Constructing a lineup is probably one of the things that’s not currently on the mind of Orioles manager Brandon Hyde. Pitchers and catchers report to the Ed Smith Stadium complex a week from now, take the field a day later, and by February 17, a day after infielders and outfielders report, he’ll have more than 60 players to evaluate.
Opening Day isn’t until March 26, but that won’t stop a little speculation. The Orioles will need a leadoff hitter, and Hyde might not have a clue yet of his identity.
Hyde’s predecessor, Buck Showalter, was always annoyed by lineup questions, although he spent hours on each day’s one through nine.
One name we can eliminate from consideration for the leadoff spot is Chris Davis. Two years ago, Showalter wanted to jumpstart Davis and thought he could if he batted leadoff to begin the season. After five games and one hit in 20 at-bats, that experiment was abandoned.
Last year’s favorite leadoff hitter, Jonathan Villar, was traded to the Miami Marlins in December. Villar led off in 105 games and, interestingly, hit worse there than anywhere else. His .258 average and .320 on-base percentage were below his .274 average and .339 OBP.
Infielder Hanser Alberto could get more opportunities to bat first this season. He led off 46 times in 2019, hitting .349. For the season, Alberto hit .305.
But Alberto doesn’t walk often, and managers often want players who draw bases on balls up top. Alberto drew just five walks batting leadoff and just 16 overall in 139 games.
Alberto does put the ball in play. He struck out only 50 times in 2019.
Alberto might be a more likely choice there than Villar’s replacement at shortstop, José Iglesias.
In 2019, Iglesias walked only 20 times. He hit .288 with a .318 on-base percentage.
Iglesias has no experience as a leadoff man. In eight major league seasons, he’s started just six games there. Like Alberto, Iglesias is a low-strikeout, high-contact hitter. He struck out 70 times.
Villar struck out 176 times, seventh in the major leagues.
The Orioles had five players who struck out more than 100 times in 2019. Two of them, Villar and Stevie Wilkerson, who was designated for assignment on Friday, are no longer on the team. Wilkerson had 108 strikeouts.
Trey Mancini and Renato Nunez each fanned 143 times. Davis struck out 139 times.
Showalter disdained the conventional. In his final years as Orioles manager, he put Nick Markakis (2014), Manny Machado (2015), Adam Jones (2016) and Mancini (2018) in the leadoff spot.
If Hyde starts thinking that way, perhaps Austin Hays could be the choice.
Hays, who should be the Opening Day centerfielder, could fit nicely there. In his limited 2019 time with the Orioles, Hays hit .309 with a .373 on-base percentage.
Last season, Hays hit .248 for four minor league affiliates and had a .299 OBP.
He doesn’t have great speed, but neither did Markakis nor Mancini.
Hyde likely won’t give us a clue on his thinking until the final week of Grapefruit League games when he’ll begin running out more realistic lineups.
Orioles Promotional Highlights: 2020 is the 50th anniversary of the team’s 1970 World Series championship, and the Orioles will commemorate that with a 1970 World Series Tote Bag on April 25 and a Brooks Robinson replica jersey on August 8.
The 25th anniversary of Cal Ripken Jr. breaking the consecutive game streak of Lou Gehrig will be commemorated on September 6th with a Cal bobblehead.
The 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues will be marked by a Baltimore Elite Giants replica cap on May 9.
There’ll be a Jim Palmer bobblehead on May 30, an Oriole Bird bobblehead on June 20 to mark the Bird’s enshrinement in the Mascot Hall of Fame, and a Boog Powell bobblehead on August 22,
On May 25, the Orioles will give away a team beach towel. An Orioles soccer jersey will be handed out on June 27, and an Orioles travel pillow on August 9.
Floppy Hat night will be on June 19, and Hawaiian shirts are the giveaway on July 18.
County music concerts featuring women artists and fireworks will return on six Fridays from June through August as will six Saturday center field roof deck concerts. Postgame concerts will be held on July 18 and September 13,
The 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment will be marked by several events.
Single-game tickets will go on sale Thursday at 10 a.m.
Call for questions: We’ll have one final mailbag before spring training. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comment section or write to me: Rich@BaltimoreBaseball.com.