Orioles slugger Mark Trumbo works to prove he can field

DUNEDIN, FL- MARCH 04: Mark Trumbo #45 of the Baltimore Orioles celebrates with teammates after hitting a home run in the fourth inning during the game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium on March 4, 2016 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) ** OUTS - ELSENT, FPG, CM - OUTS * NM, PH, VA if sourced by CT, LA or MoD **

SARASOTA, Fla. — Even as one of the hotter Orioles hitters this spring, Mark Trumbo and the power bat that has carried him through his major league career haven't been much of a topic of conversation, at least not with him.

Everyone seems to want to talk to Trumbo about his defense, and whether the right field position that seems to be earmarked for him in this power-packed Orioles lineup is one he can handle. And Trumbo seems to know why: "Because people think I'm well below average out there, and a liability. So …


"I get it," Trumbo said. "It's the perception, and I don't know. I know some of the advanced metrics probably don't shake out that well, either. I can't worry about that.

"I'm aware that it's a topic, and people want to beat it to death, but the reality is that I've got to go out and play right field at the major league level and do everything I can to be a contributor, regardless of what popular opinion might be."


The narrative has seemed to build on itself all spring, and it took on extra significance once the Orioles signed corner infielder Pedro Alvarez last week.

First base is occupied by the most expensive Oriole in team history, Chris Davis.

Manager Buck Showalter has said Alvarez won't be primarily a designated hitter, and will see time at first base, third base and maybe in the outfield once minor league games begin this week.

That leaves right field for Trumbo, who even after going 0-for-3 Monday in a win over the Philadelphia Phillies is batting .296 in 27 spring at-bats with a home run and three RBIs, and has played there frequently in his nine Grapefruit League appearances.

One American League scout, who spoke on the condition he not be identified because he cannot speak about other teams' players, said Trumbo had made several nice plays for someone with his reputation so far in the Grapefruit League.

"He actually wasn't a bad outfielder when he was with Anaheim," said the scout. But a pair of foot injuries — to his right foot in 2011 and to his left in 2014 — have limited his ability to play the outfield since, the scout said.

The metrics that Trumbo spoke of reflect that, even if imperfectly.

In by far the largest sample of right field play in his career, in 2015 between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Seattle Mariners, Trumbo posted his best season by the defensive metric UZR, which tries to measure the number of runs a player prevents by quantifying the number of runs the batted balls hit in his direction are worth, and assigning that to the defender based on the play made.


His UZR as a right fielder in 579 2/3 innings between the Mariners and Diamondbacks last season was minus-2.6, according to FanGraphs. That ranked him 17th out of 30 right fielders with at least 500 innings at the position, one spot ahead of former Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis, now with the Atlanta Braves.

He made 33 plays outside of his typical zone in 76 games in right field last season.

For his career, Trumbo has 270 games in the outfield, a career minus-8.5 UZR, with a lifetime DRS (defensive runs saved) of minus-12. Neither figure is as bad as one would expect considering the perception of Trumbo's defense. But in a modern game where evaluators and fans alike use the eye test and analytics to form opinions, Trumbo knows it's all working against him.

"I'm a big guy," the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Trumbo said. "If you were to strictly judge on the eye test and a few of those things, I get that. It probably would be an easy conclusion.

"But it's something I have to work hard to try and try and change people's opinions. It's not really what the important factors are. The important factors are me being a contributor to this team, giving my teammates and our pitching staff and the coaches the confidence to send me out there."

What Trumbo calls the popular opinions aren't accepted around the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota, where Showalter said he has seen such commonly held concepts proven false by other plays on his roster.


"I've had people tell me that Steve Pearce was DH-only," Showalter said. "Well, he wasn't. I've had people tell me that Ryan Flaherty couldn't play second base. He can. Jonathan Schoop couldn't make the transition to second.

"I'll tell you what -- there won't be many right fielders who throw better than him. We're always looking for a perfect player. He may not be able to do this, but he can do this. I'll tell you, if he hits enough balls where the grass doesn't grow … you say to yourself, 'How much do you have to look to overlook something?' Not with Mark, but with certain other players."

The American League scout agreed with Showalter about Trumbo's arm, but said that break-even point the Orioles are looking for is closer to his pre-injury production. He somewhat returned to form in 2015 after coming back from his foot trouble, batting .262/.310/.449 with 22 home runs and 64 RBIs with the Diamondbacks and Mariners.

That's as close as he has been to his early career form as he'd been since the three-year period from 2011 and 2013, when he averaged 32 home runs and 94 RBIs per season with a .251/.300/.473 batting line.

Only the 2014 season, which he essentially lost to injury, stands as the outlier.

If his and Showalter's assessment of what Trumbo can be defensively prove right and he can come close to that kind of production, the Orioles will be glad to have him as their full-time right fielder, especially after cycling through 12 right fielders in a search to replace Markakis in 2014.


"That's kind of where all the attention and the focus is; individual work and the playing time is going to be primarily out there as well," Trumbo said.

"I come ready to play, so honestly, I just want to do the best job that I can to enhance this lineup in whatever way it is, at whatever position."