New York — An Orioles plan that seemed fated early in spring training — starting rookie Rule 5 draft pick Richie Martin at shortstop on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium — was realized Thursday.
In explaining the expectations for Martin, manager Brandon Hyde revealed a lot about what the Orioles learned from the top pick in the Rule 5 draft since his selection in December and why they're prepared for him to power through whatever comes his way during his first taste of the majors.
“I talked a little bit about it with him the day that I told him he made the club, it was about, just, 'Listen, I want you to focus on your defense and catch the ball in the middle of the field and do what you did in spring training defensively.’ ” Hyde said. “It's a tough league, and he's making a big jump. I just didn't want him to get discouraged defensively. However he starts offensively, I just want him to focus on his defense and compete at the plate. But he did such a great job defensively in spring training. I just want him to continue that as his focus.”
Martin, batting ninth before an announced sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium that included his father, his sister, and a few childhood friends, went 0-for-3 with a strikeout in his major league debut. He was largely unfazed by everything — the assignment of starting, the speed of the game, even the circumstances his debut came in.
"He's a cool customer, no doubt, and he's got a lot of confidence," Hyde said. "To play this game at this level, you better be confident, and Richie walks around with this aura that he belongs, and I'm into it. I think that's a big part of the battle at this game, at this level. We saw that early on in spring training, and now he's here and we're excited to watch him.”
Hyde ended up with Martin as his Opening Day shortstop after the team decided not to keep veteran minor league free agent Alcides Escobar when his contract opt-out came last week. That decision came in the midst of a spring training slump from Martin, who started hot but struggled the last few weeks in Sarasota, Fla.
Martin had an offensive breakthrough last year at Double-A in the Oakland Athletics organization, batting .300 with an .807 OPS for Midland while stealing 25 bases. And just because Hyde told him to focus on his defense doesn't mean he takes a day at the plate like he had Thursday lightly.
"He says, ‘focus on your defense,’ but I can't go up there and just give at-bats away," Martin said. "I have to be productive. I was in the nine-hole. First day, but I know I've got to have better at-bats than that. Defense is obviously a priority, but I need to show what I can do on offense also."