Baltimore Orioles, Jayson Nix: Utility Infielders Galore


Sep 13, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles second baseman Ryan Flaherty (3) makes a throw from his knees to get out New York Yankees designated hitter Jacoby Ellsbury (not shown) in the first inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Orioles have added yet more depth to their utility infield situation by signing Jayson Nix to a minor league contract. The O’s already have three-year backup Ryan Flaherty, along with Jimmy Paredes, Michael Almanzar, Paul Janish, and Rey Navarro as possible options for second base, shortstop, and third base.

Earlier in the offseason, the joke was that Dan Duquette could not help himself from collecting catchers. There still are quite a few. But lately it has been utility infielders that have become a seeming obsession. So what’s the story?

<Breaking news as this post is getting reading to hit:  Reports are that the Orioles are on the cusp of signing Everth Cabrera – a career shortstop with the Padres, .248 career average. This is begging the question if the Orioles don’t know something that is not publicly known about the well-being of their personnel. Maybe Flaherty hurt his back shoveling snow in Maine? More later if this develops.>

Here is the basic background on Jayson Nix. A former first-round pick (yes, another of those) of the Rockies, the 32-year-old will be joining his ninth franchise. He is a .212 career hitter with a little bit of power and the ability to play all four infield positions. Nix played in the postseason with the Yankees in 2012 and the Royals last year.

Duquette said of him (in Roch Kubatko’s column):  “Nix is a proven professional shortstop and an excellent competitor. He should add depth and playoff experience to the club.” (I’ll admit that sometimes it sounds like he is talking himself into believing things as much as communicating to the press what he really thinks.)

Before trying to get a handle on these players by charting them next to each other, here is a quick review of each:

Jimmy Paredes: He was purchased on July 28, 2014 by the Orioles from the Royals, hitting .302 in 55 plate appearances late in the season, though looking very uncomfortable at third base.

Rey Navarro: The Baltimore Orioles signed this minor league free agent to a major league contract in November. I wrote very positively about this at the time.

Paul Janish: With 431 MLB games of National League experience, Janish has a career average of .214.  About 75% of his play has been at shortstop, though he can also play at second base or third base.

Michael Almanzar: He is the O’s Rule 5 Draftee in 2014 from the Red Sox. Of course he was not kept, but the Orioles got him back late in the year.

These six players have quite a variety of different experiences at the MLB level and at AAA. To make some sense of it, here is a chart of the number of games played at both levels, the batting average, and home runs hit – to give some sense of power potential…

NameAge AAA – G/Avg/HRMLB – G/Avg/HR

Regular readers know I am a Flaherty skeptic at best. But when looking at this chart, you can see why he ends up on the team, especially considering his excellent fielding skills. Flaherty has the most power potential of these players. Paredes would almost certainly hit for a better average, but at what critical cost in the field?

There really is little to be excited about with the recent acquisitions of Janish and Nix. Here are some bullet point “best guesses” as to why this entire collection is being made…

Duquette needs to have one or two viable options beyond Flaherty in the event of cumulative infield injuries – which have been witnessed in the past. He’s not crazy to have concerns.

The Orioles always err on the side of tolerating weak hitting to maintain strong defense, rather than the opposite – believing this way is less costly.

  • The upper levels of the developmental system are not rich in infield prospects. With long-term solutions presumed at second and third with Jonathan Schoop and Manny Machado, and with J.J. Hardy signed to a three-year extension, emphases have been placed elsewhere.
  • Most of the AAA / fringe infielders from 2014 are no longer in the organization, and other legit prospects are not at the top level just yet. Someone has to play at AAA and be a shuttle ride away from the big team.

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    A final point that I hesitate to give a bullet on the same level as the four above is that it seems Duquette looks for “change of scenery flashes of fire from naturally high-skilled players.” Picking up former high draft choices (like all of the above) has become something of a Jay Leno-like joke about DD. But I believe he thinks there is a reason these guys were one time among the highest-graded young players – they have some natural skills that for some reason have not come to fruition. I believe he maintains an endless hope that some latent talent is going to break through, if for only a season of time, if given the right circumstances and environment. He knows that many more times than not it will not actually happen, but it costs little to give it a shot.

    In any event, there are a lot of utility infielders in the Orioles camp. I believe Navarro will be the best of them over the next handful of years and needs to be given every possible opportunity to develop.

    Next: O's players on the bubble in spring training