Baltimore Orioles: Middle Infield Depth, Signing of Ozzie Martinez

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Aug 16, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy (right) watches as second baseman Jonathan Schoop (6) turns a double play over Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis (22) in the eighth inning at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Current Baltimore Orioles Middle Infield

The middle infield for the Orioles would appear to be fairly well set for the foreseeable future with two probable long-term players, along with a capable backup for each who possesses plus skills defensively.

J.J. Hardy – Having signed a three-year extension (with a fourth year option), the Orioles dealt early with one of their major offseason decisions. This will make Hardy’s career most known for his time in Baltimore, beyond anything he will tally anywhere else. Having had four successful seasons with the Birds, securing his top-rung defense along with a power bat for the position, fans are rightly thankful for this piece of the puzzle to be in place.

In his four years with the Orioles, Hardy now has actually accumulated 16 more games than in his five years with the Brewers. With the Orioles, he has a .259 average with 86 homers, versus .262 / 75 with Milwaukee.

A concern in 2014 was that, after hitting 30, 22, and 25 home runs in the three previous seasons, he dropped off to only nine for the recently-completed campaign.  But it should be noted that his average with RISP was extraordinary, while also winning his third consecutive gold glove. The man is consistent!

Somebody, please get Hardy to open the stance and move up on the plate!

It still seems to me that Hardy stands too far off the plate. If he were to move up on the plate with his back foot particularly, he could cover the outside better and turn more on the inside pitch. His strength is as a pull hitter, as only two of Hardy’s last 56 home runs have been hit to the right of left-center field. Spray charts on Hardy illustrate that in 2014 he did just that – spray the ball rather than pull it with power.

Jonathan Schoop – The Orioles decided to roll the dice now and go with the future in giving the second base job to Schoop after his strong spring training. There is no doubt he was over-powered and overwhelmed at times at the plate. Hopefully the experience for the unusually young man will bear increased fruit as time goes by. Indeed, the ball explodes off his bat, as evidenced by the 16 home runs.

But time going by is an issue to be dealt with in 2015, in my humble opinion. In 2013, Schoop faded at the end of the season and really struggled in the Arizona Fall League, hence my surprise that he had such a great spring training. And then Schoop faded badly in the final month of the regular season this past year, batting just .121 over his final 21 games.

There is no doubt about his defense, other than some troubles with glove-to-hand transitions on double play balls. He looks to be the Orioles’ second baseman for the next five years until free agency in 2020.

Ryan Flaherty – As regular readers know, I’m not likely to ever be the president of his fan club. But it is difficult to not like him enough to keep him as a utility player on the team. And that is the point; he is a utility player, and as such has great value.

Flaherty now has a career .221 average in 264 games. In that he is better than most starters for other teams at second and short, and in that he can play six positions on the field, the Orioles almost have to keep him on the roster. This allows other moves to be made successfully.