For the Orioles, the shortstop position has always been as consistent as they come. One could rattle off a list of superior talent in franchise history without much effort. Luis Aparicio, Mark Belanger, Cal Ripken, Jr., Mike Bordick, Miguel Tejada, J.J. Hardy, and Manny Machado (even if it was only for just half a season in 2018) are all prime examples.
Sure, there have been some duds along the way. Deivi Cruz, Juan Castro, Alex Cintron, Luis Hernandez, and Cesar Izturis come to mind, as the Orioles were wont to fielding some duds over the course of 14 consecutive losing seasons.
For today’s Orioles–in the midst of two straight losing seasons with certainly at least a few more to follow–the question looms as to who will be the next great shortstop for the franchise. There is a plethora of players in camp with middle-infield experience, so the team should have plenty of options, though as we all know, quantity doesn’t always translate to quality.
On Saturday, the Orioles signed shortstop Alcides Escobar to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. The former Royal has played in 162 games in three of the last five seasons and was an All-Star in 2015 (though most Royals were voted to the All-Star team in 2015, deserving or not).
Escobar is a career .258 hitter over his 11-year career and has been a standout defensively, earning Gold Glove honors for his 2015 efforts. Escobar will, in all likelihood, be the Opening Day shortstop, sliding Jonathan Villar over to second base. At 32-years-old and with his numbers in slow-but-steady decline, Escobar certainly looks to be headed for more dud than stud in the annals of Orioles history, but that’s not to say he won’t be serviceable.
Martin has the luxury of calling himself a two-time first-round pick, though the first overall pick in the Rule V draft doesn’t necessarily elicit bragging rights.
Selected 20th overall by the Oakland Athletics back in 2015, Martin struggled at the plate during his first three seasons of professional baseball, never batting higher than .237 in any season. It wasn’t until an eye test revealed that Martin had less-than-stellar vision that the 24-year-old opted to use contacts during night games in an effort to turn his career around.
The improved vision was evident in Martin’s resurgence at the plate. In a career-high 118 games in 2018, Martin set personal bests across the board, tallying 29 doubles, eight triples, six home runs, and 42 RBI for Double-A Midland. He also stole 25 bases and walked 44 times, all while slashing .300/.368/.439.
For Jackson, his speed, steady defense and strong arm have kept him in professional baseball, and a power surge for Double-A Tulsa in 2018 made him worth a flyer for the Phillies in the Rule V draft.
At Tulsa, Jackson hit just .251; steady, but not overwhelming at face value. However, when you combine that average with a .356 OBP, 15 home runs, and 22 stolen bases, people will start to notice you. Luckily for Jackson, both the Phillies and Orioles noticed him.
The catch here for both Martin and Jackson is that they both have to stay on the active roster all season or be sent back to their respective teams; the Athletics for Martin and the Dodgers for Jackson. On a rebuilding club, it’s not impossible that both players make the Opening Day roster and stay there all season, but it is improbable. Hell, this is the organization that kept three Rule V picks in 2018 while trying to convince their fan base that they intended to compete for the division.
While the likes of Martin and Jackson give the Orioles an intriguing look in the infield, it is entirely possible that the next great Oriole shortstop is actually over at Twin Lakes Park for minor league spring training.
Cadyn Grenier was the starting shortstop for the Oregon State Beavers in the College World Series last summer when he was drafted 37th overall by the Orioles. In fact, it was noted during that CWS that Grenier was probably the only shortstop in the country that could have moved teammate Nick Madrigal, the fourth overall pick by the White Sox, to second base.
In his junior (and final) season, Grenier slashed .319/.408/.462 with 6 HR and 47 RBIs for the National Champions, prompting the Orioles to snatch him up in the supplemental/compensation round. Though he struggled at the outset of his professional career in Aberdeen (.165 BA in his first 27 games), Grenier slashed .297/.333/.438 in his final 16 games to finish the season strong and perhaps give a glimpse of what the future could hold.
Still, Grenier is at least two or three years away from contributing to the big league club so his inclusion in this article is merely for future speculation, much like any pandering over the possible selection of high school shortstop Bobby Witt, Jr. with the first overall pick in this year’s draft.
For my money, the competition for this year’s shortstop position is down to Escobar, Martin, and Jackson, with Escobar having a leg up. Others under consideration in camp include Steve Wilkerson, Jace Peterson, Hanser Alberto, Chris Bostick, Jack Reinheimer, and Zach Vincej.
Though the first full squad workout was just completed and the exhibition season doesn’t start until Saturday, if I had to make a prediction now, I’d say Escobar starts the season at short, with Martin filling a bench role and Jackson being sent back to the Dodgers. Of course, things could change, injuries happen, and some unsuspecting players could out-play the competition, so don’t write any of this in pen.