SCH­MUCK

Baltimore Sun - - ORI­OLES -

I was afraid when he came back, there was go­ing to be some move­ment and I was go­ing to be in­volved in that move­ment.”

Ev­ery­one knows what hap­pened af­ter that. Alberto also ben­e­fited from an or­ga­ni­za­tional de­ci­sion to keep sev­eral of the team’s top young prospects in the mi­nors when the big league team broke camp, but he still had to find a way to hold his place on a team that would av­er­age al­most a ros­ter trans­ac­tion per day through­out the sea­son.

“I was a lit­tle afraid,” he said. “That’s why I came ev­ery day work­ing hard. Then when I got a chance to play, I tried to do my best and tried to get a good re­sult.

That was what I did and they didn’t send me some­where else. They kept me on the team and gave me a chance to show what I got and help the team.”

There is no way to calculate the odds against how it all turned out. The Ori­oles liked Alberto’s mi­nor league cre­den­tials, but not enough that any­one imagined he would en­ter this week’s home se­ries against the Los An­ge­les Dodgers ranked fourth in the Amer­i­can League with a .321 bat­ting av­er­age.

“I did not ex­pect him to com­pete for the bat­ting ti­tle, but it’s been un­be­liev­able,” Ori­oles ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and gen­eral manager Mike Elias said. “I think he’s been a real bright spot for us, and he’s ex­actly what I’ve been talk­ing about. You make some waiver claims. You give some guys some play­ing time, and you never know what’s go­ing to hap­pen.”

It’s a feel-good story for the ages, but it’s also an ex­am­ple of how frag­ile the fu­ture can be for a young player liv­ing on the bub­ble. Alberto started only one of the Ori­oles’ first seven games, but he hit safely in each of the first seven games in which he had at least one plate ap­pear­ance. If he had gone hit­less over that rel­a­tively short span, there’s a pretty good chance we would hardly re­mem­ber he was here.

Manager Bran­don Hyde ac­knowl­edged that the other day. Base­ball’s sta­tis­ti­cal data­base is full of play­ers who worked just as hard to get into the same po­si­tion and — un­fairly or not — had pos­si­bly promis­ing ca­reers cut short by the in­abil­ity to hang onto that last, best op­por­tu­nity.

“That’s pro sports,” Hyde said. “There are a lot of good play­ers who didn’t take ad­van­tage of an op­por­tu­nity that af­fects ca­reers and Hanser has been through the ringer a lit­tle bit with the DFA process, so it’s such a great feel­ing to watch a guy put the year up that he’s had when he didn’t know what was go­ing to hap­pen five months ago.”

Hyde said at the time that he liked Alberto’s swing and his abil­ity to play mul­ti­ple po­si­tions, but the Ori­oles were one of the teams that DFA’d him be­fore even­tu­ally get­ting him back.

“We had a big spring train­ing ros­ter,” Hyde ex­plained. “We had two Rule 5’s [draft picks]. We had Al­cides Es­co­bar. We had a lot of play­ers, and Hanser fell into the ros­ter shuf­fle trap, where he un­for­tu­nately needed a spot on the ros­ter. I was hop­ing at that time that he would clear, which he didn’t.”

The San Francisco Gi­ants claimed him and that would have been that, but Hyde wasn’t ly­ing when he said he liked the kid who had failed to make an im­pres­sion dur­ing three ma­jor league stints with the Texas Rangers. When the Gi­ants placed him back on waivers, Hyde brought his name up with Elias and they de­cided to give him another chance.

“We were ex­cited to have the op­por­tu­nity to bring him back and he was ex­cited as well,” Hyde said. “I think he re­ally liked the coaches and the feel of our camp and knew he was go­ing to have an op­por­tu­nity to play here.”

He just had to wait un­til the Ori­oles got a bet­ter look Rule 5 draftees Richie Martin and Drew Jack­son be­fore he got a real chance to show what he could do.

“He kind of waited his turn and once he got the op­por­tu­nity, he just kept get­ting hits, so I just kept putting him in there,” Hyde said.

Alberto never hit bet­ter than .222 with the Rangers, and it didn’t help that he walked just four times and did not have a home run in 192 plate ap­pear­ances over those three sea­sons. He still is not a great on-base guy (he had a .342 on-base per­cent­age this sea­son), but he set his mind to­ward de­vel­op­ing some pop (11 homers) and his as­tound­ing .420 av­er­age against left-handed pitch­ing leads the ma­jors.

So, did he just need reg­u­lar play­ing time? Did he just grow into a more ef­fec­tive hit­ter? Or was it just the knowl­edge that this might be his last rodeo?

“Kind of, yes,” he said. “This was the ex­act op­por­tu­nity that I needed. I thought in the be­gin­ning that I was on the per­fect team to show my tal­ent; to show them I could be at this level. Af­ter all that work and all the wor­ries, I was a lit­tle afraid, but I kept my faith up. I kept my hope up. I kept ev­ery­thing up and I showed them that I can be here.”

It’s way too early to project how Alberto might fit into the Ori­oles long-term plans, but Elias clearly is im­pressed.

“I just think he’s some­body that’s able to put the bar­rel on the base­ball,” Hyde said. “I don’t know what it is with the left-handed pitch­ing, but that’s re­ally im­pres­sive and the en­ergy level that he’s brought to the team has been pal­pa­ble. Very ex­cited that we have him. We’re go­ing to keep mov­ing him around de­fen­sively and work­ing with him on his de­fense, but he’s another young guy, 25years-old that has done about as much as any­body with the op­por­tu­nity he’s been given here in Bal­ti­more.”

NICK WASS/AP

Ori­oles in­fielder Hanser Alberto’s as­tound­ing .420 bat­ting av­er­age against left-handed pitch­ing leads the ma­jor leagues.

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