Baltimore Orioles

Orioles offseason positional breakdown: Ramón Urías, Jorge Mateo emerge on an infield in flux as top prospects near majors

Without playoff baseball filling their days, October is an occasion for the Orioles to take stock of their roster and start planning how they’ll put together their 2022 team.

That doesn’t just include which players will be back and who might replace them. For a team like the Orioles, who are starting to bring some of the products from executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias’ promised “elite talent pipeline” up to the majors, that planning also includes forecasting when their prospects could join the major league team and start contributing.


At some positions, prospects climbing the ladder will find an established part of their future blocking their way to the majors. Others don’t have much resistance once they arrive, and others are somewhere in between.

This month, we’ll break down how the Orioles got through 2021 at each position, which prospects are on the cusp of joining that mix and how all that will color their offseason plans.


Last week, we reviewed the catchers and first basemen. Now, it’s on to the rest of the infield, which for the past three years has been the dominion of the rest of the league’s cast-offs.

The mainstays

Outside of their first base rotation of Trey Mancini and Ryan Mountcastle, the Orioles didn’t really have any regulars on the infield outside third baseman Maikel Franco. After signing late in spring training, Franco never really got going at the plate for the Orioles. When he was released in late August, he was batting .210 with a .608 OPS and 11 home runs.

That he played the most games this year of any Orioles infielder says plenty about the state of the depth chart. They had a good player in Freddy Galvis at shortstop before a quadriceps injury in late June took him out of the lineup, and he was eventually traded to the Philadelphia Phillies at the July 30 deadline. Second base began with a mix of Rio Ruiz, Pat Valaika and Ramón Urías, but took on a lot of different looks from there. Ruiz didn’t make it past May after his position change never took hold. Valaika was a bench player when he was on the roster and for a second time was outrighted off the roster last week, this time as part of a space-clearing exercise that saw him, catcher Austin Wynns and right-handers Konner Wade and Thomas Eshelman removed from the 40-man roster.

Urías turned into a bright spot, as he took over at shortstop once Galvis went down and had a .790 OPS in 60 games from and was a consistent offensive performer before a groin injury slowed him and eventually ended his season.

With Franco and Galvis both out of the organization and with Valaika able to elect free agency now that he’s been outrighted again, Urías had the most games on the infield in 2020 of any remaining Oriole, and next on that list is Kelvin Gutiérrez, the cannon-armed third baseman who had a .766 OPS in September as he played every day for the first time in his major league career.

The rest of the major league factors

Just going off memory, it seems as if the Orioles used much more than nine total infielders as starters at second base, third base and shortstop, but that’s the final number. Of the ones not yet mentioned, Richie Martin played the most, starting 29 games at shortstop once his wrist injury recovered. He made some strides defensively, but his lapses were costly ones.

Of all the rest of the infield depth, waiver claim Jorge Mateo is probably the most interesting. A former top-100 prospect who the Orioles got from the San Diego Padres and let play every day before a back injury ended his season, Mateo was impressive at the plate and defensively and showed himself to be one of the fastest players in the game with the Orioles.

A former top-100 prospect who the Orioles got from the San Diego Padres and let play every day before a back injury ended his season, Jorge Mateo was impressive at the plate and defensively, and showed himself to be one of the fastest players in the game with the Orioles.

In that same period, the Orioles brought up second baseman Jahmai Jones from Triple-A Norfolk to appraise the talents of their return for Alex Cobb in the February trade with the Los Angeles Angels. Jones had some torrid spells in the minors this year but wasn’t hitting well when he was called up, and he appeared in 26 games with a .402 OPS.


Neither Stevie Wilkerson nor Domingo Leyba remains in the Orioles organization after playing brief roles on the infield this summer.

The future

The Orioles won’t have given up on Jones as a long-term option at second base, even if he didn’t make much of an impression in his cameo in the majors. Among the others in the big-league mix, both Urías and Mateo showed offensive glimpses and have the defensive versatility to be utility-type players on a team with real playoff aspirations, and that’s nothing to sniff at.

That none of those players are homegrown speaks to how the Orioles needed to address their farm system where it came to building up their infield depth, and they’ve done so in the last few drafts in a major way.

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They’ve used their second pick in each of the last three drafts on infielders — Gunnar Henderson in 2019, Jordan Westburg in 2020 and Connor Norby in 2021. Both Henderson and Westburg are top-10 prospects in the organization now and ended at Double-A Bowie. They also were impressed with 2019 draftee Joey Ortiz before a season-ending shoulder injury, and both Patrick Dorian and Terrin Vavra performed well at Double-A Bowie as trade acquisitions this year.

In the low minors, the headliner is 2020 bonus baby Coby Mayo, who was held back in extended spring training after a knee injury but tore up the Florida Complex League and Low-A Delmarva once he got into games. He had a .981 OPS in 182 at-bats. All these players are products of the Orioles’ new draft and development philosophies, but they’ve also tapped into another pivotal pipeline for international talents in rejoining the Latin American market.

Since 2018, they’ve added seven-figure signee Maikol Hernández, plus Moises Ramirez, Anderson de los Santos and Leonel Sánchez. Added with the domestic talent, and there’s far more infield potential in the system than there has been in past years.


The offseason outlook

Asked whether the Orioles would be players at the top of the shortstop market where several stars are going to be free agents this winter, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said he wouldn’t rule it out but “we’re going to be very cognizant of who we are and where we are, and I do think that the time for the Orioles of making the largest splash at the winter meetings is not right now.”

So while Carlos Correa won’t likely be the Orioles’ shortstop in 2022, the way they’ve waited out the market and signed a short-term veteran stopgap there the last few years in Galvis and José Iglesias means they might need Correa and his fellow stars to sign before knowing who might fit best with them.

With Westburg and Henderson in the high minors and a group of impressive infielders nearing the majors along with them, the Orioles won’t want to tie up too many infield spots with veterans but will certainly need to add one this winter in the Galvis/Iglesias mold.

Absent that, the Orioles’ method of filling out their infield before the star prospects arrive has been through trades and the waiver wire. Expect plenty more of that this winter, though planning to have Mateo and Urías as regulars and maybe a veteran shortstop to help steady the ship won’t be the worst outcome as the Orioles look to improve.