One of the Orioles’ main priorities this week at baseball’s general manager meetings has been putting together a strong class of minor league free agents, which lines up with what executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias has said all along.
While the Orioles still have to field a major league team this year, they won’t be spending big to do so. But they also won’t be rushing their prospects up to make things look better than they are, so signing six-year free agents whose time ran out with other teams is a good way to build depth and possibly try to develop it into something more.
It’s harder to identify position players than pitchers, as was yesterday’s mission, because the statistics in Triple-A were so inflated. It’s also difficult to identify which positions the Orioles need — you’d assume not outfield, but they ended up with a mess there this year and might need more cover as their top prospects get closer. But infield is certainly a position of need, and so is catcher.
Here some minor-league free agent infielders (plus a catcher and outfielder) who could find their way to Sarasota in Orioles uniforms this spring:
Carlos Asuaje, Arizona
A versatile infielder who spent parts of three seasons with the San Diego Padres, Asuaje is the kind of seasoned second baseman who can move all around and cover for the potential trade of Jonathan Villar on the Orioles’ infield. The bat isn’t much, but he makes contact and doesn’t strike out much.
Luis Marté, Atlanta
Though he’s only 25, Marte got to Double-A in the Rangers organization in 2015, and has 1,664 plate appearances in the high-minors that have solidified the fact that he’s light-hitting middle infield depth no matter where you play him. Those types of players get a shot here.
Phillip Evans, Cubs
Evans had a couple shots with the Mets in 2017 and 2018, but spent all of 2019 in Triple-A with Chicago. He’s a career .274 hitter with an .806 OPS over essentially three full seasons at that level, making him a prime candidate to have enough minors experience to play with the Orioles.
Mitch Nay, Cincinnati
A minor league Rule 5 pick from the Blue Jays last year, Nay raked to the tune of a .304 average with a .927 OPS and 13 home runs at Double-A before struggling in his first taste at Triple-A. His moving from first base to third base means he might not be a fit, but there’s enough in the bat to be interesting.
Gosuke Katoh, New York Yankees
Katoh was a second-round pick who made it to Triple-A this year, and he hit 11 home runs in a half-season there. Considering his ability to play second base, shortstop and third base, he could be a prime breakout candidate who can get a better opportunity with the Orioles than anywhere else.
Wendell Rijo, New York Yankees
Baltimore Orioles Insider
Rijo has bounced around a bit in his career, but just hit a career-high 13 home runs in his age-23 season. That he only plays second and third is a bit of a downer, but Rijo is plenty young and would likely relish the chance to play in the bigs.
Christian Lopes, Texas
Lopes played 54 games at Triple-A Nashville last year and started at least 10 games at shortstop, second base, left field and right field. That, combined with respectable numbers (.263 with a .769 OPS and 23 home runs in 1,120 plate appearances in Triple-A), make him a possible fit for a utility role with the Orioles and valuable depth at Norfolk if not.
Tyler Heineman, Miami
A former Astros draftee from the Elias era there, Heineman has bounced around since but hit 13 home runs and walks a decent amount. That makes him an interesting piece of catching depth in these parts.
Jamie Westbrook, Arizona
Even allowing that he spent part of this year at Triple-A Reno in the lively Pacific Coast League, Westbrook can be considered as having had a breakout year of sorts. He hit 16 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A and posted a higher walk rate than strikeout rate while playing left and right field with a little second base in his history.