First base is Davis’ domain
Highest-paid player on team won’t be moving around the diamond
With the 2016 season finished, there’s no better time than the present to take stock of the Orioles’ organizational depth at every position around the diamond.
Over the next few weeks, The Baltimore Sun will break down every position individually and separate the players through the system into three categories: who was “the man” there this year, who else was in the picture and who is working through the minors to join them.
In our second installment, we’ll take a look at first base. The man: Thanks to the seven-year, $161 million contract doled out last offseason, first base for the Orioles will be the domain of Chris Davis for years to come. On the whole, that’s not as bad as everyone seems to think it is.
At the plate, Davis is close to the living, breathing embodiment of a true three-outcome player: This year, 51.9 percent of his plate appearances resulted in a home run, walk or strikeout. He had 38 home runs, 88 walks and a league-high 219 strikeouts to go along with a .221/.332/.459 batting line. His OPS of .792 was fifth among Orioles regulars this year, and at the end of the season, manager Buck Showalter revealed that the hand injury that caused Davis to miss time this season was more
frustrating than Davis had been willing to let on.
It’s clear something was affecting Davis, though there’s also a chance he is an every-other-year type of guy. While Davis’ contact problems certainly contributed to the team’s overall problems in that area, he had a strong defensive season and was worth three Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.com. The alternatives: Four others saw time at first base this season: Mark Trumbo, Steve Pearce, Ryan Flaherty and Caleb Joseph. Trumbo and Pearce are primarily outfielders and are entering free agency this offseason, while Flaherty is a utility man who will show up in this “alternatives” section fairly often in the next few weeks. Joseph played two innings at first base as a defensive replacement.
While it was mostly Davis’ job this year, it’s worth noting the one circumstance changed that: the July 31 arrival of Pearce. Before he injured his elbow two weeks later, Davis went to right field against left-handed pitching, with Pearce playing first and Trumbo serving as designated hitter. Davis misplayed a line drive in right a few games in, and the Orioles never tried it again. The future: Trey Mancini spent the past few weeks of the season on the major league roster and impressed by hitting three home runs in14 at-bats over five games, but served only as the DH. He is the organization’s top first base prospect, though, and quite possibly the only bat in the farm system with a chance to break camp with the major league team next spring.
Between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk this past season, Mancini hit 20 home runs and batted .282/.357/.458 in 142 games. Once he came up to the majors, he earned (somewhat) high praise from scouts who spent September watching the Orioles and called his approach at the plate the best on the team.
He’s not unseating Davis at first base anytime soon, but he could be a useful platoon bat against left-handed pitching and see some designated hitter time next season if the Orioles don’t have someone regularly in that spot.
Entering the year, it would have been folly to talk about Mancini without men- tioning Christian Walker in the same breath. Walker, another first base prospect, was moved to left field this past season, was the only position player who opened the year on the 40-man roster and remained on it the whole season but didn’t get called up to the majors.
Elsewhere in the system, there’s not a lot of competition for Mancini’s mantle as the top first base prospect. Former major leaguer Joey Terdoslavich was the primary first baseman for Bowie after Mancini left and hit .246 with 14 home runs there. At High-A Frederick, minor league free agent Aderlin Rodriguez, 24, won two Player of the Month awards from the Orioles en route to a year that ended with him hitting .304 with 26 home runs and an .891 OPS. Considering he’d already spent two full seasons in High-A and was in Double-A last year, he was a bit old for the level but produced nonetheless.
There was some intrigue at the position in the short-season levels, where 2016 seventh-round draft pick Preston Palmeiro hit .258 with a swing reminiscent of that of his father, Rafael, for Single-A Aberdeen. He was joined at the end of the year there by 2015 eighth-round pick Seamus Curran, who hit .283 with an .839 OPS and five home runs at age 18 in the Gulf Coast League. The skinny: There isn’t a ton of uncertainty here. At last week’s season-ending news conference, Showalter was asked how he would fit Mancini into any future plans, and he made it clear that Davis wasn’t going to be moving around the diamond to accommodate anyone next year. And why would Davis move? Especially considering he didn’t really budge this year when the Orioles put a man best suited for first base, Trumbo, in the outfield on a regular basis instead of letting Davis spell him with some kind of rotation.
Mancini’s immediate role will be a part-time one if he breaks camp with the team, though the fact that he has options could mean the Orioles’ stockpiling of assets in the offseason won’t leave a spot on the bench for him. But there always will be a spot for Davis, the highest-paid player on the team, as he enters the presumably good part of his every-other-year rotation.