O’s Leave Winter Meetings with Two New Infielders

The Baltimore Orioles haven’t been expected to make too much noise in the first offseason of the club’s rebuild under executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, especially when there’s still a vacancy at manager (although it sounds like that search could be coming to an end very soon). Once the club officially announces the hiring of their new manager, they will be able to get on with the rest of their offseason plan, which will surely involve the new skipper’s input.

However, with the annual Winter Meetings coming to an end, the O’s did leave with two new infielders, both being acquired via the Rule V Draft.

With the first overall selection, Baltimore selected Oakland Athletics’ shortstop prospect Richie Martin. The Orioles declined to make a selection in the second round of the draft, but the club acquired infielder Drew Jackson from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for international bonus slot money. Jackson was a first-round Rule V selection by Philadelphia from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Martin, who turns 24 on December 22, is a former first-round draft pick by the A’s in 2015. He grades as a well-above average defensive shortstop, which should be a nice benefit to Orioles pitchers if he’s starting at shortstop on Opening Day. However, there are questions about whether or not he’ll produce enough offensively.

In 2015, Martin slashed .237/.353/.342 in 51 games at Low-A Vermont. He got promoted to High-A Stockton in 2016, where he posted just a .230/.322/.312 line in 86 games. In 27 games at Stockton in 2017, he progressed to a .266/.330/.383 slash line, which helped him get promoted to Double-A Midland, where he batted a disappointing .224/.306/.315 over 86 contests. He finally had the offensive season he needed in 2018, however, as he slashed .300/.368/.439 in 118 games at Midland.

There’s no telling what type of offensive production we can expect from Martin with the Orioles in 2019, if he even does stay with the club. I’m sure they hope, at worst, he can stick as a plus-defender utility infielder at the big-league level, with the best-case scenario being that they strike gold with a starting shortstop for the future. For the time being, Martin is now ranked as the O’s 13th-best prospect, via MLB Pipeline.

Jackson, like Martin, came out of the 2015 draft, although he was taken in the fifth round by the Seattle Mariners. The 25-year-old is athletic in the middle infield spots and is speedy on the base paths, as he has stolen 106 bases out of 133 attempts. Most recently, in 2018, he stole 22 of 29 at Double-A Tulsa.

Similar to Martin’s resume, there are questions over whether or not Jackson can produce at the plate. However, he put together his best professional season in 2018, slashing .251/.356/.447 with 15 home runs at Tulsa. Adam McInturff of 2080 Baseball credited his sudden progression at the plate to “an increased focus on lift and power, as Jackson’s home run totals spiked accordingly with a jump in aerial contact.”

It’ll be interesting to see if Elias and company roll with the same approach to see what Jackson can do in a second year with this adjustment. The athletic infielder is now ranked 24th on the Orioles top prospects list on MLB Pipeline, one spot behind outfielder D.J. Stewart.

Martin and Jackson may be in direct competition with one another for a spot in spring training, or there may be room for both or neither of them on the Opening Day roster. Nobody truly knows until the Orioles land in Sarasota for camp. One thing we do know, however, is that the club needed to address the vacancy in the middle infield one way or another this season. With a rebuilding organization, as opposed to a competitive team, this may very well be the way Elias addresses the hole.

All we can do now is wait and see if he adds to the middle infield mix via trade or free agency later this offseason.

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