the next, or even the same place back-to-back days, but maybe keep him extra for 10 minutes to move him around," Hyde said. "I think we're going to be creative in how we go about that I think we're going to be creative in how we go about that."

Until then, Monday's workout provided an initial depth chart to help sort out some of the team's most populated position battles, and where the early advantages might be. Here’s how the infielders were split up on the first day of camp:

First base: Chris Davis, Ryan Mountcastle

While Trey Mancini took ground balls at first base this weekend, and Mark Trumbo is still working himself back to health after knee surgery, the Orioles' well-paid first baseman has only the nonroster invitee Mountcastle to rotate with at first base. Considering Mountcastle is just learning the position, Double-A Bowie manager Buck Britton — a former infielder himself — was fielding throws from the other infield positions.

There's nothing really noteworthy about this position other than Mountcastle's entry onto the depth chart this week. All three of Davis, Mancini and Trumbo will be at the position at one point or another, because the Orioles need their bats in the lineup by any means necessary.

Front-runner: Davis

Second base: Jonathan Villar, Jace Peterson, Chris Bostick, Drew Jackson

Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said at the winter meetings that Villar would be the starting shortstop, but plenty has changed since then, so he's back at second base and leading that group. Peterson, who re-signed this offseason as a minor league free agent, played more third base and left field than second base last year with the Orioles, but he's also played twice as much second base as all the rest of the positions combined in his career and provides steady depth behind Villar.

Bostick, another minor league free agent, has played second base and left field in his brief major league time but came up all the way through the minors on the infield before adding the outfield to his repertoire. Jackson, the Rule 5 draft pick acquired in a trade from the Philadelphia Phillies, plays some shortstop, too, but was exclusively a second baseman last year.

If the Orioles like Jackson's talent enough to keep him on the major league roster all year, he'd likely vault ahead of Peterson and Bostick, who aren't on the 40-man roster. But considering the major league experience ahead of them, the Orioles would likely be making a conscious choice for upside over experience.

Front-runners: Villar, Peterson

Shortstop: Hanser Alberto, Richie Martin, Jack Reinheimer

Alberto, who was claimed off waivers earlier this year, and this weekend's addition, former All-Star Alcides Escobar, will take the first round of infield work with the major league players. Those two will have the experience advantage, as Escobar was the anchor of a World Series infield for the Royals and Alberto was a shortstop all through the minors before he started getting work at second and third to accommodate Elvis Andrus at the major league level.

Martin came in the Rule 5 draft also, giving the Orioles a six-week look at a former first-round pick whose swing came around in 2018 thanks to nighttime contact lenses. His defense has never been in question, and he's added second base as a secondary position. Likewise, Reinheimer, a waiver claim who the team passed through waivers and hung on to earlier this month, has played more shortstop than anything else over his transient career but also has second base and third base on his resume.

Front-runners: Escobar, Martin

Third base: Renato Núñez, Rio Ruiz, Steve Wilkerson, Zach Vincej

Núñez was one of the bright spots for the Orioles last season, holding down third base after Manny Machado was traded, and he's been treated like it so far. Núñez's defense improved as he got more major league time last year under third base coach Bobby Dickerson, and the Orioles will hope he can continue that under new third base coach and infield coach José Flores. He could have a left-handed hitting complement in Ruiz, who was claimed off waivers during the winter meetings and also plays both corner outfield spots and second base.

Wilkerson might be the most versatile of them all, with 10 gloves at camp, but third base is where he was set to start. Vincej is the only one playing a relatively new position. He's played 625 games at shortstop and only two at third base in his minor league career, with some second-base mixed in, too.

Front-runner: Núñez

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